Making SEND mediation work for families

Thursday 20 May 2021

Gráinne Mellon

Kate Aubrey-Johnson

Margaret Doyle

Polly Sweeney

Date: Thursday 20 May 2021
Time: 5pm-6.30pm
Venue: Online  
Cost: Free
Areas of Law: Mediation , Education Law

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‘Local authorities have huge powers over the lives of families with children who have special needs, making decisions with potentially lifelong consequences. Where parents are unhappy with those decisions, there is a fundamental and frightening inequality of power.’

This was an observation of Mrs Justice Collins Rice in L Kumar v LB of Hillingdon [2020] EWHC 3326 (Admin), which concerned the right to a lawyer at a Special Educational Needs and Disability (SEND) mediation. Bringing a claim to the SEND Tribunal can be an exhausting and protracted process, with the structural power imbalances between the parties compounded by difficulties that families face in accessing legal aid. Before bringing a claim, a parent or young person has to consider mediation. But is it a useful process? What can parties do to maximise the prospects of a ‘successful’ outcome?

This webinar will be a frank discussion about the SEND mediation process, including reflections from a range of expert speakers with differing perspectives, on how to get the most out of it.




Gráinne Mellon, Barrister, Garden Court Chambers (Chair) 
Gráinne is instructed in a broad range of education cases including schools, higher education and regulatory cases. She has a particular expertise in discrimination and public law issues that arise in accessing education. Gráinne is frequently instructed in public law cases which involve overlapping issues of education, community care law and immigration law including for leading children’s charities. She is frequently instructed in cases seeking urgent interim relief in judicial review proceedings and in civil claims under the Human Rights Act 1998 against schools and local authorities. In school work she acts in particular in high value special educational needs cases and in complex discrimination claims. In higher education, she represents students and academics alike in internal disciplinary hearings, fitness to practice matters and in appeal to the OIA.

She is particularly known for her work representing vulnerable children and adults across the spectrum of both judicial review claims and civil / human rights claims. Gráinne is appointed to the Equality and Human Rights Commission's preferred Panel of Counsel. She also teaches International Human Rights Law at the London School of Economics and is also a Fellow in the Centre for Human Rights at the LSE. She is the Vice-Chair of the Bar Human Rights Committee, the international human rights arm of the Bar of England and Wales. Gráinne also sits, on a part-time basis, as a Judge in the First Tier Tribunal Health, Education and Social Care (Mental Health). 

Kate Aubrey-Johnson, Barrister, Garden Court Chambers
Kate is a very experienced mediator with a high settlement rate. She is accredited to undertake civil mediations in a variety of areas and specialises in SEND mediation. Kate believes that mediation allows parties to reach creative resolutions and that the mediation process can offer meaningful and practical agreements for people in a dispute.

Kate is an active member of the wider mediation community and provides seminars on the benefits of mediation. She is an accredited civil mediator, a SEND mediator for the award-winning KIDS SEND Mediation Service and an accredited community mediator.  Kate has a wealth of litigation experience and is able to communicate sensitively and effectively in an emotionally charged environment. She has written widely on developments in mediation and is the author of Making Mediation Work For You (LAG, 2012) described by Lord Woolf, former Lord Chief Justice, as “excellent... breaking new ground… a book which is easy to understand and informs the reader, whether or not a lawyer, precisely what needs to be known about mediation in order that mediation can provide a solution.”

Margaret Doyle, Visiting Research Fellow, University of Essex School of Law
Margaret is an independent mediator specialising in disputes involving equalities and disabilities and a researcher in public-sector dispute resolution and administrative justice. She is a Visiting Research Fellow with the UK Administrative Justice Institute (, a research network based at the University of Essex School of Law. Margaret was accredited in 2005 by Mediation UK under the Legal Services Commission’s Mediation Quality Mark and in 2018 by the Civil Mediation Council and College of Mediators under the SEND Mediator Practice Standards (Department for Education). Her mediation website is at

Working with the Advice Services Alliance, Margaret produced the first guide to appropriate dispute resolution for the UK advice sector (Advising on ADR, 2000). Past research projects include mediation in the county court for the Ministry of Justice (then the DCA), mediation and judicial review with the Public Law Project, and a mapping study of dispute resolution services for discrimination and human rights complaints for the Equality and Human Rights Commission. Most recently, Margaret has brought together her research and practice experience by conducting a knowledge exchange project on young people's participation in resolving disputes about their special educational needs and disabilities support. This work was funded by an ESRC IAA Fund grant and the Garden Court Chambers Special Fund. She is co-author (with Varda Bondy) of Mediation in Judicial Review: A practitioners’ handbook (Public Law Project, 2011) and co-author (with Nick O’Brien) of the book Reimagining Administrative Justice: Human Rights in Small Places (Palgrave, 2019).

Polly Sweeney, Partner, Rook Irwin Sweeney 
Polly is a nationally recognised expert in public law and human rights with a strong commitment to access to justice and promoting the rights of vulnerable people. She is the Chair of the Law Society’s Mental Health and Disability Committee and a contributing author to the leading publication LAG Disabled Children Handbook (2nd and 3rd editions). She regularly provides training to organisations as well as individuals promoting awareness of legal rights and duties.

Polly specialises in education, community care, healthcare and medical treatment, and the Court of Protection, and has a particular interest in cases involving children and young people. She is Accredited Legal Representative under the Law Society’s Mental Capacity (Welfare) Scheme and able to act for individuals in applications challenging the deprivation of their liberty. Polly was named “Gazette Legal Personality of the Year” at the Law Society’s Excellence Awards 2020 for her ‘high profile campaigning role in litigation to maintain the educational rights of children with special educational needs’.

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