Marek and his mother Emelia who are of Eastern European origin have recently been allocated permanent residential accommodation in the London Borough of Ham-upon-Thames in a district with a demographic that does not include many people from ethnic minority backgrounds. Marek joins a year 8 class at the local St Elsewhere Comprehensive School. Almost immediately he is singled out by another student, Royston, who aside from being one of the few students in the school to be of mixed-race origin, is generally regarded as the school bully.

Initially Royston teases Marek a little. However, as it becomes more apparent that as well as being very bright, Marek is quiet and withdrawn, Royston begins to openly taunt him and encourages other boys in the school to do likewise. As a result, a number of them pick fights with Marek. Emelia becomes increasingly concerned and reports a number of incidents to the school head, Mr Doolittle. Because her English is also quite limited, she has found the whole process of complaining and explaining herself to Mr Doolittle and his staff to be both difficult and frustrating.

At first Mr Doolittle is not very sympathetic and does not investigate Emelia’s concerns. He initially tries to placate her by suggesting that Royston is “all mouth” and that it will “soon blow over”. He only becomes concerned when he is contacted by an advice agency that assists Eastern Europeans and has an in-house interpretation service. With some justification and aided by the agency, Emelia threatens to complain to the local authority and to take both the school and Royston’s parents to court. Although he has been sitting on the fence and has had one eye on his limited budget, Mr Doolittle belatedly comes to appreciate that Royston’s behaviour towards Marek is unacceptable and that if something is not done things will get even worse.

Royston has previously been excluded from three other schools. In the past, the local authority has tried a number of strategies to address his behaviour, all of which failed. His parents have long complained that their son is being singled out because of his ethnicity and recently suggested that both Mr Doolittle and Emelia are racists, although if pressed they would probably concede that their son’s behaviour leaves something to be desired.

As concerned as she is, Emelia will only consider moving Marek to another school as a last resort. Despite Royston’s attentions, Marek is doing well at school and he excels at maths English and science. Emelia is also concerned that moving schools would unsettle her son even more. Given the demographic of the district in which they live, it is distinctly possible that similar problems would be encountered at another school. Also St. Elsewhere has a very good academic reputation which is not necessarily true of other schools in the vicinity.

A complaints officer from the local authority, Ms Wiseman, is called in. With the benefit of being able to see all sides’ points of view and having spoken to both Marek and Royston, she suggests that a mediation takes place involving Emelia, Royston’s parents and Mr Doolittle and that an independently appointed interpreter should be provided.

In private sessions, Royston’s parents speak quite frankly to the mediator. For the first time they openly admit that they have no idea how to control their son and that he needs help to address his aggression. They also concede they rejected a recommendation that Mr Doolittle made last year that Royston should be referred to an educational psychologist. They explain that in part, their son’s behaviour is the result of him having been bullied when he was younger and that they are concerned that he might be targeted again. Ultimately, they agree that their son should be formally assessed and withdraw their allegations of racism.

With the benefit of being able to communicate through the interpreter, Emelia is better able to express herself and can understand some of the complexities of the case.

Because of the concessions made by Royston’s parents Mr Doolittle feels able to put forward a plan for monitoring Royston’s behaviour to try to ensure that if he transgresses, he will be dealt with appropriately. Mr Doolittle’s deputy head, Miss Ontheball, who has responsibility for pastoral matters and to date has had little direct involvement, will monitor Marek. It is agreed that if further difficulties arise, the school will call in an interpretation service to help Emelia. Miss Ontheball will also keep all three parents fully updated and confirms that she will work closely with the professionals who will be called into assess and guide Royston.

The Mediator, Mr Insight, has worked very effectively and in only a few hours has facilitated a consensus in what had previously thought to be a complex, volatile situation. He has helped all three parents to see more clearly and put things in perspective. Mr Doolittle, who did not initially either respond or act as decisively as he should have done, is very relieved and his school’s otherwise very good reputation remains intact. Mr Insight’s modest fee has been paid for out of school funds but as the school bursar subsequently notes, the long-term savings of both time and money are considerable.