Restorative Practice vs Justice

When we hear the term “Restorative Justice” we often think of a formal conference to address harm done that is serious enough to involve the justice system. Whilst this is where restorative justice originated and developed, educational institutions have been using it effectively for a number of years to resolve conflicts between both small and large groups of pupils. It is important to note that in many school restorative justice is not seen favourably by staff. This is often where schools use restorative justice to resolve conflicts between pupils and staff.

“Restorative Practices” is much broader and encompasses a range of practices that focus on strengthening relationships, building community and addressing issues before they become bigger problems. Restorative Practices are built on the same use of questioning and empathetic dialogue as restorative justice, but rather than resolving individual conflicts the focus is on to developing pupils’ understanding of what triggers their behaviours and feelings. By identifying the underlying cause of their behaviour you can then put in support to help them learn to react in a more positive way and not repeat the behaviours.

What does this look like in practice? Here are some practical examples:

  • All conversations with pupils about behaviour should happen in a calm way and should follow key questions that allow reflection and dialogue. There are 5 golden questions:
    • What happened?
    • What were you thinking/feeling at the time?
    • Who do you think was affected by your actions?
    • How were they affected?
    • What do you need to do now to make things right? (this can then prompt dialogue about any support needed)
  • Detentions should not be simply punitive. They should allow pupils to reflect on their behaviour. It is important that after their reflection that they have an opportunity to speak to a member of staff and any through dialogue they can identify any support that is needed.
  • Where your behaviour policy says a pupil should be internally excluded, excluding them from learning is not always necessary, or the best way of working with them to improve. This is particularly the case when the behaviour has not happened in the classroom and having them in class is not going to negatively impact on the other pupils. An effective alternative is to set them a weekend project which allows them reflect on the behaviour as outlined above. This should require them to put in a substantial amount of time and for their parents/carers to also engage in the project.

Finally, it is important to remember that using restorative practices does not mean that a school is soft on behaviour. A school can still have the highest of expectations and pick up all incidents where pupils do not meet those expectations. It is about working with the pupils to develop their character, understanding and empathy rather than simply punishing them. The school in which I lead on behaviour has been developing the use of restorative practices over the past 3 years and results show the impact of this approach:

  • The number of pupils in detention each week – down by 21%
  • The number of pupils receiving internal exclusions – down by 45%
  • The number of pupils receiving external exclusions – down by 65%

There is nothing more effective in behaviour management that the use of dialogue, empathy and promoting positive relationships.

Published by Matthew Domine

Secondary School Deputy Principal. Pastoral leader and music teacher.

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