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Complaints (SEN and Disabilities)

Health complaints

There is a simple two-stage process for complaints about NHS services.

Stage 1: Your NHS complaint: what to do first

If you want to complain about an NHS service (e.g. a hospital, GP or dentist) ask the service for a copy of their complaints procedure, which will explain what you need to do. Every NHS organisation has a complaints procedure.

You may make a complaint to either:

  • the organisation that provided your healthcare, or
  • the organisation that commissioned that service (the commissioning body will be either the local clinical commissioning group for hospital care, or NHS England for GP and dental services)

You may choose to make a complaint in writing, by email or by speaking to them. If you speak to them, they may be able to resolve your concerns without you having to go through the formal complaints process.

This first stage is called local resolution. It aims to resolve complaints quickly and most cases are resolved at this stage.

Time limit for NHS complaints:

You should make your complaint as soon as possible. The time limit for a complaint is normally twelve months from the date the event happened / the date you first became aware of it.

Help and advice:

  • PALS - You can get help and advice from PALS (Patient Advice and Liaison Services) whose officers are available in most hospitals. They offer confidential advice, support and information on health-related matters to patients, their families and their carers.
  • NHS Complaints Independent Advocacy Service - Individual local authorities have a legal duty to organise independent advocacy services to provide support for people who are making, or thinking of making, a complaint about their NHS care or treatment. Contact your local PALS, complaints manager or local authority for information about how this service is provided in your area.
  • Citizens Advice Bureau - You can also get advice and support from your local Citizens Advice Bureau if you want to complain about the NHS, social services or local authorities. See their website for information on how to get advice from the Citizens Advice Bureau.

Stage 2: If you're unhappy with the response

If you're unhappy with the response to your complaint after local resolution, you can complain to the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman.

The ombudsman carries out independent investigations into complaints about government departments, their agencies and the NHS. You can call the ombudsman's complaints helpline on 0345 015 4033 or see their website for more information about contacting the ombudsman.

You can also raise your concerns by contacting regulatory bodies, such as the Care Quality Commission.

For more information, see about NHS complaints.

Education complaints

How to make a complaint about a school or the Council

Talk to your child's school and try to resolve the problem with them first. If you cannot resolve the problem informally, ask for a copy of the school's complaints procedure.

There are different avenues you can take when making a complaint; it depends on what your complaint is about.

The Parent Partnership Service (PPS) will be able to support and advise you through making a complaint.

School complaints to the governing body

School complaint procedures usually include complaining to the governing body of the school. Every school has a governing body (in the case of an academy, this is called the academy trust).

How to complain to the governing body

You should submit your complaint in writing, addressed to the chair of governors (or head of academy trust). If the school is run by South Tyneside Council, you could also send a copy of your letter to the director in charge of local education services, often called children's services.

Try to include precise details of dates, times, meetings and decisions that may help the governing body understand your complaint. Explain what harm you or your child has suffered because of the school's action or inaction. Say what you would like the governing body to do to put things right.

The governing body is likely to pass your complaint to a panel of governors. They may invite you to a meeting to put your case in more detail. They should follow the rules of natural justice:

  • no member should have a vested interest in the outcome or any involvement in an earlier stage of the procedure
  • each side should be given the opportunity to state their case without unreasonable interruption
  • written material must have been seen by all parties
  • if new issues arise, parties should be given the opportunity to consider and comment on them

For more information about complaints to school governors, visit: GOV.UK: School Governance

If you're not happy with your response

If the governing body does not give you a satisfactory response, you then have a number of options depending on the type of complaint you have. These are detailed below. It is important for all of the routes below that you have followed the school's and, if applicable, the Council's complaints procedures first or that you are able to justify why you have not.

Complaining to the Council

South Tyneside Council no longer has a role in general complaints about a school, although they do still hear curriculum complaints.

If you are complaining about Council services (including complaints about assessment) you should do so to the most senior education officer. You must complain to the Council before taking the complaint further.

Complaints about records 

You can complain to the Information Commissioner if you have problems accessing:

  • school records
  • minutes of governors meetings
  • school policies
  • other public documents
  • or if you believe your child's school records have been disclosed unlawfully, are incorrect or out of date

You should first complain through the school or Council's complaints procedure. There are different timescales for schools to reply to your requests:

  • a copy of a child's educational record must be supplied within 15 school days
  • other personal information must be supplied within 40 days of your written request
  • documents such as the school SEN Policy, school accessibility plan or governing body minutes must be provided within 20 working days (excluding school holidays) of your written request

For more information visit Information Commissioners Office.

