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Mediation and advocacy to resolve disputes in the education sector


Frequently Asked Questions About Education Mediation


What does a mediator do?

A mediator is an independent, neutral person skilled in using a well-established, internationally recognised structure and process to help people to understand grievances, explore options, and come to agreement about how to resolve disputes themselves.

Why education mediation?

The education sector is a complex system, made up of people (students, teachers, managers, administrators, researchers, parents, examiners, evaluators…) and their interactions and so it is inevitable that conflict occurs. Some conflict may be positive but much of it is not. Conflict can and does drag on for weeks, months, or even years causing unwanted psychological, emotional, physical and financial hardship, distress, and suffering.

Mediation is a well-established and increasingly used means of resolving disputes. With the help of the structure and process provided by a mediator, mediation allows people in dispute, to suggest, explore, and devise ways of implementing solutions that work for them. Mediation is private and confidential; faster and more cost effective than its alternatives; and gives people the possibility of restoring working relationships.

I want to avoid litigation and legal routes. What can I do?

Mediation is an alternative to the expensive, acrimonious, time-consuming legal routes which can and do damage relationships irreparably. Mediation can help you resolve your dispute in less time, less money, and with less stress and wear and tear on you and those around you.

Can mediation occur if a legal process is already in train?

Yes. Mediation can occur “without prejudice” to other routes, including legal routes. If mediation is successful, the legal route can be ended. If it is unsuccessful at this time, nothing that occurs in mediation may be brought into a legal setting. This includes mediators and their notes.

How successful is mediation?

Mediation is a confidential process with no reported centralised data collection and analysis, and so valid figures for success rates are difficult to estimate. Nonetheless, mediation sources frequently report that research shows that over 80% of disputes are successfully resolved through mediation.

It is more accurate perhaps to speak of Agreement rates than Success rates and a mediator's task is to strive to help people reach agreement. Success can, however, have other faces. Even when a specific agreement is not reached, people may be glad they have mediated and say they understand better why there was a problem, or they have gained in understanding, or they appreciated having their account heard and understood.

What is mediation NOT?

Mediation is NOT:

  • Forced compromise. Seeking compromise is an element of mediation but nobody is forced to compromise in mediation.

  • Arbitration or judgement. The mediator is not qualified to judge or arbitrate a dispute.

  • Counselling or therapy. The mediator helps people to negotiate a solution themselves to their dispute but does not offer advice or counsel.

What kinds of disputes do education mediators help to resolve?

Disputes may be about difficulties that arise between individuals or difficulties that arise in relation to working, for example personality, temperamental, misunderstanding, miscommunications, studying, assessment, evaluation, working conditions, bullying, and many more.

I have an in-depth understanding of how bullying in the workplace affects people. If you need help in resolving a conflict where there is bullying or an allegation of bullying, please contact me.

Can you describe exactly what would happen if I chose mediation?

A venue is agreed, this is usually neutral and decided by the parties involved. A time and date are also agreed.

During the first session, the mediator usually meets both people together and explains what mediation is about, the process, and outlines expectations about how it will work, often called ‘ground rules’ about behaviour and interaction.

During the initial session a decision is also made about whether mediation is appropriate for the people in dispute. For example, both parties must be competent to mediate and must undertake it voluntarily.

Usually, the mediator talks privately with each person individually. This can happen in advance of the first session or during it. Nothing either party says to the mediator is disclosed to the other person without their agreement.

Each person has an opportunity during the first or second session to describe the situation that has arisen. The mediator helps each person to gain an understanding of the issues. Key issues are identified and agreed.

In the next session, people begin to suggest and explore options that would work for them to bring about a resolution of each issue.

The mediator makes note of all options, encourages lateral thinking, and helps the people to explore each option further, and also carries out “reality testing”, i.e., investigating how might each suggestion work in practice and over time?

When a resolution comes from this exploratory, investigative and analytical work, it may be agreed verbally or in writing by the people involved. Such an agreement may also be formally agreed (e.g., using workplace procedures, or in a court, etc.), as appropriate to the circumstances.

What happens if I don’t want to continue with mediation after it starts?

Either party may terminate the mediation at any time. Participation is voluntary.

What does “structure” and “process” mean in mediation?

Structure refers to the framework that the mediator organises to enable mediation to occur between people in dispute. This includes overseeing the timeframe and managing the various steps of the process, i.e., the information gathering, the exploration and analysis of issues, options, and outcomes, the support and encouragement of the people involved, and the putting together of an agreement.

What is the education sector?

The education sector in the Republic of Ireland is made up of more than 3000 primary schools, more than 700 post-primary schools, about 40 higher education institutions, a myriad of further and continuing education centres, and an ever-increasing number of pre-school centres offering education programmes to more than 1 million children and adults ( with an estimated further 300,000 people participating in adult education ( Across the various sectors, delivering and supporting these diverse educational programmes, there are hundreds of thousands of parents; at least 70,000 teachers, lecturers, and examiners; well over 30,000 board of management and governing body members; thousands of managers; and many thousands of civil and public servants, administrators and inspectors.

Why is mediation needed in the education sector?

Within the complicated web of human interaction among hundreds of thousands of people in education, often with differing values and priorities, conflict is inevitable. Much of it is unintended or careless, happening by accident and in error. Sometimes conflict is neither accidental nor benign, but a result of individual or organisational characteristics that lead to lack of care and respect for others, and even bullying. Some conflict requires outside intervention, arbitration and judgement. Often it is resolvable by the people involved but they may need assistance in doing that. Mediation, with its well-researched and established structure and process, is a successful means of dispute resolution. If the individuals involved can resolve disputes themselves in mediation, the process is shorter, easier, less stressful, less costly, more empowering, and ultimately better for individuals and organisations.

Why do I need a specialist in education to mediate?

A mediator who understands the context and environment in which a dispute takes place is especially well placed to help people resolve disputes in their sector.

A mediator who already understands the various sectors in education - primary, post-primary, tertiary - and who is familiar with the work and perspectives of the various people involved - students, teachers, researchers, lecturers, administrators, parents, managers, unions - more quickly and easily grasps the context, issues and concerns of those in dispute. This familiarity and understanding facilitates management of the mediation process, and speedy resolution of disputes in education.