Centre for Research in Education Inclusion and Diversity (CREID)


The summary of this collaborative project between CREID and the School of Law, University of Manchester highlights its key objectives, the project team, the findings and other research outputs.

The United Kingdom and Scottish Governments are both promoting proportionate dispute resolution as the most effective way of addressing disputes between the individual and the state in some cases. This is because courts and tribunals are judged to be expensive, time consuming and potentially stressful for participants. As a result, many people who could potentially take a case to court or tribunal choose not to do so. To encourage individuals to resolve disputes at the lowest possible level, providers of public services have been encouraged to engage in informal negotiation with service users, in addition to providing opportunities for formal mediation, conciliation or arbitration. Such approaches, which were first applied to the fields of employment and family law, have recently been extended to education, in particular special educational needs (England) and additional support needs (Scotland). Despite the growing emphasis on dispute resolution and avoidance, there is little empirical data on how these approaches are experienced by participants and whether they are effective in their goal of reducing the flow of cases to courts and tribunals. This research will fill a gap in existing knowledge by examining the use and experience of dispute resolution and avoidance in relation to special and additional support needs, and the wider impact of dispute resolution and avoidance on the education system.

Special and additional support needs is an area where there is considerable potential for conflict between parents, local authorities and schools. This is, in part, a result of the scope for disagreement over what constitutes the best education for a child with learning difficulties and the considerable costs which may be attached to non-standard forms of provision.

In England, the Special Educational Needs and Disability Tribunal has been operating since 1995, and until recently, experienced considerable year on year growth in the number of cases referred. In Scotland, there is less of a tradition of recourse to court, and the Additional Support Needs Tribunal has only been in place since 2005. There is now a legal obligation on local authorities in both countries to provide formal mediation services, and other forms of dispute resolution are also available, for example, an adjudication system exists in Scotland to deal with certain types of cases and the Equality and Human Rights Commission offers conciliation services. Evidence from pilot work suggests considerable variation in the use of mediation services by local authority. The extent to which there is a direct association between the uptake of mediation and a decline in tribunal use in England, or a generally low use in Scotland, will be explored. Explanations of the relationship between recourse to court or tribunal and experiences of mediation will be investigated.

To summarise, this research will examine: (1) the strategies used by schools and local authorities to prevent disputes arising in the field of special and additional support needs; (2) the alternative dispute resolution mechanisms in place and the way in which these are experienced by parents and service providers; (3) the success of alternative dispute resolution approaches in reducing the number of cases referred to courts.

Start date January 2008
End date September 2009


Project team

A collaborative project between the Centre for Research in Education Inclusion and Diversity, University of Edinburgh and the School of Law, University of Manchester


TESS - Will mediation have to raise the white flag? (28 Aug 2015)

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