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 or free schools (as the review panel is set up by the academy trust) or independent (private) 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 you can make a claim to county court. We cannot look at any aspect of a claim to the court.
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.
You should normally make your complaint to us within 12 months of realising that the council has done something wrong.
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 normally 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 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
Ms Y’s young daughter has emotional and behavioural difficulties and was permanently excluded from school. The council arranged an assessment for her at a health service facility but then delayed in arranging a place for her at a suitable school. The Ombudsman concluded that without the delay she could have started there one term sooner. During this time Ms Y had to look after her daughter at home. The Ombudsman asked the council to pay £700 to allow her to attend an activity centre for children with behavioural difficulties.(Typical example)
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 advice on making a disability discrimination claim see www.justice.gov.uk/forms/hmcts/send for information on the First Tier Tribunal (Special Educational Needs and Disability) or send an enquiry to firstname.lastname@example.org
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.