Restorative practices do solve conflicts

21st March 2008 at 00:00
In his article on February 8, Chris Holligan mentions "restorative practice". As far as we are aware, no such thing exists; nor does anyone involved in the development of this initiative use such an expression.

Restorative practices is an initiative which employs a whole range of practices, from informal daily interactions to more formal conferences dealing with serious incidents. Schools do an immense amount of work in developing a positive, caring environment where young people are valued and encouraged to aspire. Restorative practices can aid this process and most teachers already employ a number of these approaches on a daily basis, though they may not be aware that they are restorative.

Using "traditional" punishments to deal with incidents of bullying can, potentially, drive the bullying behaviour underground. But a restorative meeting offers the opportunity for the bully to be held accountable and for the victim to feel empowered by telling his or her story.

In the short term, restorative practices are a tool to resolve conflict in schools and to reduce such behaviours which might result in others being harmed. In the long term, it is one of a number of initiatives being used to encourage the development of emotional literacy in young people. The effects might not be felt for many years.

Mr Holligan seems to suggest that, rather than teaching our young people to deal with conflict in a supportive and empowering way, we should let "natural justice" run its course. Is he suggesting that we leave the victim of bullying to learn to fight back?

Mr Holligan is quite correct in stating that further independent research is necessary to ascertain the effectiveness of restorative practices. But already teachers in North Lanarkshire employing restorative practices are reporting a reduction in aggressive behaviours, an improvement in emotional awareness among pupils and an improvement in ethos. They also report a strong sense of empowerment in establishing positive working relationships with their pupils, as well as dealing with behavioural incidents.

The jury may well be out, but the evidence we have gathered, albeit in a small anecdotal sample, is compelling.

Karen Walker, Inclusion manager; Graeme Gordon, Anna Webb, Bob Duncan, Development officers (Inclusion), North Lanarkshire.

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