St Edmund’s is a nursery and primary school that serves the North Lynn estate [urban housing]. North Lynn is an area of significant deprivation, unemployment, high alcohol and drug abuse and crime. Historically the school has faced many challenges and has been identified as a DCSF (Department for Children Schools and Families) “hard to shift” school. Standards at St Edmund’s are below the DCSF floor targets and have been so for the past nine years.
As a staff we feel passionate about children and making sure that their primary education is of high quality. Many of our children begin school with limited basic skills; their vocabulary, social skills and experiences are often very underdeveloped. Our children find engaging in learning and communicating with others difficult and find it very hard to take responsibility for their own behaviour.
We decided that we needed to do something different! As part of our multi-agency work with North Lynn Safer Neighbourhood Team, we discovered restorative practices [RP]. We could instantly see that RP was part of the solution!
All of the school staff received training on 19th April, 2010, and we immediately implemented RP as of the first day of the term – 20th April, 2010. The speed of implementation and impact has been astounding. Restorative practices have changed St Edmund’s beyond all belief.
This is what restorative practices looks like at St Edmund’s:
When the children come in each morning they are quick to sort themselves into a circle. They are keen to get started. The class teacher starts off with a greeting. This is passed around the circle and varies depending on the age of the children. The greeting is followed by a “feeling circle,” when the teacher refers to the feeling chart. (As the children come into class they put their name next to the emotion that they are feeling: happy, sad, worried, tired, hungry, angry, OK.) The children have the chance to tell the circle about their feeling if they want. They also have a chance to speak to an adult later if they would prefer. Other children volunteer to become “support partners” for children who are sad or worried. Children like this responsibility and are keen to support one another. This is then followed by another circle, which can be fun or work-related, depending on the needs of the class.
Circles then take place throughout the day as appropriate, to sort out problems in the class, address attitude and learning issues and as teaching aids. The children greatly enjoy this approach and are very well practiced at sending around their talking piece.
There is also a close-of-day circle, which is used to review and reflect upon the day and to say goodbye to everyone.
Circles also take place at lunch and break times to address issues that the children may have. Children are independently “circling up” to resolve their own problems. They sometimes ask an adult to support them, but they are also becoming more confident and competent at doing the circle themselves.
Mini-conferences are held when there has been an issue. These are chaired by an independent facilitator. The children have also been involved in being independent facilitators. They take this role very seriously and have little cards to help them to remember the questions to ask. Parents are involved in mini-conferences, as appropriate, in helping to resolve incidents.
We have a Relationships Management Policy, which has been developed by all staff. It replaces our Behaviour Policy (which was punitive) and is in line with our restorative ethos. This includes class non-negotiables with regards to circles and conferences: things like types of circles that we have (greeting, feeling, fun, learning), how often (when problems arise, beginning and end of day), mini-conferences and how these are conducted, and use of consistent language.
The staff use circles in much the same way as the children. We have three briefings per week as well as staff meetings. At the beginning of each briefing or meeting we start off with a feelings circle. This is followed by a fun circle. This has helped us to become more cohesive and supportive of one another; staff look forward to their circles. Problem-solving circles are used regularly by staff to help us to overcome some of the many difficulties that we face. These have worked well and have ensured that all our staff have a voice and an opportunity to contribute.
On Fridays we have a close-of-the-week circle at the end of school. We think of highlights of the week. This is a good time for us, as we get a chance to share those moments that are the reason we came into the profession.
These are our next steps:
- Greater involvement of parents in circles and mini-conferences at school.
- Investigate funding for an emotional well-being officer in school to support children who have significant ongoing issues.
- Appoint a circle facilitator for parents to access for wider family issues. This will hopefully be linked to our PSA [parent support adviser] role.
- Evaluate assessment and attendance data at the end of the term to identify progress.
- Ensure all new staff are trained in restorative practices.
As a school we are committed to restorative practices and feel passionate about it. Through this approach we have seen our school turn a corner. Seeing children take ownership for their behaviour, support one another and develop their emotional literacy in such a short time is fantastic. Alongside the change in attitudes to learning, this may be the very thing that gives our children the chance they need to break the cycle of deprivation and crime.
The children love the new approach. This is what they have said about circles:
- I know my classmates better.
- I have a chance to speak.
- I know that we can sort problems out with circles.
- Circles are helping me with my learning.
It is early to measure impact, as at the time of writing this article, we have been up and running with restorative practices for four weeks. However, this is what we have noticed thus far:
- Increased emotional literacy and ability to express feelings.
- Increased ownership for behaviour and maturity.
- Better attitudes to learning and calmness in class.
- Greater cohesion in class and amongst the staff.
- No fixed term exclusions.
- Solution-focused approach from both children and staff.
Tiegan, in Year Five, wrote:
After spring term 2010, Cook wrote:
We have implemented our next steps. When an incident occurs, we contact parents and tell them that an incident has occurred involving their child; they are then part of the mini-conference. This has worked well, and we will continue to use this next term. We have held a training session for parents in using circles, and we will work on this further next term. We have just appointed a PSA [parent support advisor], who will have RP in supporting parents at home as one of her main tasks for the autumn. She will take on the role of circle facilitator for parents.
Funding has been tricky, and we have to tackle this in a different way. Essentially all of our TA [teaching assistant] staff (who are key-stage based) are well-being officers, as we do not have the funds to appoint an extra person. This is working well at the moment, and we will continue to go with this for the time being unless we are able to access funds. (We have all of these key stages at our school: Early Years Foundation Stage: 3-5 year-olds; Key Stage 1: 5-7 year-olds; Key Stage 2: 7-11 year-olds.)
Children’s progress has accelerated since implementation of RP. Our last OFSTED [Britain’s Office for Standards in Education, Children’s Services and Skills] (13th + 14th July, 2010) graded progress of all learners as “good.” We have lots of data to substantiate this. Attendance has also improved by 1.72% since March.
All staff have been trained in RP. We will have refresher training on our first INSET day and induction for new staff.
It is now hard to remember St Edmund’s pre-restorative practices. The school is a very different place to the one I joined this time last year. With any new initiative it is vital to keep moving forward and developing best practice, and new ways to ensure the restorative practice ethos underpins everything we do. Fortunately, I have a very forward-looking group of teachers that I work with; they are imaginative and proactive about moving things forward. This autumn we will be working on greater involvement of parents in circles and conferences and really pushing forward the “using circles in learning” agenda that we began last year. I strongly feel that this is the way forward with learning – giving children ownership and “space” to fully engage and talk through what it is they are learning and why. Exciting times ahead.