Complaining to Ofsted about a school

Ofsted inspects a range of public services including schools. Schools are inspected at least once every three years.

Complaints can only be made to Ofsted about issues that affect the whole school and not about an individual child.

Parents can complain to Ofsted about:

  • maintained schools
  • academies
  • city technology colleges
  • maintained nursery schools
  • non-maintained special schools

Ofsted can investigate complaints about:

  • quality of education and standards achieved
  • inadequate provision for pupils with SEN
  • neglect of pupils' personal development and wellbeing
  • the quality of leadership and management (e.g. whether the school spends its money well)

You can complain to Ofsted online.

Ofsted can call an immediate inspection of a school at short notice if it feels the complaint is very serious. It can also call meetings with the school and the Council.

Complaining about teacher misconduct

If you have an allegation of serious misconduct against an individual teacher or head teacher, you can complain to the National College for Teaching and Leadership (NCTL).

More information about reporting teacher misconduct.

Complaining to the Secretary of State for Education

The Department for Education (DfE) will look at a complaint about a maintained school, academy or free school from anyone who is unhappy with the way in which a school is acting.

For the Secretary of State to intervene in a school following a complaint, he needs to be sure either that the school has acted or is proposing to act unreasonably in the exercise or performance of its functions under certain legislation, or that the school has failed to discharge a duty at all under certain legislation.

For guidance on making a complaint to the Secretary of State and a complaints form, go to:

Appeal to the Special Educational Needs & Disability (SEND) Tribunal

You can appeal to the SEND Tribunal about decisions that the local authority has made about your child, and disability discrimination by schools and local authorities. The kind of decisions you can appeal against include refusal to carry out a statutory assessment, refusal to make a statement and parts 2, 3 and/or 4 of a statement.

In regards to schools, you can make a claim of disability discrimination under the Equality Act 2010 if your child is disabled within the meaning of that Act - not all children with SEN are disabled - and you feel they have been discriminated against.

You can find more about appealing to the SEND Tribunal at:

Complain to the Local Government Ombudsman

The Local Government Ombudsman (LGO) investigates complaints of injustice arising from maladministration by local authorities. They are able to consider the role of the school as part of a wider complaint against the local authority. They currently consider complaints about:

Special educational needs

You cannot complain to the Ombudsman about whether or not a local authority decides to assess your child, which is a matter for the SEND Tribunal. However you can complain about any delay in assessment, failure to carry out the provision set out in the statement or to carry out an annual review. The Ombudsman can look at the school's role in this. It may also be able to look at what the school has done in response to your child's SEN at school action plus, as long as you have previously complained to the local authority.

School admissions

The Ombudsman is not another level of appeal and cannot question decisions if they were taken properly and fairly by the admissions authority or the appeal panel.

You can complain if you think that a place at a school was refused because of some unfairness or mistake by the admissions authority, or if your appeal was handled incorrectly, or you have asked for an appeal and the admissions authority has not arranged an appeal hearing for you within a reasonable time.

You cannot complain to the LGO if the complaint is about an academy (unless that academy has transferred from a maintained school during the admissions process) independent (private) school or city technology college.

If you are refused the school place you asked for and you want to pursue the matter, the first thing you need to do is to make an appeal to an independent appeal panel. The admissions authority should tell you how to do this. If your child has a statement of SEN, you can appeal to the SEND Tribunal.

The LGO could consider a complaint about any delay by a council in arranging an offer of a place at a school once the final statement has been issued.

Permanent exclusion from a school

The LGO cannot look at any aspect of an exclusion prior to an appeal. When a decision has been reached, you can complain to the Ombudsman about the way in which the independent review panel has dealt with your case.

Once a child has been permanently excluded, the council has a duty to provide alternative education, and the

LGO can look into how the council has carried out this duty.

More information about complaining to the Local Government Ombudsman.

Social care complaints

How to compliment, comment or complain about Children, Adults and Families:

Contact information

Complaints and Feedback Manager, Children, Adults & Families
Strategy & Performance
Ground Floor, Strathmore
11 Rolling Mill Road
Viking Business Park
NE32 3DP

Tel: 0191 424 4679 between the office hours of 8.30am and 5pm Monday to Thursday, and 8.30am until 4pm on Fridays.
Emergency phone: 0191 456 2093 (Please use this number outside of the office hours stated above)

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