Restorative Approaches in Schools: A Perspective from EnglandGraham Robb, Adviser, Behaviour and Attendance Program, Department for Education and Skills, England
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Paper from 'The Next Step: Developing Restorative Communities', the IIRPs 7th
This paper draws on my experience as a headteacher working in partnership with Thames Valley Police between 1999 and 2004 to implement restorative approaches to a secondary school. I will reflect on the conclusions of the Youth Justice Board evaluation report on the Restorative Justice (RJ) in Schools initiative and identify issues for developing restorative approaches in English schools.
It was August 1999 and the third week of the summer vacation. I had been appointed as headteacher of Drayton School (for children aged 1116 years, serving Banbury in Oxfordshire) starting in July, and I came in to a school in a category of Special Measures, which meant that inspectors had deemed the quality of leadership, achievement, teaching and learning as unsatisfactory.
I was in the school library with a police officer acting as facilitator, with two sets of parents, the acting head of the neighbouring primary school, the site manager of the two schools and two ten-year-old boys. I had never heard of RJ until a month before, and this was my first experience of it. The process resulted in:
This was for me what Sir Charles Pollard, chief constable of Thames Valley Police at the time, calls the wow factor, when someone experiencing the RJ process makes a connection between the values underpinning RJ and their deep-rooted beliefs about themselves and how problems should be sorted out. Sir Charles had the insight and leadership to realize that placing police officers in schools and deploying RJ as a principled strategy would both help the school and reduce the chances of young people becoming involved in the criminal justice system. As head of a school in challenging circumstances, it would have been easy to adopt a punitive policy towards children displaying challenging behaviour. This would have led to exclusions from school, further corrosion of relationships between the school and the community, and an increased chance of excluded young people engaging in crime and anti-social behaviour. But it was clear to me that RJ processes actually meant that young people were undertaking positive learningand that was my main concern.
Over the next five years, in collaboration with Thames Valley Police, the Youth Justice Board teams and Belinda Hopkins from Transforming Conflict, we undertook a significant amount of training and development work on restorative approaches. This term covers the range of restorative work from informal enquiry and problem solving through to the full RJ conferences. This was a very difficult journey for the school. Over the years there were many challenges to the use of restorative approaches; there were failures and weaknesses but there were also stunning success stories for individual pupils and staff; there was transformational learning among many adults working as part of the Drayton communityand, crucially, some children whose lives might have been damaged because of a school incident achieved success in learning.
In this article I will put the Drayton experience in context and then use the evidence from the Youth Justice Board evaluation of RJ in schools to draw some pointers for future development.
Restorative Approaches in Education
RJ approaches started in schools in the Thames Valley and Nottinghamshire areas as a way to deal with minor offences such as theft or assault. The aim was to resolve such problems without the need to go through a criminal justice system, which could be unnecessarily time-consuming, not contribute to learning and might not address the needs of the victim.
Restorative approaches are about reducing bullying, improving behaviour and attitudes, and raising attainment. The fundamental principle is that effective learning cannot take place if relationships in a school are damaged. The restorative approach is designed to make sure that those involved in a conflict own the solution. No one else can solve a problem between two peoplebe they teacher and pupil, pupil and pupil, or school and parent. The process of asking restorative questions puts the onus for problem solving where it belongsbetween the two or more people involved.
Restorative approaches are now being used in a range of primary and secondary schools, special schools and pupil referral units to do the following:
RJ conferences can also be used in the most serious circumstances when a headteacher might consider an exclusion. An acceptable outcome through this can mean that the pupil stays in school and avoids the proven negative effects of exclusion on life chances. At the same time the school community is assured that pupils causing damage to relationships have been confronted about their behaviour and are less likely to cause offence again.
Facilitating an RJ conference is a highly skilled role that requires thorough training. However, restorative approaches can be used informally as a way of dealing constructively with problems, rather than purely applying sanctions to a young person for breaking rules or undermining the authority of a teacher.
Whole-school approaches to restorative approaches require a complex and thorough process of clarifying values, professional development, curriculum and organizational development.
In May 2000, the Youth Justice Board (YJB) launched an initial pilot initiative in two schools in London. This was extended to other Local Authority area schools in May 2001. A further seven Youth Offending Teams established projects in schools in their areas in October 2002. The Restorative Justice in Schools programme (RJiS) covered schools in 9 local YOT areas, and included work across 26 schools (20 secondary and 6 primary schools), using a range of different approaches to managing restorative development. The results were published on the YJB website in March 2005.
Out of 625 formal conferences that took place in the schools during the programme:
The evaluation report from Partners in Education also set out a best practice checklist for introducing restorative justice. The key headings are summarized as:
Information for teachers
Information to pupils and parents
Range of approaches
Clear agreements about contributions and expectations between the schools and the agencies introducing restorative justice approaches
Integration of restorative justice approaches into the school behaviour policy
Formal links between restorative approaches and elements of the school curriculum especially citizenship and personal, social and health education.
Preparation for conferences
Structure for the conferences
Range of facilitators
Monitoring and formal feedback
Future Development of RJ in Schools in England
A significant number of schools and Local Authorities are now promoting the use of restorative approaches using training methodologies drawn from both English and international experience. Similar developments are taking place in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
A key player in managing the successful implementation of restorative approaches is the headteacher. In a school culture in England that gives substantial and increasing autonomy to heads, there are a number of dimensions to leading a school for implementing restorative approaches:
Schools Could Get RA Wrong!
But despite these possible pitfalls, the experience of a significant and growing number of colleagues working in schools of all sorts, supported by Local Authority partners, is that restorative approaches is a strategy that is making a significant difference to pupil achievement, school effectiveness and adult learning.