“It’ll change your life, it’ll change you!”
These are the opinions of Chelsea who was excluded from two comprehensive schools due to bad behaviour resulting in her being moved to a pupil referral unit. As the only girl out of 13 boys in the class, she found this tough, and there were times when she’d ‘kick off’ and retreat to the corner of the class. Following the training the staff received in Restorative Practice (RP), her form tutor, already passionate about using the approach, started using the question cards to deal with disputes in the class. Chelsea took to this immediately. Throughout the last few years, whenever there had been conflict in her mainstream school it had resulted in raised voices and anger between herself and staff, which achieved nothing more than her walking away frustrated about not being heard. Using RP and having an opportunity to talk about what happened has been a turning point in her attitude. She has consequently written to both headteachers of the schools she previously attended to apologise for her behaviour, describing how she now understands the impact her behaviour has had on others. Her story is very clear and sad, as she truly believes that if a restorative approach had been used in her mainstream schools she might still be there with her friends sitting exams and getting her qualifications, which is her desire but sadly not an option at present.
Training the Pupil Referral Unit is part of the city and county of Swansea’s journey to becoming a restorative city. The work began in March 2010 with the formation of a Prevention & Early Intervention board consisting of representatives from Education, Police, Social Services and the Voluntary Sector, chaired by Richard Parry, Lead Director for Children and Young People. The board agreed to introduce Restorative Practice, as we needed additional tools to help schools deal with behaviour issues. There were also a high number of referrals being received by our child and family services, which were mostly low level problems that were considered could be dealt with as they occurred, thereby preventing the escalation to other services. It was recognised that many of these were in relation to bad behaviour, and a decision was made by the Lead Director for Children & Young People to adopt the approach initially to schools in areas with the highest level of deprivation.
In addition, we needed to improve our attendance in schools and reduce the number of exclusions. Part of the Council’s Poverty agenda is to ensure pupils are in schools and learning to improve future work prospects. We had seen how restorative practice had supported other areas to achieve this. We had also seen a significant improvement in our own Youth Offending Service, where restorative justice has reduced re-offending in the criminal system.
As the Project Manager I have led the work since the start and worked closely with the ‘International Institute for Restorative Practices Europe’ (formerly IIRP UK & Ireland) during this time. Although initially engaging some heads to come on board was a challenge, the project has grown from strength to strength and by June 2013, 56% of all schools have been trained and approximately 4,500 staff trained across the authority in schools and supporting teams working with children and young people. We chose to use the International Institute for Restorative Practices, as we liked their sound theory-based approach and their explicit model, and we were fortunate in having the experienced Police Officer and RP trainer David Williams working in the YOS team in Swansea. That partnership has allowed us to seconde him to support our roll-out.
What we didn’t anticipate was the demand we experienced for training. People recognised that there is enormous benefit with RP in developing relationships, in every setting and with all ages. The project has developed significantly since the start, as we constantly review and refine our model by building on its success, and identifying new ways of maintaining good practice and spreading into the community.
Some of the ways we have achieved this is by offering additional training opportunities. We begin with a whole school approach using the basic "Introduction to RP" training. We then offer advanced and circle training to a selection of staff who become the Guiding Team and cascade this to other colleagues. Last year we started training pupils in the school to become RP Mentors and that has made a huge difference in helping schools embed the approach. To date there are approx 400 pupils trained across the schools with more training arranged for the next year. Children are aware of their rights as many of our schools are Rights Respecting and will respectfully challenge staff if RP is not used at the appropriate time. Both approaches support each other well, as restorative practice sits under Article 12 (right to be heard) and Article 19 (right to be safe).
We have also developed a robust support model, which we feel is critical. This is a significant change programme for some, although the majority of people working with children and young people are already working in a restorative way. Our approach includes supporting schools prior to training to ensure that they understand what’s involved and that staff and pupils are aware of what’s being introduced. During training we ensure that role plays are pertinent to the audience, which helps them put what’s learnt into practice immediately. Following training, we re-visit at different stages to provide advice and look at how it’s being implemented and communicated, and we discuss further training opportunities.
In the schools we are witnessing quieter classes, staff who feel more engaged and a reduction in parents visiting the Headteacher with complaints in relation to pupils interacting with their children. Hearing the pupils talk openly about their problems and seeing how empathetic they are with each other has been really emotional at times, but enormously rewarding. Schools using RP have a different atmosphere now, children are calmer and happier and enjoy coming to school and this has contributed to improved attendance in schools trained in the first phase.
Some of our more recent work has been about raising awareness that RP is not just for schools that have bad behaviour or issues. We have many establishments with excellent well-being already in place, and RP has further enhanced that and again ensured consistency across staff. We’re delighted that Estyn (the Office for Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Education & Training in Wales) is recognising the value of using RP in many of our schools, and one of our comprehensive schools was recently seen as sector leading in using RP to support well-being. We also hold network events that provide opportunities to promote RP and for people to share good practice. On 15th October, 2013, we are holding the first RP Pupil Conference, where trained children and young people will come together from primary and secondary schools to share how RP has benefited them. The event will also provide opportunities for the youth to contribute to future pupil training development and the formation of an RP Pupil consultation group.
Though our initial focus was on schools, since we started our roll-out we have always provided training opportunities for other teams who work with children and young people. This has supported the consistency in language and behaviour, along with people working more with each other across sectors. Teams are using restorative approaches as part of their regular meetings, particularly the problem-solving techniques, and staff in schools and non-schools check-in just like the pupils, which has contributed to improved relationships. The majority of people working with children and young people are already working in a restorative way but sometimes the consistency is lacking and restorative practice provides the framework for improving that.
The continuation for developing RP in Swansea is limitless. We have already trained hundreds in the community and this will continue. We are working closely with Swansea Metropolitan University to include RP in the teacher training programme for Primary and Secondary students, which will mean that the newly qualified teachers would be going into schools with this added skillset to manage behaviour.
We have just begun trialling training for parents in one of our communities and this will be continued across all areas, along with more Governors training and awareness raising. Already these parents feel more confident and their self esteem has improved; they are keen to undertake the advanced training. We also aim to have restorative practice included in all job descriptions and to become a core training requirement for those working with children and young people.
We believe that a major factor in our success is in having the support for RP at the top of our organisation, by our chief executive, cabinet members, director and heads of service. Similarly, in the most successful schools the headteacher and senior management teams are the drivers. They constantly champion the approach and include it in other aspects of school life, such as lesson planning.
A few years on, we are being asked to share our journey and work with others, which is rewarding, as we are passionate about sharing RP across Wales and beyond. A film capturing some of our journey will be released mid-October and will be available to purchase through the IIRP. With the focus on Poverty and Prevention, and the use of Restorative Practice and inclusive tools such as Family Learning Signature to support this work, the prospects for change are good.
We hope that Restorative Practice will make a difference for everyone in some way. For those who have more significant life challenges, we hope it will make all the difference and contribute to giving them a better quality of life.