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Mediation is the way to harmony

As education authorities face the prospect of having new complaints procedures for dealing with parents established by law, an opinion survey has found strong support for mediation as a way of resolving disputes - once people know about it.

The latest initiative to smooth disputes between parents and schools comes in the draft Scottish Schools (Parental Involvement) Bill, published last week.

The Bill proposes that authorities be required to establish complaints procedures for parents - and to publicise them.

"Ministers are of the view that it is important, in support of good relationships between authorities, schools and parents, that, for the occasions when there may be any breakdown in these relationships, there is a well-publicised procedure for making and handling complaints," the proposals state.

Mediation is not specified as the way forward, but such an approach is already stipulated in the Additional Support for Learning Act which requires authorities to provide mediation services to resolve disputes between schools and parents of special needs youngsters.

Graeme Millar, chairman of the Scottish Consumer Council, which commissioned the poll, called for improved public funding to expand mediation services as a way of resolving a range of disputes, from those involving neighbours and employers to complaints about public services such as education.

The survey, carried out by TNS System Three, found that 43 per cent of the representative sample of 1,000 had not heard of mediation. Once it was explained to them, 59 per cent said they would consider it to resolve disputes.

The survey showed, however, that disputes featuring schools came bottom of the list of uses for which people would consider mediation - 32 per cent.

This compared with the 47 per cent who would choose it to sort out disputes with an employer, followed by 43 per cent who would opt for it in squabbles with a neighbour.

There was a gender split. Women appeared more likely to consider mediation in disputes involving schools (36 per cent) than men (29 per cent). Men tended to favour mediation to sort out problems with an employer or over goods and services bought or ordered.

The survey's results were released to coincide with last week's conference of the Scottish Mediation Network. Ewan Malcolm, the network's development manager: "Mediation is a voluntary process. This means that both parties have to be willing to try it.

"As 43 per cent of people have never heard of mediation and 38 per cent say they would not consider using it, the chance of finding two willing parties is reduced. So we need to continue working on improving public awareness."

The survey found that awareness of mediation was highest among older people and those on higher earnings. It was lowest among those in the west of Scotland and highest among people in the east and south of the country.

Last week's mediation conference, held in Glasgow, heard from Brendan McAlister, director of mediation in Northern Ireland, that it was time to "destigmatise mediation as being used only when there is a failure.

Mediation is a sign of health, a time to talk and a time to listen."

Further information on mediation can be found by visiting

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