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'Restorative justice' helps victim and offender to work things out

Persuading wrong-doers to confront their victims and agree with them how to make amends has produced striking improvements in behaviour in two challenging London schools.

A six-month pilot scheme in Hammersmith and Fulham using the principles of so-called "restorative justice" has led to 90 agreements between pupils or groups of pupils and the avoidance of 60 exclusions.

Crucially, the behaviour - such as robbery, bullying or violence - that gave rise to the meeting between perpetrator and victim has hardly ever been repeated.

Two comprehensives in the borough, Hurlingham and Chelsea school and Burlington Danes school, are involved.

"This is one of the most successful projects we've got in terms of behaviour strategies," says Veronique Gerber, head of Hurlingham and Chelsea.

"We've integrated the principle of reparation and restoration into our disciplinary policy," she says. "Taking responsibility for what went wrong and doing something to put it right has now become part of the culture. It works extremely well in reducing recidivism."

Recently the procedure, funded by the Youth Justice Board, was used to resolve an outbreak of gang warfare between a group of girls at Hurlingham and Chelsea and a group at another school.

The schools refer any conflict between pupils to Helen Mahaffey of the local youth offending team, who is also a learning mentor. They invite the pupils involved to attend a meeting, where they draw up an agreement.

The victim might say how the incident has affected him or her and, make their own pledge: for example agreeing not to "wind up" the offender.

The "offender" might agree to return money or stolen goods, write a letter of apology or simply promise not to repeat the offending behaviour.

The pupils are usually offered the meeting as an alternative to a suspension, or it may shorten the term of exclusion.

Explaining the scheme's success, Ms Mahaffey says: "This is voluntary, it has to come from the pupils. So often discipline is something done to them."

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