Exclusion from a school

This fact sheet is aimed primarily at parents whose child has been permanently excluded from school and who may be considering making a complaint to the Ombudsman.

My child has been excluded from school. Can I complain to the Ombudsman?

In most cases, yes, though we cannot look at any actions by the school, including its decision to exclude your child, or the governors’ decision to confirm the exclusion.

Once your child has been excluded you have the right to ask for an independent review panel to review the governors' decision. The council or the academy trust responsible for the school will set up the independent review panel hearing.

The review panel must decide whether the decision to exclude permanently was illegal, irrational or made with procedural impropriety. It cannot change the decision or reinstate your child because it is a review panel rather than an appeal body. So it can only uphold the decision, recommend that the governing body reconsiders the decision, or quash the decision and direct the governing body to reconsider it.

If you believe the hearing was not conducted properly, you can, in many cases, complain to us about the way the review panel dealt with the review.

We cannot look at any aspect of an exclusion prior to an independent review.

We can look at complaints about permanent exclusions from council community, foundation, voluntary controlled and voluntary aided schools as the review panel is set up by the council.

We cannot look at complaints about permanent exclusions from academies, free schools or City Technology Colleges (as these must be made to the Education and Skills Funding Agency) or independent schools (as the Dept for Education's guidance does not apply to these schools).

If you believe the exclusion happened as a result of disability discrimination you can make a claim to the First Tier Tribunal (Special Educational Needs and Disability)  (see contact details below). We cannot look at any aspect of a claim to a tribunal.

If you believe the exclusion happened as a result of any other form of discrimination, we can look at how the council considered discrimination issues and if we find fault, recommend it reconsiders them. However only the courts can say that a council’s actions were unlawful.

Once your child has been permanently excluded the council has a duty to provide alternative education, and we can look into how the council has carried out this duty.

How do I complain?

You do not need to go through the council’s complaints procedure.

Usually, you should complain to us within 12 months of when you first knew about the problem. If you leave it any later, we may not be able to help.

For more information on how to complain, please read our step by step process.

If you can consider my complaint what will the Ombudsman look for?

If you are complaining about an independent review panel hearing we can consider whether the review panel has done something wrong in the way it dealt with the review which has caused you problems. Some of the things we can look into are:

  • The way the panel carried out the review
  • The procedures the panel used
  • Whether you had a fair hearing
  • Whether you were given the opportunity to have a special educational needs (SEN) expert present if you believed that SEN was a factor in your child's exclusion
  • Whether the panel considered all the evidence properly 
  • Whether the panel made a lawful decision.

If you are complaining about the education provided for your child after he or she was excluded, some of the things we can consider are:

  • Whether the provision the council made met the requirements of the law, and
  • Whether there was delay in placing your child in a new school or in providing alternative help.

What happens if the Ombudsman finds that the council was at fault?

If we find fault with the way the independent appeal panel heard your appeal against permanent exclusion:

  • We cannot provide another appeal against the decision of the independent review panel.
  • We cannot overturn the decision of an independent review panel. But if we find there was something wrong in the way the panel dealt with your review that may have affected the decision reached we may ask the council to set up a fresh panel to hear your review again in a fair way.
  • We can also ask it to review its procedures or the training it gives the people on the panel.

If we find problems with the way the council dealt with you or your child after he or she was excluded from school we may ask the council to correct what went wrong. For example:

  • If the council has delayed in finding another school we can ask it to offer your child a place.
  • If the council has delayed in providing alternative education (for example in a pupil referral unit), or has not provided teaching for as many hours as the law says it should, we can ask the council to make extra provision to compensate for the shortfall.
  • If your child has been without any education for a significant period of time we can ask the council to pay an amount to be used for something that will benefit the child's education or development. 
  • We can ask the council to review the arrangements it makes for excluded children to prevent similar problems happening to someone else.

Examples of the kinds of complaints we have considered

Miss J’s son was permanently excluded from school. Miss J appealed against the decision and the school’s governors upheld it. Miss J then used her right to ask for a review. The Independent Review Panel upheld the exclusion. Miss J complained that it had failed to account her son’s special educational needs (SEN) and had failed to properly take account of the evidence presented by the SEN expert at the hearing. The record of the hearing showed that the Independent Review Panel did take account of the evidence before it, including that presented by the SEN expert. There was no evidence of fault in the way the Independent Review Panel made its decision. The Ombudsman cannot challenge the merits of a decision which has been properly made, so there were no grounds on which to investigate the complaint.

Mrs B's daughter was permanently excluded form school. She used her right to ask for a review of the decision. The Independent Review Panel quashed the decision to exclude and directed the school’s governors to reconsider it. Having done so, the governors decided not to reinstate Mrs B’s daughter. The Ombudsman could not investigate Mrs B’s complaint about the decision not to reinstate. By law, we cannot consider the decisions made by school governors on disciplinary matters.

Other sources of information

The Coram Children's Legal Centre can offer advice to parents, see www.childrenslegalcentre.com or call 08 088 020 008

The Department for Education provides guidance for parents on school exclusion at www.gov.uk/school-discipline-exclusions/exclusions

For information on the First Tier Tribunal (Special Educational Needs and Disability) see www.gov.uk/courts-tribunals/first-tier-tribunal-special-educational-needs-and-disability or send an enquiry to sendistqueries@hmcts.gsi.gov.uk

Our fact sheets give some general information about the most common type of complaints we receive but they cannot cover every situation. If you are not sure whether we can look into your complaint, please contact us.

We provide a free, independent and impartial service. We consider complaints about the administrative actions of councils and some other authorities. We cannot question what a council has done simply because someone does not agree with it. If we find something has gone wrong, such as poor service, service failure, delay or bad advice and that a person has suffered as a result we aim to get it put right by recommending a suitable remedy.

March 2023

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