Restorative Practice

What is Restorative Practice?

Restorative Practice is a way to be, not a process to follow or a thing to do at certain times. It’s a term used to describe principles, behaviours and approaches which build and maintain healthy relationships and a sense of community and can resolve difficulties and repair harm where there has been conflict. 

How does it work?

A restorative approach is a culture or ethos with a practical goal: to strengthen relationships through open and honest dialogue.

A restorative organisation allows time to listen to the voice of individuals, staff and families. It wants to hear people’s stories, help them clarify their issues and needs, and empower them to find their own solutions to what is concerning them.

What are the benefits of restorative approaches in schools?

Experience and evidence at local and national levels has shown that restorative processes have a positive impact in changing school cultures, especially regarding attendance and behaviour, when embedded in a wider restorative context, and within clear school improvement strategies.

A report published by the Department for Education gave whole-school restorative approaches the highest rating of effectiveness at preventing bullying, with a survey of schools showing 97% rated restorative approaches as effective.

An independent evaluation of restorative justice in Bristol schools found that restorative justice improved school attendance and reduced exclusion rates.

On a practical level, restorative approaches provide a structured and consistent response to the inevitable incidents of conflict that arise in the life of a school. The benefits of improved conflict resolution in schools lead to reduced disruption of teaching and learning, improved relationships and a calmer school environment. 

In addition to the conflict resolution benefits, restorative approaches have been shown to develop people’s social and emotional competencies, such as increased empathy, improved self-discipline and more responsible decision-making. These benefits contribute to pupils’ personal, social and moral development. 

How does Restorative Practice work in schools?

Restorative Practice is a proactive way of working ‘WITH’ people, not doing things ‘TO’ them, not doing things ‘FOR’ them and ‘NOT’ being neglectful and doing nothing at all (Wachtel and McCold, 2001, p.117).  It’s about working ‘with’ people at every opportunity.

In terms of behaviour management, it is sometimes appropriate to be direct, to ‘let go’, to nourish and ‘hold’ individuals.  However, working restoratively is about ‘working with’ individuals at every opportunity and seeking to enable and empower them to make sustainable changes to unacceptable and/or unhealthy behaviour(s).  

Restorative approaches enable everybody’s voice to be heard.  They provide opportunity for those who have been involved in conflict to work with and alongside others to acknowledge the impact of what has happened and take steps to put it right.  

The five core beliefs of Restorative Practice are:

1. Everyone has a unique perspective and a valued contribution to make – we need to hear what people have to say.
2. Our thoughts influence our feelings and both influence what we do and say – we need to unpick what is going on behind behaviour.
3. Our actions and deeds impact on those around us – we need to consider the consequences of our actions.
4. All our actions are strategies we have chosen to meet our needs at the time – we need to be part of identifying what we need and identifying how our needs will be met.
5. The people who are affected by an issue or problem are those best placed to find ways forward in collaboration with each other – we need to be enabled and empowered to make positive and sustainable changes for ourselves.

What do Ofsted say?

“… disruptive behaviour or sudden changes in behaviour can be an indication of unmet needs or a change in another aspect of a young person’s life.” – Ofsted 2021

Whether the behaviour or sudden changes in behaviour present as school refusal, abuse directed at peers/adults or disengagement with learning, it is fundamental that schools work with individuals, their parents/carers and key professionals to understand what’s behind the behaviour and what they need in order to find a better way forward.

What are the five steps undertaken during a restorative enquiry?

1. Unique perspective - What has happened?  Start from the beginning…
2. Thoughts and Feelings - What were/are you thinking?  What were/are you feeling?
3. Impact – Who has been affected and how have they been affected?  What has been the hardest thing for you?
4. Needs – What do you need in order to find closure/to move forward/for things to be better?
5. Next steps - What needs to happen now?    

Restorative Practice promotes empathy, compassion and understanding and works to bring a sense of closure/repair to difficult situations. It is not always appropriate to bring people together and it should not be seen as inferior to work with people separately. If individuals are willing to come together, have sincere motives and don’t feel it will cause more harm, a restorative meeting is something that can be considered. Ongoing risk assessments are undertaken by trained facilitators to ensure no further harm is caused and those who have caused harm accept responsibility for their actions before restorative work is pursued. 

Becoming a Restorative School

Oxfordshire County Council is committed to supporting schools in embedding restorative approaches.

A restorative school allows time to listen to the voice of children and young people, staff and families. It wants to hear people’s stories, help them clarify their issues and needs, and empower them to find their own solutions to what is concerning them.

Research shows that having a model of practice (a particular way of, or approach to, working with children and families which provides the knowledge, tools and skills for practice) is influential in improving outcomes for children and improving staff morale and retention.  Restorative Practice complements other models of practice used in schools, such as trauma-informed and values-based practices.

Restorative Practice is also an approved model of practice for OCC Children’s Services and Thames Valley Police.

Becoming a restorative school has many benefits, including increased attendance, reduced exclusions and improved achievement.

Whole-school approach to mental health and wellbeing

Restorative approaches can hugely benefit children and young people’s mental health and wellbeing which is why Oxfordshire County Council chose to invest 2019 funding from Health Education England in Restorative Practice.

Visit Mental health and wellbeing for more information on whole-school approaches.

Ofsted will be judging all settings on the extent to which:

  • relationships among learners and staff reflect a positive and respectful culture
  • leaders, teachers and learners create an environment where bullying, peer-on-peer abuse of discrimination are not tolerated
  • staff deal with issues quickly and effectively, and do not allow them to spread.

Source: Ofsted Education Inspection Framework (May 2019)

School training offer

The school training offer is currently under review.

Restorative Approaches: Practitioner Course

This course is suitable for those members of staff who want to develop an in-depth knowledge of Restorative Practice, including facilitating restorative conversations and restorative meetings.  The course content has a large component of skills practice enabling participants to practice using restorative skills and exploring how this links to their own context. 

To book onto the above course, visit OSCB Courses - Oxfordshire Safeguarding Children Board

Additional sources of support

Restorative support for victims of significant harm

SAFE! Support for Young People Affected by Crime is a local charity which provides free, individually tailored support (up to six sessions) for young people who have been victims of crime and bullying who are finding it hard to recover their sense of safety and confidence. For further information about the support SAFE! offers including how to refer please visit: https://www.safeproject.org.uk/

Should we involve the police?

If you feel that a crime may have been committed, for example under the protection from Harassment Act 1997, the Malicious Communications Act 1988, the Communications Act 2003, and the Public Order Act 1986, Thames Valley Police Schools’ Officers are on hand to advise and offer support.  Hate crimes are also illegal and should be reported to the police.  Referrals will be considered on a case-by-case basis and, where appropriate, restorative interventions offered.

Restorative approaches put repairing harm done to relationships and people over and above the need for assigning blame and dispensing punishment (e.g. exclusion and criminalisation).  Working in partnership with Thames Valley Police is part of Oxfordshire County Council’s commitment to reduce school exclusions and improve outcomes for all children and young people.

Restorative approaches can help to prevent and overcome the many barriers to learner engagement.