I am a SEND Mediator, and parents often ask me what to expect from mediation if one is organised with the Local Authority for them. Meetings can vary depending on who is attending and what the dispute is about, but from my perspective, this is what mediation is really like.
Mediation and Restorative practice are currently buzzwords across multiple areas of professional life. Generally however, when the term “mediation” is heard, it conjures up for most people an image of embattled divorce proceedings with hostility, acrimony, solicitors and probably being in separate rooms.
SEND Mediation isn’t like that! Let me explain how. It is used when parents disagree with the Local Education Authority regarding the provision of extra help for their with special educational needs.
It is a great way to try to resolve things without having to go down the formal, legal tribunal route (although that option will still be open to you should you need it after the mediation).
You will have the opportunity to talk directly to an experienced SEN Officer, who by and large are all very friendly and easy to talk to. You can put a face (and a real live person) to the Local Authority and ask questions and get all the answers and information you need. Everything that you say and ask is confidential and can’t be used outside of the room (except what is in the written agreement) so you can ask the questions that you might not feel able to do in a more formal setting like a tribunal.
You can rest assured that you will be listened to and treated with respect. It can help you to gain a true understanding of the reasons behind those letters and decisions you’ve been battling. Similarly, it enables your SEN Officer to understand the child behind the file and to gain a full and up-to-date picture of exactly what the challenges are for your child, your family and the educational setting your child is in.
It is an opportunity to put aside the frustrations of the past and for everyone to discuss together the different options available and to find a way together to best meet the needs of the child/young person in question, reaching an agreement that is acceptable to everyone involved.
If you are feeling unsure, then please just ask – we promise we won’t bite! We pride ourselves on our friendly, informal service. It is always worth asking the question, no matter how simple or stupid it seems.
So what will happen? Once you have discussed mediation with Theresa, our Mediation Co-ordinator, and agreed to go ahead, she will send a request to the appropriate person at the LA, and wait to hear proposed dates for your mediation.
Once the date has been set, the Mediation will be organised at a local, neutral venue. The Mediator will contact you a few days before the mediation and you can have a good chat with them to discuss your case, what you want to say, discuss any concerns and allow your mediator to help you feel less nervous or worried about it (don’t worry, everyone feels like this!).
The mediation itself is kept as informal as possible and refreshments are provided. Snacks are very important in these sorts of meetings!
At the start of the meeting your mediator will introduce you all to each other and each person present has the opportunity to explain what they want and why, and how they feel. A discussion then takes place as to the best course of action moving forward.
Your Mediator isn’t there to make decisions, but to help everyone get their point across and to ensure that the meeting is balanced and fair. It is up to you and the SEN Officer to find the solutions.
If you need a break at any time during the mediation to clear your head or speak to the mediator alone, or to consider your options, then that is totally okay.
You can have someone with you for moral support, so you don’t have to go into the room on your own. With everyone’s agreement, you can invite other professionals to support your case as well. You don’t have to go it alone!
The Mediator will make sure that you are completely happy with any agreement or plan of action made before you sign the Memorandum of Agreement. You will not be pressured to agree to anything you don’t want. And that will be that! Phew, you did it!
— Loveday Penelope Fox, Senior SEND Mediator.