Restorative justice in schools

20 Feb

This interesting story looking at restorative justice in schools has been running on BBC radio and online over the past couple of days.

I’ve always felt that restorative justice is a hugely important and often overlooked means of tackling crime and, in the case of schools, bad behaviour.  I’ve never been someone who thinks that locking someone up and marginalizing them from society works.  People are not beyond help and I genuinely believe that simple incarceration does little to help the victim of crime or the perpetrator.  Data shows that restorative justice is cost-effective; reduces reoffending rates and helps victims come to terms and move on from crime.

But anyway, back to schools.  The restorative justice approach in schools shouldn’t be fully or directly compared to criminal activity of course.  I wouldn’t want to criminalize children for bad behaviour.  However, in many ways the principle and impact is the same.  The stats, admittedly from a small snapshot of just a few schools, are none the less impressive.  At Fitzalan High School in Cardiff for example the number of days lost to pupil exclusions fell from 1,000 three years ago to 112 days this year after they introduced the system.  That is a significant shift and will make a major difference to any schools standards.

That is not to say that school’s should not legitimately use expulsions where they are necessary or appropriate but that, with expulsions or not, it is important that the reasons behind the bad behaviour are uncovered.  Restorative justice is not only a potentially cathartic tool for victims of bad behaviour but can help uncover often hidden drivers behind why pupils act out.  Tackling them through a restorative justice approach has the potential to radically change the life chances of an individual, stopping their path towards marginalization at a very early stage.

We know that disruptive behaviour not only impacts on the teacher and pupil behind it but also the learning environment of other well-behaved pupils.  Tackling the core reasons why a pupil may be misbehaving through restorative justice, including making pupils face up to the reality of their actions, can help revitalise their engagement in education as well as creating a long-term reduction in bad behaviour.

A further benefit of course is the bonds that such action creates.  It fosters a sense of community between pupils who are accountable as a collective for their actions as well as between schools and families.  We know that schools that succeed have a commitment from parents and families that helps focus engagement within pupils.  This is one of the reasons that I have previously issued concerns that truancy fines will actually hinder the ability of schools to improve attendance.

In regards to attendance and behaviour in schools in our communities people need to feel part of the process, in this case part of the solution, and not just recipients of the punishment.

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One Response to “Restorative justice in schools”

  1. Dr. Samuel Mahaffy (@samuelmahaffy) March 3, 2014 at 5:21 pm #

    Restorative approaches make sense in both community and school settings and are likely to lead to more positive outcomes for all parties

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