York Group Day : Every Child Matters and Restorative Practice in Schools

Monday, September 1st, 2008 by Paddy Stephen

Bullying and the Mentoring Scheme

The York Day two years ago focussed on the introduction of a mentoring scheme in the boarding houses at St Peters School that was predominantly aimed at dealing with antisocial behaviour and bullying.

The principle behind this approach was to build the scheme from the bottom up as a pupil-led system.

The most important features of this approach were:

- that it should be pupil driven;

- that it should be allowed to evolve over a period of time;

- that it should be given real support by all individuals in the community;

- that it should involve all members of the community, pupils, academic and non-academic staff and parents; and

- that it should be open to scrutiny.

Following discussion, both during the day and with pupils since, the same basic ideas have been adapted to look at whole school issues of discipline and to consider how to introduce these into the day house system in September 2008. In discussion with Prof Anderson we have looked at the principles of restorative justice as the key-stone of this approach.

It was felt that a number of features would be essential if the approach was to work effectively:

- named senior pupils as mentors/(listeners),

- specific staff available for the mentors to discuss problems with,

- special training in listening skills,

- some indication of the legal position with regard to human rights and the Children Act (1989).

In addition, the scheme would only have any relevance if:

- all pupils and staff were made aware of the scheme and its purpose;

- there were a specific introduction of the scheme to raise its profile;

- it were not seen as something only the ‘weak’ use, but was for all members of the community and not just at times of crisis;

- the system were formalised within the house and school system but was clearly seen to retain its pupil-centred approach;

- all pupils were able to approach appropriate year group mentors on the same level;

- all staff were able to access the same system for their use;

- the system were not hierarchical - although the experiences of the senior pupils were to be recognised by all participants.

Restorative Practice

The key was to move the whole process on and to focus on the principles of restorative practice, which is a process whereby parties with a stake in a specific offence collectively resolve how to deal with the aftermath of the offence and its implications for the future.

Training was seen as an essential component of the system:

- to ensure that the system had the support of all the staff;

- to raise its profile with the whole school community;

- to ensure all mentors/listeners knew their legal position and responsibilities;

- to ensure that a script for the basic questions was followed in each case.

 

The most important feature of this approach must be its consistency of delivery.

Many view it initially as a soft option and this is a major obstacle to its effective

implementation. In order to ensure success it is vital that those tasked with

implementing it believe in it and deliver it effectively.

For this to be effective there must be an agreed procedure that is followed by all. The following are the suggested questions.

As a response to inappropriate behaviour:

- Tell me what happened.

- What were you thinking at the time?

- What have been your thoughts since?

- Who has been affected by your actions?

- How have they been affected?

- What do you think needs to happen to make things right?

As a response to those affected by the behaviour:

- What did you do when you realised what had happened?

- What have been your thoughts since?

- How has this affected you and others?

- What has been the hardest thing for you?

- What do you think needs to happen to make things right?

The most notable thing about this approach is the removal of the question why? In this way, the feeling of blame is removed from the start, opening up the offender to explore the real reasons for their behaviour.

Procedures leading to the Prevention of Anti-social Behaviour

It seems clear that the crucial factor in this is the development of respectful relationships by all members of the community with all members of the community.

The emphasis is on working with individuals and not doing to them.

The clear aim of these procedures is to prevent all types of anti-social behaviour,

and therefore to ensure that all pupils, staff and parents recognise that we have

simple fair procedures designed to reduce such behaviour.

Each individual pupil or adult has the absolute right to attend school/work without fear and must be confident that they will be listened to in the event of actions by others that cause them distress.

Every member of the school community must accept responsibility for the implementation of this policy so that every individual receives the protection they need when they are feeling vulnerable. For this system to work effectively it must evolve naturally and be accepted as the normal way to behave.

A Telling Culture

Essential to the creation of a telling culture is the involvement of all members of the community, especially the non-teaching staff and pupils; their role as eyes and ears is vital to early reporting. Equally important is the context of any individuals’ contact with any incident. Non-teaching staff and pupils are as likely as any other individuals to see or identify problems. Consequently their early intervention and subsequent reporting is vital in helping to nip things in the bud before incidents escalate into something more serious.

This is all very well in principle, but what should be done in practice?

The most obvious conclusion is that to do nothing is wrong. But what will be most effective action to take? Doing the wrong thing is seen as likely to make things worse.

It is because of not wanting to make things worse and not really knowing what to do that often people’s answer is to do nothing! Restorative practice, though, can provide the answer as to what to do.

Restorative practice is not any particular practice, but a set of principles which are designed to direct the general practice of the school community in relation to any area where there is a lack of respect in any of five main areas:

1 respect for every individual within our community irrespective of position,

2 respect for the values of the school/ house and its inclusive ethos,

3 respect for ‘difference’,

4 respect for property and décor,

5 respect for our neighbours and the local community.

The principles are:

1 to make time for the personal involvement of those mainly concerned in the incident (particularly the offender and the victim and eventually parents/carers),

2 to see these incidents in their social context,

3 a forward-looking (or preventative) problem-solving approach,

4 flexibility of practice (creativity).

At each stage in the process the basic pattern of questions listed above needs to have been followed consistently. The important feature of this approach is to take the time to find out as quickly as possible what has happened, using the set guidelines:

- not to take sides,

- not to attribute blame (in the early stages),

- to talk to both parties about the possible consequences of their actions

- to ensure that the individuals involved take responsibility for their actions - and therefore the consequences of their actions.

Consequences

Once the facts have been agreed, then each individual is more likely to recognise the effect of their behaviour and be more able to face up to what they have done. It is their acceptance of the part their actions played in the incident that is most important.

Certain individuals will see this approach as weak and will continue to be anti-social. However, as soon as they are reported again for the same behaviour, a pattern will be developing and more specific strategies can be introduced. At this stage parents and/or carers will also recognise the pattern, and this can enable the very early recognition of problem behaviour, and agreed strategies can then be introduced.

In the past it was normal to punish each offence with a set punishment. This was seen to be fair as each offence was categorised and the punishment was the same. Often no account was taken of the circumstances of the offence and little was done to find out what had caused the offence. Consequently a system designed to be consistent and fair could often be unfair. In order to blame an individual or group, blame had to be attributed, and this could lead to a feeling of isolation, resentment of the disciplinary process and a lack of support for it. Indeed, individuals might not report incidents for fear of the consequences of the set punishment.

Under restorative practice, both parties have their say, and contact can be made with parents and/or carers at a very early stage. If there is a further offence it will inevitably bring more serious repercussions, but all parties are kept informed and so there is a forum for parents and/or carers to speak with the school.

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One Response to “York Group Day : Every Child Matters and Restorative Practice in Schools”

  1. John Viner Says:

    Hi, I am speaking at the School of Emotional Literacy Conference on emotional literacy on 7th November. I would like to use this account as an example of good practice.

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