Justice for all?

31st August 2007 at 01:00
Restorative practices should be part of a bigger school ethos and used selectively, say experts.

TEACHERS' AND headteachers' leaders have called for caution in response to the Schools Minister's endorsement of restorative practices as a means of maintaining discipline in schools.

Some teachers remain sceptical about the benefits of restorative practices as a discipline tool. This initiative involves meetings, mediation and conferences to reduce conflict in schools and make pupils more aware of the consequences of their behaviour.

The approach was lauded this week by Maureen Watt, the Schools Minister, following the publication of research which argued it could make "a real difference" in dealing with serious indiscipline.

Bill McGregor, general secretary of the Headteachers' Association of Scotland, admitted he had been pretty cynical about the approach when it was first introduced to some schools nearly three years ago. He now accepted there was a place for it, but cautioned that schools had to be "very careful" when choosing who they involved in the restorative practices agenda.

He had concerns on how it might work in bullying situations, since it would involve "fingering" the aggressor. With gangs, staff had to have a good knowledge of their structure who were the leaders and who were the "comedians" who kept the gang together, and you had to be sure you got the right person, said Mr McGregor.

Brian Donnelly, director of the anti-bullying organisation respectme, said he believed restorative practices could only work as part of a much larger school ethos.

"It needs to be integrated into all aspects of interactions of teachers and pupils," he said. "It is not appropriate to use on every occasion, especially where there has been violence or intimidation. But a restorative approach can have a place when it is part of a much bigger school ethos of inclusion, participation and account-ability, and natural consequences."

The report, by academics at Edinburgh and Glasgow universities, acknowledges that to implement restorative practices, staff need to move from a climate of fear to one of promoting harmonious relationships.

Ronnie Smith, general secretary of the Educational Institute of Scotland, said some teachers did not accept that the nature of relationships between themselves and pupils was one that should be based on negotiated, agreed behaviour.

David Eaglesham, general secretary of the Scottish Secondary Teachers' Association, suggested it was probably easier to weave restorative practices into the fabric of a primary school's ethos.

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