This project builds on work undertaken as part of the ESRC-funded project Dispute Resolution and Avoidance in Special and Additional Support Needs in England and Scotland (RES-062-23-0803). The purpose of the original research was to assess the success of alternative dispute resolution (ADR) as the means of settling disputes in the field of additional support needs (ASN). ADR involves negotiation between parties using mediators, and is believed to be less costly and stressful for all concerned than more formal methods of dispute resolution involving courts and tribunals.
Despite the official promotion of ADR, our research found that it has not been extensively used. Most disagreements were dealt with through informal negotiation at school level, with only a minority of parents choosing to use a more formal dispute resolution route. Of those who did, the tribunal was often preferred to mediation or adjudication. Whilst our research suggested that many parents were satisfied with local authority provision for their child with additional support needs, a significant minority remained extremely dissatisfied with the services provided, a finding which concurs with that of the Lamb Inquiry on parental satisfaction with special educational needs provision in England. Many parents were unaware of the range of dispute resolution mechanisms available, and when they used mediation or adjudication, were disappointed to find that the recommendations were not legally enforceable. Parents also often complained about poor communication at school level.
The purpose of this knowledge exchange project is to enhance understanding of the parents’ and practitioners’ experience of different types of dispute resolution, with a view to helping local authorities, schools and parents develop better methods of communicating with each other in the field of ASN and of resolving disagreements when these arise. The knowledge exchange programme will reflect on why disagreements occur in the first place, what can be done to achieve resolution at an early stage through informal negotiation, and how more formal dispute resolution methods (mediation, adjudication, tribunal) may be used more effectively. We intend to host three think tanks and produce a service framework guide aimed particularly at parents, but which will also be useful for professionals.
This article was published on Nov 5, 2012