Crime and restoration

Elizabeth Buie

Restorative practices can have a huge impact on pupil behaviour, Scottish authorities have been told.

Bob Costello, director of training for the International Institute for Restorative Practices in the United States, this week outlined to education, social work, and health leaders the benefits of creating a climate where social discipline, rather than punitive discipline, becomes the norm.

Mr Costello, former head of a special school in America for pupils who have been excluded or have severe behavioural problems, defines restorative practices as "high control" in terms of behavioural expectations and "high support" for the individual.

This means acting with the pupil, but in an "authoritative and reintegrative way".

"The restorative approach confronts and disapproves of wrongdoing, while supporting and valuing the intrinsic worth of the student who has committed the wrong," Mr Costello said This differed from three other approaches generally adopted by teachers: the "NOTs" - those who have so little control of pupils that they are virtually "neglectful" of them; the "FORs" - those who are over-supportive of pupils to the extent that they are "permissive" of unacceptable behaviour; and the "TOs" - those who are authoritarian and punitive towards pupils who transgress.

Mr Costello told headteachers to expect staff who fell into the "TO" group to be resistant to change because what they were doing appeared to work.

"They are super-efficient," he said. "The only reason why TOs move is because they end up reflecting on what works.

"They are the ones who never send (headteachers) kids because they don't have problems in their classes. Their kids are terrified, so they are not going to misbehave in their class. It makes more sense for them to wait till next period."

Children should learn to behave appropriately through their relationships with other people - not because of fear of what will happen to them, he said.

East Ayrshire Council, which has been hosting the week-long IIRP sessions with participation from practitioners from Renfrewshire and Angus, is looking seriously at restorative practice approaches as the basis for managing behaviour. Tom Williams, principal psychologist with the council, said the approach to restorative practices, was "an integral strand in the authority's drive towards providing schools and teachers with a comprehensive repertoire for managing effective and efficient relationships".

East Ayrshire was trying to move away from behaviour management to relationship development, Mr Williams said. "We see restorative practices as providing a framework under which other strategies like 'solution-oriented schools' and 'non-violent crisis intervention' can operate."

Two years ago, three other authorities in Scotland - North Lanarkshire, Fife and Highland - each received pound;45,000 a year from the Scottish Executive to implement restorative practice initiatives in their schools.

Last week, secondary heads attending the annual conference of the Headteachers' Association of Scotland (page six), heard Helen Kenward, an associate headteacher with East Sussex Council, describe how the introduction of a restorative practice philosophy had turned around a school in Hastings which had rocketing exclusion rates and four headteachers in four terms. Some 96 per cent of incidents were resolved and 98 per cent of agreements held.

Ms Kenward said the previous regime at Filsham Valley School was a "very retributive process". Staff told her that exclusion was not working.

"Children were being asked to leave the school for one to 15 days and they would come back and do exactly the same thing," she said.

Simply imposing a punishment was a "sticking plaster over what could be a festering wound". The key difference between retributive punishment and restorative justice was that victim and offender were brought into the process and the offender was encouraged to take more responsibility for what they had done. She encouraged teachers to adopt "restorative language", which included body language, the use of questions not statements, hearing the story, reflecting and providing support.

Ms Kenward quoted the head boy of the school, who said: "How long is it going to take the teachers to realise that punishment doesn't work? We just want the matter to be resolved."


* Annette McKinlay, headteacher, Hillhead primary in Kilmarnock "I like the non-confrontational side of restorative practices - everyone gets a say. I like the way that the children are involved, either those doing the perpetrating or the victims - everyone gets to say what they think about it. It encourages children to talk about their feelings.

"I like the check-in circle and the check-out circle at the start and finish of the day (where a teacher, or facilitator, discusses aims and potential issues at the start of a session or day with pupils and reviews progress at the end)."

* Anne Wilson, headteacher of Park School, Kilmarnock, for pupils aged 5-18 with moderate learning difficulties and complex needs "Restorative practices are embedded in the ethos of our school already. I have heard nothing today with which I would disagree, but it's a process which some staff are farther along the way than others.

"I will take it back to school and pass the material on to the principal teachers and describe it as something I think we are already doing quite well but that we want to do better."

* Colin MacLean, headteacher, Auchinleck Academy "I think we are already doing quite a lot of this - we have a programme of circle time and a number of staff are quite comfortable with that approach.

"I spend a lot of my time attempting to engage with young boys who display some behavioural difficulties. I wonder if, to some extent, we are effective in that role. We are able to control youngsters' behaviour but, at the end of the day, are we able to change that behaviour and make them feel more positive?

"The programme outlined has been very effective in the States. We have got to ask ourselves to what extent it would work with the children in our schools. Can we embrace that level of change? I don't know if our children are as open to this approach. Our children are not as good at talking about their feelings."

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Elizabeth Buie

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