Guidelines for staffs, the INTO and management on accessing the mediation service
Positive staff relations are the key to a productive and satisfying working environment. In this regard, both management and INTO emphasise the importance of a work culture which promotes open and constructive dialogue, which facilitates issues being aired in a transparent and fair manner and which allows for difficulties to be addressed. Examples of the difficulties which may arise from time to time in school staffs, include lack of consultation in decision making, DES circulars not being distributed, alleged bullying, inability of staff to collaborate.
Obtaining Prior Approval
Management and the INTO have developed a specific procedure to address staff relations difficulties/conflicts which is contained in the booklet Working Together*. This procedure includes a mediation facility whereby a trained mediator from the INTO/management panel may work with a staff in order to achieve a framework to address/resolve the issues of difficulty or controversy. As the mediation facility is paid for by INTO and management jointly, it should be clearly understood that prior written approval for same must be obtained from INTO Head Office and from the office of the school’s patron (which in practice may be through the local CPSMA Representative/Diocesan Secretary). It is the responsibility of the INTO District Representative to obtain the approval of INTO Head Office and similarly it is a matter for the board of management to obtain the approval of the office of the patron. In addition and as appropriate, the INTO district representative should liaise directly with the local CPSMA Representative/Diocesan Secretary.
Accessing the Service
The following guidelines apply to accessing the service:
1. Where members of staff wish to address staff relations difficulties which may exist in their staffs they should, in the first instance, consider the scope of the Working Together booklet and assess if matters can be resolved at school level through the utilisation of any of the recommended good practices/procedures set out therein. This should include consideration of internal staff communication and decision-making systems and pportunities for conflict resolution;
2. Staffs should consult their INTO district representative in order to obtain advice and assistance regarding the issues of difficulty and the possibility of resolution of matters at school level;
3. Where, notwithstanding the efforts made pursuant to nos. 1 and 2 above, members of staff wish to access the mediation facility, they should appraise their INTO staff representative who should in turn:
- Clarify how many members of staff wish to participate in mediation bearing in mind that the process is voluntary;
- Consult further with the INTO district representative;
- At the appropriate time, advise the chairperson of the board of management and
seek the approval of the chair/board for proceeding with mediation;
4. The INTO district representative will liaise directly with the chairperson of the board of management and with INTO Head Office. The chairperson of the board of management will in turn liaise with his/her respective Diocesan office in order to seek the approval of the patron for the mediation;
5. The officials/management representatives involved will assess the situation and if mediation is approved, the INTO district representative will liaise directly with the staff/staff representative and the chairperson of the board of management in order to agree the name of a suitable mediator.
Preparation for Mediation
The staff representative may arrange for the mediator to be informally appraised of:
- the key issues of difficulty;
- the parties involved;
- the initiatives taken at school level to address matters;
- a general outline of any progress made (if applicable); and
- an indication of the outstanding issues.
Alternatively (and where for example the staff representative is a party to the issues of difficulty), the mediator may be informally provided with background information by the INTO district representative, the chairperson of the board of management or a management representative. However, it is important to note that as part of the initial stages of mediation, the mediator shall arrange to directly hear from the members of staff involved.
As part of the mediation process, members of staff will be required to confirm that they will constructively participate, will be flexible in order to achieve resolution, and will abide by the recommendations of the Mediator.
The mediator at all times acts in good faith. His/her role is to directly hear the parties, assess the issues and endeavour to reach a resolution/compromise through dialogue with the parties. He/she will normally arrange an initial meeting of the staff concerned in order to outline the process. He/she will then arrange further meetings as appropriate, on an individual or collective basis. The mediator shall:
- Review all relevant documentation (if any);
- Arrange to meet with the parties for the purpose of directly hearing and assessing the issues;
- Decide on whether it is possible to achieve a framework for resolution in light of the attitudes of the parties; and
- Where the mediator decides to proceed, he/she shall commence a process of negotiation/meetings with the parties and draft a conclusion when the process is finished which may include a framework for resolution of the difficulties.
The conclusion of the mediator shall solely state whether mediation has achieved or failed to achieve a resolution. The conclusion shall be available to the parties together with the framework for resolution if same has been agreed.
As a rule, the mediator shall endeavour to complete the process within twenty school days. In terms of meetings between the mediator and members of staff, it is recommended that these should take place outside of school time. Where this is not possible the mediator should clarify with the chairperson of the board of management whether other in-school arrangements can be made.
It is recognised that follow-up meetings by a mediator with staff may be very useful, particularly if a period of months has intervened between the mediation process and the follow-up meeting. The follow-up meeting allows the mediator to engage with staff regarding any progress made on the mediation agreement. However, the number of follow-up meetings should be limited to a maximum of two.
Finally, it is essential to understand that the success of any mediation process is dependent on goodwill, flexibility and ongoing effort among staff to reach a settlement and work towards achieving the recommendations set out in the framework for resolution. Other initiatives such as training or counselling may also be appropriate.
*Working Together also includes two other procedures which do not involve formal mediation, namely a Bullying/Harassment Procedure and a Grievance Procedure.