Conflict need not be negative

8th August 2008 at 01:00

In response to your report, "Special needs Act attacked" (July 25), we would like to say that there are always two sides to a story.

The ASL Act has strengthened many areas in education for children, parents and staff, and introduced new duties and rights in order to bring services together.

Special educationadditional support for learning is governed by complex education law. It is easy to complain about the detailed procedures this requires, but meeting the much broader spectrum of children with additional support needs is a multifaceted and often complicated process.

As the two largest providers of mediation in this field, we provide services to 19 education authorities in Scotland. Since the introduction of the ASL Act 2004, we have been involved in over 100 cases in Scotland relating to additional support needs. It is, therefore, inaccurate to say that "mediation has been much less than anticipated".

The majority of these cases have had positive outcomes using this method, which is more speedy and dramatically less costly, financially and emotionally, than the adversarial routes.

Despite this good work, it is clear that many parents still do not know of their rights to access independent mediation, and we encourage councils to be mindful of their duty under the Act to make it available.

If we communicate well and trust each other, we can create agreements for educating our children in spite of the complexity of the law. What's best for the child should drive our decisions, rather than "what the law says we should do".

Even with a complete rewrite of the ASL Act (which is neither desirable nor realistic), there will always be conflict and disagree-ment on what is best for our children.

Every effort to resolve issues should be done with clear and honest communication. Where that proves impossible, independent mediation offers a structured and calm approach to untangling some of the complexities.

Conflict is often inevitable, but it need not produce negative results.

Sandra Mitchell, Mediation manager, Resolve:ASL Mediation Services, Children in Scotland

Morag Steven, director, Common Ground Mediation Service.

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