‘Ubiquitous’ non-punitive approach to behaviour ‘often ineffective’

Technique that focuses on pupils facing up to bad behaviour must be reviewed, say teachers, who fear it is not working

Emma Seith


One of the most commonly used approaches to behaviour management in Scottish schools has been criticised by teachers for adding to workload and being “often ineffective in improving pupil behaviour”.

Secondary teachers are now calling on the Scottish government to review the implementation of restorative practice (RP) in schools.

The teachers said that the RP policy – that was jokingly referred to in primary as the “hurry up and say sorry so you can play with your pals” policy – had become ubiquitous in Scottish schools, but without the research evidence to support it.

Attending an annual union congress, the teachers questioned why staff were complaining about rising levels of indiscipline if RP was working, and said that there was a danger that more effective behaviour-management tools were being “overlooked, sidelined or abandoned without due cause”.

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RP is a non-punitive approach to behaviour management. On the website of inspection and curriculum body Education Scotland, it says punishing pupils who misbehave “can be ineffective, dangerous, breed resentment and make situations worse”. Instead, a restorative approach encourages pupils “to hear about and face up to the harm and distress they have caused”, and to repair the damage.  

Teachers, however, said they lacked the training and time to implement RP properly.

Conferencing – where offenders and victims discuss the consequences of wrongdoing and decide how best to repair the harm – was taking place during lessons, during breaks, and during preparation periods when staff were supposed to be creating “rich learning experiences”, they said.

The teachers, who were speaking at the Scottish Secondary Teachers’ Association (SSTA) annual congress in Crieff on Friday, backed a motion saying that RP was increasing teacher workload and was “often ineffective in improving pupil behaviour”. They called on the Scottish government to review its implementation in schools.

Proposing the motion, Catherine Nicol, a science teacher from North Ayrshire, said: “Clearly RP can be effective when implemented properly. Unfortunately, the term is applied loosely as a catch-all phrase to a whole range of coaching, solution-focused and restorative actions. The consequences of this is inconsistency in schools and local authorities. We need this review to sort out the wheat from the chaff.”

The main focus of RP, said Paul Cochrane, a science teacher from Renfrewshire, was “to remove responsibility for bad behaviour from those responsible for bad behaviour”.

He added: “Restorative practices may well be a positive approach for some, but to my mind it still remains unevidenced, burdensome and developmentally inappropriate for our children to take part in.”

Behaviour was a major focus of the conference with SSTA general secretary Seamus Searson revealing that almost one in five teachers has experienced physical assault.

The survey also revealed that 70 per cent had experienced serious verbal abuse and 60 per cent had experienced threatening or menacing behaviour.

Mr Searson said the push to drive down exclusion rates in Scotland was putting “tremendous pressure on teachers” and leading to an increase in violence against staff

The union’s president, Kevin Campbell, also homed in on the impact of poor behaviour on teachers, describing verbal abuse as the “top of all stress-inducing factors” in teaching.

Mr Campbell pointed the finger at the “nurture-or-cuddle culture” that had grown up in Scottish schools in recent years, which he said had “led to the situation where a teacher almost has no authority over their charges”.  

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