Making a complaint

Are you concerned that your child may have special educational needs that are not being met? 

Making a complaint about your school
To make a complaint about your school, ask for a copy of their complaint procedures.

The ombudsman's role 

The ombudsman can investigate a complaint that a council has failed to deal properly with a child's special educational needs (SEN). This includes delay in assessing a child and issuing a statement of SEN; and failing to implement a statement or carry out an annual review.

The ombudsman is concerned with processes, not with the merits of council decisions taken properly. Also, the law generally prevents us from investigating complaints for which a remedy is available through an appeal to a statutory tribunal. This means that the ombudsman cannot investigate a complaint when the issues it raises can be dealt with through an appeal to the First Tier Tribunal (Special Educational Needs and Disability, SEND). So, for example, we cannot question a council's decision not to assess a child, as this can be appealed.

Can the ombudsman look at the way the school has dealt with my child's
special educational needs?

Yes, if your child has a statement of SEN and you complain that the council is failing to arrange and maintain the specified provision. The ombudsman can look at the school's role in this. We may also be able to look at what the school has done in response to your child's SEN at school action plus, but you would have to complain about this to the council first.

No, if your complaint is about anything else.

When can the ombudsman become involved?
Most special educational needs are dealt with by the child's school without any council involvement. If you have concerns or a complaint about your child's progress, and he/ she is getting either no or only limited extra help at school, and the council is not involved in any way, you should raise the matter with the head teacher or SEN coordinator (SENCO). The ombudsman cannot normally deal with your complaint at this stage because only the school is involved.

If you or the school believe that your child is failing to make sufficient progress with the level of support that the school can provide, you can ask the council to carry out a statutory assessment of your child's SEN. This is the point at which the council's involvement starts and the ombudsman may be able to help.

How do I complain? 
You should normally complain to the council first. Councils often have more than one stage in their complaints procedure and you will usually have to complete all stages before we will look at your complaint. Then, if you are unhappy with the final outcome, or the council is taking too long to look into the matter - we think 12 weeks is reasonable - you can complain to AYME. You should normally make your complaint to us within 12 months of realising that the council has done something wrong. 

To complain to the ombudsman phone our advice team on 0300 061 0614 (8.30am to 5.00pm, Mondays to Fridays). You will be able to discuss your complaint with one of our advisers. Alternatively, you can text us on 0762 480 3014 or complete an online complaint form.

What happens if the ombudsman finds the council was at fault? 
If the ombudsman finds that your child's special educational needs have not been dealt with properly we will consider the effect on you and your child and we may suggest a remedy ranging from an apology through to compensation. Ideally, we would want the authority to take action to address any loss of provision, such as providing extra help to your child, and we would always want any continuing failings put right as quickly as possible.

Other sources of information
For further information about the First Tier Tribunal (Special Educational Needs and Disability) (SEND) see their website:

If you are not sure whether they can look into your complaint, please phone us on 0300 061 0614.

The Local Government Ombudsman provides a free, independent and impartial service. It considers complaints about the administrative actions of councils and some other authorities. It cannot question what a council has done simply because someone does not agree with it. If it finds something has gone wrong, such as poor service, service failure, delay or bad advice and that a person has suffered as a result the ombudsmen aims to get it put right by recommending a suitable remedy.

Examples of complaints

Mrs B complained that the council had failed to issue a new statement of special educational needs for her daughter, C, when the family moved into the area and C changed schools. The council accepted that there was delay and that C had missed some provision.

The ombudsman criticised the council and proposed that it funded some additional provision for C to make up for what she had missed, and £250 for Mrs B for the time and trouble she had spent chasing officers and making her complaint.


Ms P complained that the council had taken no action to make provision for her son, A, who has a statement of SEN and who was out of school for six months.

The ombudsman found that the council was actively seeking a school for A and that a place at his old school - still considered suitable - was always available pending new provision. The ombudsman did not criticise the council in the circumstances.