Since 2014 and the legislative changes introduced with the Children and Families Act, it has been necessary where there are disputes concerning children's Special Educational Needs and Disability (SEND) status to consider third party mediation before lodging an appeal. But what exactly does this involve?
What is mediation and what can I expect from it?
Simply put, mediation consists of an informal meeting in which two opposing parties discuss their differences and hope to reach an agreement before the dispute is taken to the First Tier Tribunal.
You will have already received details of the mediation service when you received your Local Authority decision concerning your child's Education, Health and Care Plan. You have two months from the date of that letter to approach the mediation service should you wish to pursue an appeal. The requirement to consider mediation can be met through a telephone call and parents are totally at liberty to state that they do not wish to attend a meeting if they don’t think it will be productive. A mediation certificate will then be issued and you will then have another month to lodge an appeal.
Things to consider about the mediation process are that:
- Mediation is wholly voluntary.
- It is an informal space for the discussion of a disagreement that is managed by fully qualified third parties, who are completely independent.
- It is essential that all deadlines must be fully adhered to by all parties.
- The Local Authority will pay any reasonable expenses incurred by you and any witnesses whilst participating in the mediation process.
Is mediation essential?
The process of mediation entails you meeting with your Local Authority for an open informal discussion facilitated by a legally trained and fully qualified mediator. It is unusual for more than one mediation session to be required and commonly the whole process is concluded within 30 days.
Being wholly independent, the mediator is not there to recommend any course of action to either of the parties involved. Rather, the process requires that both parties come to an agreement independently. In cases where this proves impossible, the next step is to take your dispute to an official appeal.
Many parents believe that mediation is an essential part of the process but in our experience, it is not always as productive as you would like it to be and we often advise against it. At Match Solicitors, we have helped a great many parents prepare for SEND appeals without the need for mediation so if you need any advice, don't hesitate to give us a call at Match today, and speak to one of our team of expert education lawyers in confidence.