Written by Graham Perry

Graham Perry M.A. Cantab FCIArb Experienced Arbitration Lawyer | China & Chinese Business Affairs | Public Speaker/Lecturer

27 November 2023



The current Mediation narrative on the problems of 14 year old Mavis that have arisen out of her teacher’s request to tell her class about her Family Tree, has provoked a response from readers of this Column. In summary some say the Head was wrong to pursue Mavis’s problem with her parents whilst others argue that the Head has rightly taken a wider view of the meaning of education.

Today I pause in the narrative to address the divide. Looking at the issue in micro terms, should the Head leave things as they are and just focus on preparation for GCSE’s and A levels. Isn’t the function of school merely to help the pupil to attain the best marks and take steps to secure their future – leaving family issues within the family and to resist bringing them into the classroom? Or, is education a much wider concept where the School plays a key role in preparing the pupils for the Big World – families, society, and individual human values.

An associated question is whether the School Heads should be trained in mediation skills to prepare them for the growing range of social and family problems. A casual glance at the newspapers or even TV news suggests that parents are becoming more assertive and ever ready to confront the rules of school. For example, more parents are arranging holidays even if they clash with the school programme and here travel agents play a role by offering significant discounts for one week overseas breaks either side of a school term holiday. Family budgets play a role here but so does the loss of 7 days in class. Another issue is school uniform where parents – mindful of challenges to family expenditures – resist the requirement for school blazers and specific sports kit.

Mediation is still the New Boy on the Block where education is concerned. Practitioners of mediation are evangelical about the process. For them – in the main – it works and is an invaluable tool in resolving conflicts. It is informal and in the hands of the skilled mediator can achieve much in removing obstacles and minimising conflicts – not just in education but in all walks of life.

This Column is committed to narratives that highlight open thinking and resist hard core narrow attitudes. Mediation does have to challenge the mind set of the conflicted parties and step by step – the artichoke again! – move them from fixed irrevocable positions to a willingness to embrace new and original thinking.

Mediations do fail  – mainly – because parties come to the table with fixed and inflexible strategies and a Mediator should not waste too much time with such disputes. The Mediator should try to meet with the parties alone because – on occasions – lawyers have their own agenda which is not necessarily in the best interests of the parties.

But Mediation is preferable to Litigation because it makes the parties part of the solution – they have an interest in its successful implementation. This is more conducive to improved long term relations than arbitration or litigation which always produces a winner and a loser. One party is left smarting  which is not a recipe for improved long term relations. 

The nest episode focuses on solutions to two matters – Brenda’s embarrassment about her family’s fractured relationships and her father’s antagonistic relationship with his own father – Brenda’s grandfather. 



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