On the Special Needs Jungle website, I read an article about parents being prosecuted for not attending school and this got me thinking. As a mediator it is something that I have come across – parents who have children with extreme SEND Needs who receive letters threatening fines and prosecution because their children are frequently late, won’t stay in school, or who are school refusers.
I understand that the parents may have learning difficulties or mental health needs themselves; they may have other children with SEND needs and I understand just how impossible it is to force a child to get out of bed, get dressed and get into the car/walk to school if they are determined that they can’t/won’t do that. I am aware of the anxiety and fears that can overwhelm a young person and that to a child for example with autism, just the thought of going into the school environment can be utterly overwhelming. That’s before we even start talking about the experiences the young person might have once they are within school – bullying, misunderstanding, isolation etc.
I have seen the stress and worry that all this causes parents but I also understand the school’s perspective. A child has to be in school, in the classroom in order to learn, otherwise they are failing in their duty to educate. Schools operate within processes that they may have to adhere to no matter what the circumstances. Teachers may feel just as helpless and out of their depth when they are faced with a child disrupting the entire class, preventing any learning for anyone taking place. They may not understand or be familiar with the child’s condition/needs and genuinely want to help but simply not know what else to try.
Teachers and school staff are themselves under a great deal of pressure to perform at all times, to make the right decision and take the right action but we are all of us human. Humans make mistakes and hind sight is a wonderful thing. It can be equally difficult for the school staff to deal with an irate parent shouting at them for failing their child as it is for the parents to feel that are banging their head against a brick wall trying to get help and support for their child. In this scenario, neither party is able to listen to the others’ perspective.
I see the frustration and sense of helplessness on both sides. But this is one of the joys of being a mediator – the ability to see all sides, to empathise with all sides but not to take any sides. My mediator skills allow me to accept and listen to what everyone is saying; to give each one the space and opportunity to say what they need to say, and ensuring that they are listened to. It is at this point that solutions and options can be explored but I am always very conscious of the importance of the Mediator not offering advice and not making any judgements – in fact I am often relieved that I do not have to make any judgements on the validity of someone’s views.
Therein lies some of the magic of mediation – there is not a winner or loser/ someone who is right and someone who is wrong – simply a coming together to find the right way forward. Hopefully without recourse to legal threats/actions and parents being prosecuted because their child is not attending school.