The UK Government is keen to encourage the use of mediation, rather than court or tribunal, as the best means of resolving disputes between citizen and state on the grounds that legal proceedings are costly, lengthy and stressful. The policy of proportionate dispute resolution appears to be particularly applicable to the field of special educational needs (SEN), where both mediation and tribunal are available as dispute resolution mechanisms. However, evidence suggests that very little use has been made of mediation in either England or Scotland. In order to understand this phenomenon, this paper begins with investigating the dominant policy frameworks in SEN (England) and additional support needs (ASN; Scotland). Subsequently, the attitudes of English and Scottish local authority (LA) officers are explored. It is argued that both countries now have an eclectic mix of policy frameworks in play, including the traditional models of bureaucracy and professionalism, and the more recent models of managerialism, consumerism and legality. In Scotland, professionalism and bureaucracy continue to dominate, and this is associated with more restricted access to and less use of all forms of dispute resolution, in particular the tribunal. © 2010 Taylor & Francis.