Campaigners are calling on the government to support the implementation of “restorative practice” in schools, which prioritises conflict resolution over punishment. The Restorative Justice Council (RJC), best known for its work in the criminal justice system, hopes to reduce the number of exclusions by expanding its existing programmes. In 2015-2016, almost 6,700 children were permanently excluded; equivalent to 35 children every school day. Rates of expulsion have risen each year since 2012-13. Restorative practice in relation to schools includes a variety of techniques to build strong relationships and address conflict constructively. The RJC aims to challenge zero tolerance systems which are seen as punishing minor breaches of regulation.
The RJC is promoting three short films feature children from primary and secondary schools who explain how restorative justice works. The children also discuss their roles as “restorative ambassadors”, helping their peers to solve problems and to develop empathy. Restorative Justice Council’s interim CEO, Chris Straker, who was a teacher himself for over 30 years, understands that schools are under great pressure to achieve progress. Straker warned that exclusions, both temporary and permanent, may compromise the young person’s employment prospects as well as educational opportunities, in some instances leading to mental health problems and future criminal behaviour. Restorative approaches have long-term benefits not only for individuals but also for wider society.
One example of successful positive reform can be found at the Joseph Norton academy in Kirklees, West Yorkshire, where a restorative approach has led to a significant reduction in exclusions. The academy accommodates pupils aged between 6 and 17 with complex emotional, social and mental health needs that can make the behaviour of the children particularly challenging. Restorative approaches address behaviour by seeking to understand the feelings behind the behaviour; this leads to improvements in participation and outcomes.