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What is mediation?
Mediation is a way of resolving disputes in which the parties, not the mediator, seek to find mutually agreed solutions leading to the fair resolution of a problem.
Mediation is a neutral and voluntary process which helps to: -
a. facilitate effective communication;
b. re-build broken relationships;
c. narrow the issues;
d. clear up any misunderstandings;
e. focus on finding mutually agreed solutions;
f. the mediation process offers all those involved the opportunity to be fully heard and to hear each other's perspective(s).
Mediation should always take place in private and in confidence. It will involve some discussion around events leading to the present dispute. Keeping the child/young person firmly in the centre of the process, the main focus will be on what is going to happen in the future, and how the parties are going to work together to resolve the difficulties faced. Where a dispute or conflict arises over a child or young person's additional support needs, local resolution/problem solving initiatives should be pursued in the first instance. If, following attempts at local resolution the parties are still dissatisfied, mediation should be considered.
Who are the parties?
Parties to a mediation can be the child or young person, the parent(s) or carers, the head teacher, the education authority or anyone else involved in the educational decision making process.
Who will mediate?
a. An independent, impartial and trained mediator will be appointed. The mediator will be experienced in dispute resolution and will have a working knowledge of additional support needs and surrounding issues.
b. Mediators do not offer advice or make recommendations. It is the parties themselves who are assisted by the mediator to find mutually acceptable solutions.
The mediation process
Prior to any face-to-face meeting, the mediator will gather as much information as appropriate from all the parties involved. The mediator will then work towards bringing the parties together to discuss the issues and think about workable solutions. In exceptional cases the whole process of mediation can take place without the parties meeting. This is known as 'shuttle mediation', but working towards face-to-face mediation is the desired goal and usually achieves better outcomes.
What topics can be mediated?
A wide variety of educational issues can be mediated including: -
1. general disputes within a school;
2. school placements.
3. level of support for a child with additional support needs-specific issues can be addressed;
4. methods being used to identify and assess additional support needs;
5. exclusion from school.
Who will be involved in the mediation process?
The parent or carer of the child or young person, someone from the child or young person's school and a representative from the education authority who can agree solutions and follow up any recommendations, and the child or young person if appropriate. It is essential that the child or young persons views are heard in the process. The mediator will aim to ensure that only those people who need to be at the mediation meeting are invited but may also advise the parent and/or the child or young person to bring a supporter to the mediation meeting.
What is the likely outcome?
In many cases a mutually acceptable agreement will be reached. Where this is not achieved it may have been helpful for all parties to feel they have been given the opportunity to explain their views/position in a non threatening context. Where an agreement is reached it is best practice to agree the wording of the decision at the meeting and set a review date. As part of the normal cycle of planning, parties should monitor/evaluate the outcome.
What are the potential benefits of mediation?
1. the parties gain a better understanding of the issues affecting each other;
2. improved relationships between the parties involved;
3. lengthy and costly litigation can be avoided;
4. less worry and frustration;
5. work towards a mutually agreed solution, which helps the parties;
6. a common sense approach produces practical solutions;
7. disputes are handled in a constructive way;
8. the feelings, emotions and perceptions behind the facts in dispute can be dealt with;
9. the process is flexible and the parties can choose to 'opt in' or 'opt out' at any stage in a dispute.
Where will mediation take place?
In a neutral location agreed by both parties.
Relevant changes in the law
The Consultation on the Draft Education (Additional Support for Learning) (Scotland) Bill was released in January 2003.This seeks to impose a duty on every education authority to provide independent mediation services to parents or carers of children or young people with additional support needs. This aims to ease the resolution of disputes and avoid the breakdown of the relationships between parents and the school or education authority.
Preparing for mediation
Each party must be clear about the issues they will bring to the mediation meeting and to discuss these with the mediator prior to the face-to-face mediation. Only issues raised during the mediation process will be discussed in the meeting. Any new issues that arise during the course of the mediation meeting will be discussed at a later date.
There should be no unexpected surprises or hidden agendas in the face-to-face meeting and the parties should be informed about the content of the discussion prior to the event.
Each party needs to know their case and to identify the key issues involved.
Each party should identify their goals and work out what is really important to achieve.
Support available for mediation
There are a number of agencies that can attend mediation meetings to support one or other of the parties.All parties must be informed of attendees and agree on these before the mediation meeting takes place. Further details can be provided by Enquire.
Dispelling mediation myths
1. if you go down the route of mediation this does not prevent you from pursuing your case through the courts;*
2. pursuing mediation is not an admission of guilt or an acceptance of blame;
3. Mediation is not biased towards one party or another.
Mediation provides a structured yet flexible way for parties who are in conflict to work together. It allows solutions to be created rather than imposed. The parties who agree to take part in mediation have nothing to lose and everything to gain.
*In the event that a case is being pursued through the courts, the client would be expected to suspend the legal action before entering into mediation.
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