Lara is twelve years old and seeking enrolment into her local secondary school. She has had a significant history of school refusal and has not attended her primary school for the last six months. Before this period her pattern of attendance had been spasmodic.

Lara has been diagnosed with ADHD with co-morbid anxiety, depression and oppositional defiant disorder. Her reports from her doctor and psychologist suggest a smaller school setting will benefit Lara. The  head teacher from her local secondary school has been in contact with Lara’s primary school and a SEN officer from the local authority. Both feel that Lara needs would be better met in a smaller setting. There is a place available in smaller school a short distance away for students with behavioural issues. However, Lara’s mother is adamant that Lara should attend the same secondary school as her friends.

Lara’s mother has made a number of phone calls t  the local authority and the secondary school head during which she became angry and abusive.
The SEN Officer from the local authority has requested that an Early Dispute Resolution facilitator attend a meeting between the head teacher and Lara’s mother. The SEN officer from the local authority would also be present.

The facilitator starts by welcoming all present with introductions and outlines the purpose of the meeting. She then asks Lara’s mother to share her story of Lara with those present at the meeting. During this time of interrupted listening the facilitator listens with a deep receptive quality never interrupting to give advice and is totally present in the communication. Lara’s story is harrowing with constant failure in the mainstream educational setting. Her mother starts to cry.

The facilitator stays with the mother at this point of her story and continues to listen actively with empathy and compassion. The head teacher is moved by the mother’s story and is genuinely concerned about Lara. It becomes clear that Lara’s mother is frightened that her daughter will fail in school again.

The facilitator then asks the head teacher to speak about her school and what a day looks like for a secondary school student. The head teacher outlines the type of support that is offered at the school. Lara’s mother is concerned that this will not be enough support for Lara. Picking up on the worry that Lara’s mother has concerns about what she sees as another failure for Lara, the facilitator gently brings the group towards the exploration of other educational options.
The head teacher and the SEN Officer speak about a small school setting where students are given the opportunity to build on academic and social skills in a more supportive setting. They speak about the care of the staff and the success of the school. The Local Authority representative offers to accompany the family to the setting for a visit. There is a shift in the mood of the meeting. Everyone wants what is best for Lara. Now the emphasis is on the arrangements needed for the family to visit the small school setting.

Sometimes, educational disputes need an outsider, the facilitator, to facilitate and help the parties understand one another’s points of view. The facilitator oversees an inexpensive, very cost- expected process that is even more informal than mediation. It helps to ensure that places such as Lara’s are looked at objectively but empathetically at a very early stage so that in many cases, agreement can be reached before views become too entrenched. In Lara’s case the whole process took around two hours, shorter than some mediations and certainly, shorter than more formal proceedings such as an official complaint or a referral to a tribunal would take – a classic “win-win”.

At Albert Square Mediation we have an experienced Early Dispute Resolution facilitator with 20 years experience and an excellent track record in finding mutually agreeable outcomes between parties in over one hundred Educational Disputes.