Should schools adopt restorative justice at the heart of their behaviour policies?

Times are tough for schools across the UK. Disruptive behaviour and school exclusions continue to rise against a backdrop of budget pressures and pupils with increasingly complex needs. But there’s a forward-thinking alternative to traditional behaviour management, and it has the potential to revolutionise how schools manage conflict or bullying. This article looks at restorative justice as a solution to poor behaviour in the classroom, and asks whether this really does have the capacity to transform schools’ behaviour policies.

About restorative justice in schools

Restorative justice takes a unique approach to managing behaviour and it’s a long way from the established methods of zero tolerance, sanctions or suspensions. Restorative justice gives each individual responsible the opportunity to understand how their behaviour has affected others and to learn from what they have done. Through mediation and open discussions, both the victim and the perpetrator come together in a secure environment; the victim can explain the impact that disruptive behaviour or bullying has had, and the perpetrator is asked to agree steps to make it right. In a school that prioritises restorative justice, students are expected to take full responsibility for their actions and understand the consequences of their behaviour. At the heart of restorative justice is inclusivity and respect.

 

While restorative approaches to disruption or conflict may sound like an ideal way forward, the question remains about how practical this is when both school funding and staff time is at a premium. What are the main benefits of implementing restorative justice in schools, and should this become a key priority for behaviour management?

 


Benefits of restorative practices in schools:

  • Reduces bullying, conflict and anti-social behaviour: by using mediation effectively, individuals can understand the damage caused and are less likely to repeat their actions. Crucially, restorative justice gives every student a voice and ensures that they are listened to in a respectful way: this teaches young people to channel their frustrations in a more constructive manner.

  • Improves attendance: if students can speak openly about concerns linked to bullying or harassment, they will not only feel more secure but also more positive about their school experience.

  • Creates a strong community: schools that use restorative justice understand that everyone needs to take ownership for the step change in managing behaviour. This helps students and teachers alike to feel part of an inclusive community with a shared goal.

  • Teaches key interpersonal skills: the principles behind restorative practices help young people to become more accountable, thoughtful and considered in their actions. As students learn that they have a key role to play in creating a positive learning environment for everyone, their sense of ownership and confidence will increase.

  • Enables more classroom productivity: as low-level disruption and conflict decreases, teachers can focus on creating a stimulating lesson rather than spending all their time dealing with behaviour management. In turn, pupils will become more engaged and enjoy learning, leading to improved attainment and higher expectations of each other.


Introducing restorative justice in school settings

The first, critical step is to ensure that everyone is on board with the introduction of a restorative justice system. Students, teaching staff, senior management and parents need to all feel included and able to play a role in this new world of behaviour management.

Once the school is ready to adopt restorative approaches, a number of techniques can be used as an alternative to traditional discipline. Mediation is at the core of restorative solutions: sessions should be led by trained facilitators and take place with both the victim and the person responsible in a quiet, neutral space. Communication with pupils about new expectations and goals is also vital – once they understand that a greater responsibility has been laid on them, they are less likely to want to let each other down. Students can be trained to become peer mentors themselves, helping to assist teachers in managing low levels of disruption or bad behaviour.

There are excellent resources available to help schools get started with introducing restorative justice, including Restorative Justice 4 Schools which offers a range of bespoke training packages and a free implementation pack.

Restorative justice is radically changing the way that schools deal with disruption or bullying. Schools that have successfully implemented restorative justice systems have seen major decreases in poor behaviour along with improved attendance and a stronger school community. Young people can thrive in an environment of raised expectations and, through acting restoratively, can learn crucial life skills to help them reach their full potential. In short, the benefits of adopting restorative justice at the heart of behaviour policies are significant. External pressures on schools mean that prioritising restorative justice may be a challenge, but by doing so, the long-term benefits for our education system will be immense.

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