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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 people—be 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 belongs—between 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:
- manage behaviour in classrooms
- deal with significant problems such as bullying, theft and damage
- resolve playground, social areas and school community issues
- resolve conflict between adults within the school community or conflict between the school and families
- inform circle time, PSHE (personal, social and health education), citizenship and other curriculum activities
- develop democratic processes of a school—e.g., school councils
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.
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