Last night I hosted a celebration of the fifth year of the existence of common ground mediation. Our meeting focused on the delivery of mediation services for parents of children with additional support needs and local authority education departments.
When people think about the achievements of the Scottish Parliament they mention the smoking ban or free bus passes for pensioners. However the Education (Additional Support for Learning) (Scotland) Act 2004 (as amended) was revolutionary in its ambitions and measures to ensure that children and young people with additional support needs were given access to education facilities that they need.
The act didn’t just enshrine children and young people’s rights in law but legislated for there to be mediation as one way of securing those rights. The other routes to resolution set out in the Act are independent adjudication and the additional support needs tribunal Scotland.
Last year around 15% of all pupils in Scotland’s schools were identified as having an additional support need. A child’s education could be affected by issues arising from: social emotional difficulties, problems at home, bullying, physical disability, being a young carer or parent, having English as an additional language to name just a few. The need may last a short time or may be complex, requiring ongoing support for a number of years.
The aim of the Act was to resolve any disagreements as soon as possible and to avoid lengthy protracted disputes. At last night’s event we heard of the positive impact that good quality mediation can make. It’s good for those providing services because they are able to focus on solutions and building trust and better relationships with parents. I know from my own casework that disputes can be bruising and stressful both to parents and the children as well as to schools and education staff.
I could certainly see the potential benefits in other areas as well such as housing and health and hope the lessons can be learned and transferred from the education experience.
The focus of last night was on achieving the best solution for children and young people and using mediation as a way to improve communications and deliver effective solutions. For me it was an inspiring event and the work carried out by Morag Stephen and her team at Common Ground Mediation was definitely worth celebrating.