Follow the school’s complaints process if you believe a school has discriminated against someone because of their disability.
If this does not solve the problem, or you do not want to complain to the school first, you may be able to complain to the Special Educational Needs and Disability (SEND) tribunal.
Who can complain to the SEND tribunal
You can complain to the tribunal if you’re:
- someone with parental responsibility for a young person, or their foster parent or carer
- a young person over school leaving age but under 18
You can complain to the tribunal about:
- a school, nursery or pupil referral unit maintained by a local authority
- an independent school
- a free school, including an academy
You cannot complain to the tribunal about:
- a private nursery, unless it’s part of a school
- a further education college
- an organisation using a school’s premises
Complain to the SEND tribunal
You must send your complaint to the tribunal within 6 months of the discrimination taking place. If you send your complaint more than 6 months later, you’ll be asked to explain why.
Your complaint can include events which happened more than 6 months ago, as long as these directly relate to events that have taken place in the last 6 months. The tribunal must be able to treat events as a single complaint about one ongoing issue.
For example, if your child was permanently excluded from school after a series of fixed-term exclusions which you believe were all because of the child’s disability, the tribunal could treat them as a single complaint.
It’s free to make a complaint to the SEND tribunal.
Download and fill in:
- form SEND4A if you’re a parent making a complaint on behalf of a child
- form SEND4B if you’re a young person above school leaving age making a complaint for yourself
The address to send it to is on the form.
You can include details of up to 5 witnesses who you’d like to bring to the hearing on your form.
Contact the tribunal if you have any questions about completing the form. They cannot give you legal advice.
Special Educational Needs and Disability Tribunal
Help you can get
Check if you can get legal aid.
You can also get free help and advice from:
- the Independent Parental Special Education Advice (IPSEA)
- your local Parent Partnership Service through the Information, Advice and Support Services (IASS) Network
Information, Advice and Support Services (IASS) Network
After you make your complaint
Once the tribunal has registered your complaint, it will ask you and the school you’re complaining about if you agree to the complaint being decided without a hearing.
If you both agree, the tribunal will make a decision about your complaint.
If you do not agree, the tribunal will send you a letter telling you if they’ll hold a hearing, and when and where it’ll take place.
You can complain to the Department for Education (DfE) about a school if the SEND tribunal will not handle your case.
Attending the hearing
You may be able to attend the hearing by video link. If you do need to attend in person, the hearing will be close to your home.
Change or withdraw your complaint before the hearing
Download and fill in:
- form SEND7 to change your complaint, for example to ask for a different hearing date or add more witnesses
- form SEND8 to withdraw your complaint
What happens at the hearing
The hearing will usually be attended by:
- a judge and 1 or 2 other tribunal members
- a clerk
- someone representing the school or local authority you’re complaining about
You do not have to go to the hearing, but if you do you can ask questions and present the case yourself. If you’re complaining as a young person, your parents can come to the hearing.
Fill in the attendance form if you want to bring:
- someone to represent you
- someone to support you
You can ask to have an interpreter at the hearing. They’ll translate what happens but they cannot represent you or give you legal advice.
You might be asked questions by:
- your legal representative (if you have one)
- the local authority’s representative
- the tribunal
You’ll usually get a letter or email with the tribunal’s decision within 10 working days of the hearing.
You might be able to claim travel expenses for going to the hearing.
Your witnesses might also be able to claim expenses for travel and loss of earnings.
If you bring a friend or relative to the hearing, you might also be able to claim for their travel costs.
If your complaint is successful
The school or local authority must act on the tribunal’s decision within a set amount of time.
You can complain to the Local Government Ombudsman if a local authority does not keep to the decision.
Local Government Ombudsman
Telephone: 0300 061 0614
Find out about call charges
PO Box 4771
If your complaint is not successful
The letter or email giving the tribunal’s decision will tell you how to apply to:
- get the decision ‘set aside’ (cancelled) if you think there’s been a mistake in the process
- ask the tribunal to ‘review’ the decision, for example if your circumstances have changed since you got the decision or the decision contains a mistake
You can also ask for permission to appeal to the Upper Tribunal (Administrative Appeals) Chamber if you think the SEND tribunal has made a mistake and acted against the law.
You must ask for permission to appeal within 28 days of the date on the tribunal’s decision letter.