If ever the British public were in doubt about the challenges currently facing the UK education sector, any such notion should have been dispelled by the recent spate of objective but nonetheless rather pessimistic newspaper headlines and articles.

These articles have covered a variety of topics including headteachers having to routinely do the washing up, schools being dependent on crowdfunding and other fundraising measures, crises of confidence in the teaching profession, teachers in very responsible positions being so poorly paid that they are dependent on the provision of local authority temporary accommodation, and teaching efforts being stymied by a combination of poor discipline among students and expectant parents making unwarranted complaints and divisively using social media outlets.  These have served to emphasise the incredibly demanding sequences of difficulties and challenges that individual teachers, leadership teams, students, parents and trade union officials have to address on a daily basis. In many instances, individuals within the education system will find themselves bereft of support and one suspects that the already very significant levels of disillusionment that have set in will not improve any time soon.

One article that has made a particular impression on me was a front-page report in yesterday’s Observer in which a senior academic psychoanalyst and researcher of many years standing highlights very strongly expressed concerns about the impact of technology on the crucial learning relationship between adults and children. [1]

This article refers to the expert in question, Professor Fonegy, who relies on decades of research mentioning in particular that emotional disorders among young women aged 14 to 19 have become very much more common with hospital admissions of self-harm having increased massively. Professor Fonegy who acts as an adviser to both the UK Department of Health and the UK National Health Service has also become concerned about what the article terms a spike in violence amongst boys. Part of the difficulties is attributed to increased use of smart phones hence the viewpoint that some young people have less face-to-face contact with older people than they used to and that the increased levels of contact between young people through social media are not what the brain was designed for.

If one accepts the premise of this article then on top of all the other difficulties and challenges that the UK education system faces then Professor Fonegy’s concerns will need to be urgently addressed. This necessarily calls into question at least some aspects of the current educational system. Given that this in turn will require very significant levels of investigation, reporting and consultation, however necessary these processes may be, they will place further financial and resource burdens on an already very severely strained system,  at a time when there appears to be little prospect of government increasing  funding to the educational sector.

At this point, someone like me leaps in and extols the virtues of mediation and other forms of dispute resolution and how timely and cost-effective it is.

One invariable response made by headteachers and chairs of governors is that resource issues are such that even modest outlays for such services cannot be entertained. In one sense this is a very fair point and of late I have been giving thought as to how I might respond and my response is as follows:

An initial telephone discussion with either myself or the ASM PLUS education team Convener, Nicole Godetz will cost nothing;

ASM PLUS is committed to providing a bespoke dispute resolution service and to doing so very cost effectively.

We are also committed to resolving matters as quickly as possible and offer not only mediation but Early Dispute Avoidance (EDA) and Early Dispute Resolution (EDR). Accordingly, it may be that a promptly convened facilitated meeting chaired by a member of the ASM PLUS education team will help those concerned to identify the issues and provide them with the means to then resolve matters between themselves without any external help. This might very well negate the need for mediation which, although still a cost-effective process, may prove to be a little more expensive but because there is no question of ASM PLUS looking to generate unnecessary work, our initial advice as to how best to proceed will always be conducted in a spirit of complete impartiality and objectivity.

One thing that many organisations and, both those in the education sector and outside it often overlook, is the issue of hidden costs. A headteacher who has to resolve a disciplinary issue or address quite possibly, legitimate complaints lodged by parents will necessarily have to spend considerable amounts of time dealing with them and will be diverted from the all-important educational and managerial tasks that should be occupying the bulk of his or her working day. If one undertakes a rudimentary cost of time analysis using the hourly salary rates of the headteacher and other members of staff involved, it will very probably demonstrate that even in circumstances where internal resolution proves to be successful that the true costs will substantially outweigh the modest fee that we would expect to charge.

Educational mediators and dispute resolvers such as me do not expect to routinely become involved in the vast majority of school disputes. Headteachers, leadership teams and chairs of governors will between them have considerable levels of skill and expertise and in many instances will be able to resolve quite complex disputes. Indeed, one might be very worried if they could not.

If lawyers become involved to any great extent then although in some instances their input may be welcomed appropriate allowance will have to be taken of their costs. In this regard it should be borne in mind that in 2019, even the most junior lawyers charge around £200 plus VAT per hour. Using the much less expensive option of ASM PLUS’s external dispute resolution services will not only help to keep such expenditure down but, particularly if used early on, may prevent the need for protracted and very costly processes such as going to court or to an employment tribunal.

I therefore respectfully urge anyone reading this article who is involved in an educational dispute to take five minutes, think about what is written above and call us for that all-important first free, without obligation discussion. At worst, this will cost nothing and take very little time. At best and perhaps much more likely, it could result in the huge savings of time and money that I have identified above.

[1] Doward J and Hall S. Tech cuts off young from adults, child expert warns. The Observer, 28 April 2109.