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Staff and pupils at Monmouth Comprehensive

Stick to carrots

Say goodbye to detentions - looking at the impact of restorative practice in schools

Posted by Hannah Oakman | April 22, 2015 | School life

Restorative practice is a modern  technique of behaviour conditioning that moves away from the idea of rules imposed by adults and punishments that fail to address the cause of misbehaviour, and it's starting to catch on. Aiming to help school communities learn new communication skills and empower young people to handle conflict positively, supporters say it’s an effective and constructive way of dealing with problem behaviours.

Monmouth Comprehensive, a secondary school with nearly 2,000 learners and staff, provides an excellent example of the power of restorative practice. Since introducing restorative approaches in 2009 the school says it has seen fixed-term exclusions reduce by 92 per cent and recorded an attendance rate of 96 per cent during the same period. Effects are extending beyond the school gates – anti-social behaviour involving youths in Monmouth has dropped by 48 per cent in three years. Furthermore, all pupils are leaving with a qualification, and most with five good GCSEs or more.

Restorative practice places an emphasis on community, with young people and teachers agreeing on the conditions of learning together and conflict being dealt with in positive, communicative ways. It helps schools to build relationships, prevent harm and conflict, and support academic progress.

To be effective, restorative practice needs to be in place across all areas of a school with restorative principles embedded in the prevention of harm as well as in the resolution of conflict. In the case of Monmouth Comprehensive this includes the abolishment of detentions in favour of encouraging pupils to talk through their problems.

There are strong parallels between the motives behind restorative schools and academy schools, with restorative practice complementing academy schools’ goals of driving up standards and creating positive learning environments. Hilary Cremin, senior lecturer at Cambridge University’s Faculty of Education, said: “I have worked with thousands of teachers, students, families, community groups and businesses over decades to develop restorative and transformational approaches to conflict, with massive benefits for schools and communities, when properly applied. I have seen reductions in bullying, improvements in well-being and the development of more student-centred approaches to school discipline in schools that had the vision, determination and perseverance to respond to the promise of what restorative approaches can achieve.”

These benefits link strongly with Ofsted’s inspection framework reporting criteria, particularly in respect of behaviour, safety and also achievement, as the qualifications attained by Monmouth Comprehensive’s pupils demonstrate.

A restorative approach, however, would not place more importance on achievement than the well-being of learners. Andy Williams, the deputy headteacher of Monmouth Comprehensive, said: “Schools are in danger of becoming exam factories and neglecting the social, emotional and mental health needs of their pupils. As a senior leader in a large comprehensive school, I want to champion an approach that supports the affective domain, as well as the cognitive.”

The school still has ambitious learning goals, but these are supported by a focus on emotional well-being. Andy continued: “Restorative approaches have transformed our culture, philosophy, language and outcomes at Monmouth Comprehensive. The approach has not only developed a consistent and congruent model for building, maintaining and repairing relationships but has supported the development of pedagogy and curriculum design.”

One of the great successes of academy schools so far has been tailoring school environments towards learning. Restorative practice shares this consideration of the overall learning environment, not only reducing conflict and promoting healthy relationships, but showing children that school is a place where they are listened to and included.

These supportive atmospheres also have a positive impact on staff, who frequently find improved morale, job satisfaction and good health. Staff sickness levels are lower in restorative schools.

Academy schools are well suited to effectively embedding restorative practice as they have more freedom than other state schools, allowing them to adapt their provision, practice and leadership and inventively redesign their curriculum. Where they decide to adopt a restorative approach, support is available from the Restorative Justice Council (RJC), the membership body for the restorative field. The RJC can provide resources and information to schools for the implementation of restorative approaches. For more developed restorative schools, they award recognition for high-quality restorative work.

An adaptable academy school will move efficiently through an implementation process and find it easier to secure full commitment from the whole school community.

This factor is key as the more that staff, pupils, parents and governors participate in the process – feeling that they have ownership – the more likely they will be to support the change in their school environment.

While it may take some time to become a fully restorative school – frequently three to five years – some of the benefits will start to be realised in the short term.    

Another strength that academy schools have is their culture of mentoring each other and sharing best practice, and this is also a facet of many restorative schools. Childs Hill Primary School – which has fostered a climate of stability, safety and security, where no children are excluded who are able to cope in a main school setting – is currently trying to build a community of schools that work restoratively. Childs Hill is not only in contact with primary schools but is reaching out to secondary schools who can adopt much of their practice despite supporting learners of a different age range.

One of the reasons that mentoring is important is that restorative practice must always be delivered to a high standard. Having recently celebrated its first anniversary, the Restorative Service Quality Mark (RSQM) recognises organisations that meet the Restorative Service Standards. Currently 14 organisations hold this national award, including Childs Hill and Monmouth Comprehensive.

Andy Williams said: “The RSQM allows you to review, analyse, evaluate and consolidate your organisation’s practice and provision. It’s a rigorous process, and rightly so. However, as a national quality mark it’s well worth achieving.”

Jon Collins, the CEO of the RJC, said: “Restorative practice has a huge part to play in schools. When used effectively it can serve as a powerful tool for improving achievement, reducing exclusions and building relationships both within the school and the local community.

The RSQM recognises schools’ and other organisations’ commitment to embedding restorative practice across all areas of their operations and celebrates their hard work.”

The academy schools in this country are in a strong position to adopt restorative practice and make a positive difference to the lives of their 2.2 million pupils and 153,000 teachers.

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