Thankfully, disputes between parents and schools don't come up often, but if you do have an issue or concern that relates to your child, then you shouldn't hesitate to approach the school directly. The first point of contact will usually be your child's class teacher or form tutor.
It's in everybody's best interests that any issues are resolved as quickly as possible, this guidance is designed to help you handle concerns and complaints confidently.
If you want to give general feedback about your school to Ofsted, either positive or negative, you can do this using their Parent View service.
What is the difference between a concern and a complaint?
According to government guidelines: A 'concern' may be defined as 'an expression of worry or doubt over an issue considered to be important for which reassurances are sought'. A complaint may be generally defined as 'an expression of dissatisfaction however made, about actions taken or a lack of action'.
Always look for an amicable solution
Almost all conflicts between parents and school are dealt with informally, simply by parents talking through their concerns with teachers or relevant school staff. It's important to keep lines of communication open with school and be confident in seeking their involvement in resolving concerns. Remaining objective and seeking out the other side of the story by hearing the school's point of view is the best approach to take. It's best to gather all the facts before jumping straight in with what you might later realise is an overreaction. This guidance will help you decide on the best option for your circumstances.
How to deal with issues informally
The exact process may vary from school to school, and informal complaints may or may not be logged by the school. To begin with, approach a relevant member of staff, explain your concern to them, suggest any action you would like them to perform on your behalf to address your concern and see if they are willing to work with you to find a solution. The member of staff will usually be less senior than the head teacher or principal. We do understand that on rare occasions, or for more serious breaches of trust, it may unfortunately be necessary for parents to raise a formal complaint. This should be viewed as a last resort, and it should also be understood that a formal process is likely to take longer to resolve, and once initiated, can be time-consuming and stressful, so it is best to exhaust all other options in seeking an amicable solution first.
Where can I find my school's complaints procedure?
Every school in England is legally obligated to have a complaints procedure. Check the school website in the first instance, and search for 'complaint' if you are unable to find the relevant section. The school must supply you with their complaints procedure if you ask them for it.
What sort of concerns will the school listen to?
Most complaints will fall within broad categories:
- Policy matters
- Bullying you perceive has not been addressed satisfactorily (or at all)
- Abuse of power / teacher misconduct
- Teaching standards or practice falling below expected standards
- Services the school provides to your child (dinners, transport)
What if the matter is very serious?
Serious and criminal matters should be reported to your local police station or to your local council. They will investigate, rather than the school.
How do I raise a complaint?
There are variations in how complaints procedures are implemented depending on:
- Type of educational establishment
- Local rules.
The following sections give you a brief summary of common complaints procedures for particular institutions in particular UK countries. Select the tab that is relevant to your situation.
State schools, maintained schools and academies
1. Informal. The first step is to raise your concern with a member of staff and work with them for an amicable solution as previously described.
2. Formal. Only when an amicable solution can’t be found, escalate the complaint to step two by submitting a formal complaint in writing to the school where it will be brought to the attention of the head teacher or principal (or the governing board if the complaint is about the head). The response to the complaint will initially also be in writing, usually within ten working days.
3. Panel hearing. If you are unsatisfied with the response to your formal complaint, you can appeal. This time, the original complaint will be reassessed by members of the school’s leadership where at least one person on the panel will be independent. The parent must be allowed to attend and given reasonable prior notice of the date of the hearing.
Further reading: see the government's recommendations to schools and academies on setting up their complaints procedures. You can also read the government's research report – Parents' and Young People's Complaints about Schools.
Complaints about the school in general
Complaints about teacher misconduct
You can report allegations of serious teacher misconduct to the National College for Teaching and Leadership (NCTL). See government advice on how to bring matters to the NCTL's attention. Download teacher misconduct referral forms if you wish to log your complaint.
Independent / private schools
You can only complain directly to a private school if your child currently attends the school.
The school's complaints procedure ought to be included on its website. This will tell you what to do in the first instance. The school is legally obliged to supply you with its complaints procedure should you ask for it.
If you remain unsatisfied
Write to the headteacher. This may be via email or post.
If you are unable to resolve the complaint with the school
If you wish to raise your complaint with an external and impartial body, the Independent Schools Inspectorate (ISI) can help. Email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 020 7600 0100 to register your complaint, which will be confidential. You may involve ISI from the outset if you wish by copying them in on any correspondence between you and school. ISI will investigate, and if it appears that a school may be in breach of any regulatory requirements or there is a serious or safeguarding concern, they will normally refer the matter to the Department for Education (DfE), who will, in turn, notify ISI of any action taken.
Parents should know that ISI's remit includes broad matters applicable to all schools, but they are unable to become directly involved in individual complaints such as matters of bullying or exam results.
Complaints regarding Special Educational Needs
If your child has Special Educational Needs (SEN) that you feel the independent school is not addressing, then so long as your child is still attending the school, you are eligible to complain to the school's special educational needs co-ordinator (SENCO). If you are unhappy that the complaint has been resolved, you can escalate it to your local authority.
If your child attends an academy or free school, then raise any SEN concerns with the DfE instead.
Concerns regarding Safeguarding
Safeguarding concerns follow separate processes. All schools must have a safeguarding policy which details how to raise concerns. If you have a concern please raise it with the school without delay. For more information on Safeguarding you can contact your local Safeguarding Children Board.