A certain kind of justice

31st August 2007 at 01:00
Pupils must face the consequences of their indiscipline, which is where restorative approaches can make a difference.

THE RESTORATIVE practices approach to classroom discipline, which encourages pupils to face up to the consequences of bad behaviour, has been lauded by Maureen Watt, the Schools Minister.

An evaluation report of pilot programmes in Fife, Highland and North Lanarkshire by academics at Glasgow and Edinburgh universities found the approach could make a real difference, in some cases helping to raise attainment and reduce exclusions.

Ms Watt, following a visit to Patna Primary in East Ayrshire, which uses the approach, said: "Where schools are open to change and when combined with effective leadership, commitment, enthusiasm and as part of staff development we can achieve significant improvements.

"While there will never be one solution to discipline problems in our schools, this research clearly shows that restorative practices can have a key role to play, benefiting both staff and pupils. I hope the research will encourage more schools and councils to consider adopting this approach."

Ronnie Smith, general secretary of the Educational Institute of Scotland, commented, however, that not all teachers felt comfortable with the approach and that it demanded considerable time commitment. "There are maybe some teachers who don't take the view that the nature of the relationships between themselves and pupils is one where they should have to negotiate agreed behaviour or standards of behaviour. The reality is that, in the world outside school, they will learn that, in many circumstances, this is not how the world operates."

Mr Smith added that the complexity of getting together the personnel at a time when everyone was available struck him as "a time- intensive way of dealing with things". But, he continued: "If schools find it deliverable and workable, then of course, go with it."

The three councils involved adopted different approaches to the implementation of restorative practices, and there were also differences across the primary and secondary sectors in how staff and pupils responded.

In the seven primaries and one special school, the values and ideas associated with restorative practices were seen as providing a "glue" for integrating other initiatives and improving school ethos.

The report stated: "The atmosphere in most of the schools became identifiably calmer and pupils generally more positive about their whole-school experience; they thought staff were fair and listened to 'both sides of the story'. Most staff were comfortable with the language of restorative practices and identified improvements in staff morale. A small number of schools had raised attainment and in several there was a decrease in exclusions, in-school discipline referrals and out-of-school referrals, although of course not all of these can be attributed solely to the introduction of restorative practices."

In the 10 secondaries, more diverse approaches were used, most beginning in one part of the school or with pupils who had more challenging behaviour.

"Schools where significant numbers of staff might need further convincing tended to opt for small-scale 'local' innovation, perhaps involving guidancebehaviour support or particular departments," the report added. "In secondary schools, where ethos was regarded as very positive, aims for restorative practices were broader and intended to underpin and complement existing practices."

However, it also found that some staff "still felt that punishment was a necessary part of their task as teachers" and that the restora- tive practices approach challenged deeply-held beliefs around notions of discipline and authority.

Training and staff development were seen as central to success, although the cost of time for training, particularly in more rural areas, was a problem.

The involvement of parents was still quite limited in many schools, and most energy had gone into developing pupil-focused restorative approaches. Using restorative practices to resolve conflict among staff was still at a very early stage.

* www.scotland.gov.ukpublications

RESTORATIVE PRACTICES grew out of philosophy of restorative justice over the past 20 years in an attempt to reduce the high numbers of youth offenders and growing prison population;

are based on the principle of taking responsibility and accountability for one's own actions and their impact on others;

include a curriculum focus on relationships or conflict prevention; restorative language and scripts; restorative connversations; mediation, shuttle mediation and peer mediation; circles checking in and problem-solving circles; restorative meetings, informal conferences, classroom conferences; mini-conferences; and formal conferences.

Example When one pupil took chemicals from a school lab and put them in a classmate's schoolbag, staff dealt with the incident through a restorative meeting. The teacher reported: "The pupil involved stops and talks to me in the corridor now. He thought it was a joke, but after going through the process he certainly didn't think it was a joke... and the parents of the pupil who had (them) in his bag actually commented to the member of staff how grateful they were for the way that was handled."

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