Restorative justice

15th September 2006 at 01:00
Restorative justice brings victims, offenders and communities together to agree on a response to a particular crime.

In a school context, it brings pupils and staff together to resolve conflicts, improve understanding and communication and prevent issues from escalating.

Keith Simpson, head of development and research at Sacro, which aims to safeguard communities and reduce offending, says: "We try to work back from effect to cause. It is our view that instilling these approaches and skills in young people is a longer-term way of trying to address the antisocial and offending behaviour in young people in later life."

Sacro has worked with 30 schools to date, from Dumfries and Galloway to Shetland, while others are signing up. The Scottish Executive has set up pilot areas to trial restorative justice, providing funding to enable schools to buy training for staff.

"It is very early days to evaluate the effectiveness of it objectively,"

says Mr Simpson. "But there are anecdotal stories about it improving school atmosphere and attendance and reducing indiscipline."

The Restorative Justice Consortium, a UK-wide umbrella organisation for groups interested in the system, says breaking school rules is seen as an offence against the school rather than an individual and punishments fail to resolve disputes.

By contrast, restorative justice accepts conflict as part of school life; it empowers young people, teachers and parents to handle conflict in positive ways; it allows them to take responsibility and it can repair a school community.

A whole school approach is vital for restorative justice to work, with absolute commitment at every level.

Initiatives typically involve whole-school conflict resolution sessions and peer mediation for pupils and teachers. A popular starting point is circle time to talk about concerns pupils or teachers may have.

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