Restorative practice in schools


School leader Andy Williams explains what restorative practice entails and what benefits it has brought to his school.


I am the deputy headteacher of Monmouth Comprehensive School, which has been fully restorative for five years. Restorative practice has transformed our climate, our language and our culture, and we feel that every school could benefit from this model.

A restorative school emphasises the importance of relationships for supporting emotional wellbeing, resolving conflict and preventing harm.

Restorative practice is based on the values of restorative justice, which underlines the significance of feelings and how they affect relationships. Restorative justice gives victims the chance to meet or communicate with their offenders to explain the real impact of the crime – it empowers victims by giving them a voice.

It also holds offenders to account for what they have done and helps them to take responsibility and make amends.

Restorative practice refers to a variety of methods and strategies which can be used to both deal with conflict as it happens and prevent conflict from happening. For schools this means grounding the prevention of harm as well as the resolution of conflict in restorative principles. Restorative practice informs our approach to leadership, learning, curriculum design and behaviour modelling, and decisions are made with reference to five core restorative beliefs:

  • Everyone has a unique perspective.

  • Our thoughts and feelings influence our behaviours. 

  • Our actions have a ripple effect. 

  • We have needs that connect us to people and purpose. 

  • The people best placed to find solutions are the people themselves.

In classrooms throughout the country, academic errors are seen as accidental and are met with support. Unfortunately errors in behaviour are so often met with sanctions and reprimands that do little to resolve the issue or deal with the unmet needs behind the behaviours. 

At Monmouth Comprehensive we see errors in behaviour as accidental, and when relationships are harmed, our restorative practice mirrors the academic approach, and provides support. This is guided by our relationships policy which is centred on respect and has shifted the emphasis from censure to support.

Working with local primary schools, we ensure that students from three to 19-years-old experience a consistent restorative model, and we secure the commitment of the whole school to restorative practice with staff, pupils, parents and governors all supporting this approach.

But what form does restorative practice take on a day-to-day basis in Monmouth Comprehensive? Restorative approaches operate on three tiers: universal, targeted and intensive. 

Universal approaches work to re-affirm relationships through developing social and emotional skills. They involve restorative language being used by all adults, whole-school conflict resolution programmes, and class and staff circles for community building. Furthermore, students and teachers create and maintain the conditions of learning together, and work on the proviso that conflict is part of life, seeing its potential for learning new skills and discovering needs. 

The targeted tier of approaches aims to repair relationships, and involves peer mediation, classroom and small group circles for problem-solving as well as individual conferences.

The intensive tier is required by under five per cent of the school population and is used to rebuild relationships and involves restorative conferences and mediation.

At Monmouth Comprehensive, the division between pastoral and academic has diminished so that inappropriate behaviours are not dealt with in isolation. The system has moved away from a “pass the buck” culture of behaviour management to one that builds confidence and competence when interacting with the school’s pupils. 

Monmouth Comprehensive has achieved its deeply embedded restorative model through setting values and vision, and changing structures to meet people’s needs within a prescribed framework. Careful curriculum planning and an approach to learning that builds relationships and self-esteem have been key factors in these structural changes.

Regarding curriculum planning, young people learn and obtain healthy relationships when they feel that they are secure, are known well and are cared for. Our meta-cognitive curriculum reduces the number of staff involved in the learning process and increases the role of the form tutor in nurturing the development of the whole child, supporting effective links with families and strengthening the quality of relationships.

Our integrated curriculum has eased transition into key stages 3, 4 and 5 and – in light of the recent review of curriculum provision by the Welsh government – supports the development of the Welsh Baccalaureate as the primary measure of school achievement at this level in Wales. Our outcomes over the past five years demonstrate the significant contribution that restorative practice has made to the wellbeing of our students, staff and also the wider community:

  • The number of students receiving a fixed-term exclusion has dropped by 95 per cent.

  • The number of days lost through exclusion has dropped from 160.5 to two.

  • Referrals to the youth offending service are at an all-time low and recent figures show only one referral from Monmouth Comprehensive.

  • Attendance figures at the school are at their highest level in its history, with 95.2 per cent of students attending and 96 per cent targeted for this academic year. 

  • The school has achieved a significant increase in Level 2 threshold attainment and Level 1 threshold attainment, amounting to 98 per cent. Importantly, all students at the school have left with a qualification, the vast majority with five Level 2 qualifications or more.

  • Staff illness with a stress-related tag has dropped by 82 per cent over the same period.

  • Furthermore, anti-social behaviour involving youths in Monmouth has dropped by 48 per cent in three years.

The guidance of Dr Belinda Hopkins, from Transforming Conflict, as well as the resources and quality assurance provided by the Restorative Justice Council (RJC) have been invaluable for implementing the school’s restorative model. The RJC is the independent membership body for the field of restorative practice and achieving their Restorative Service Quality Mark (RSQM) has demonstrated that we meet national standards and provide quality restorative practice.

We found the process of going for the RSQM challenging, but it has enabled us to clarify, articulate and celebrate the good work we are doing. It has been a useful vehicle in bringing all of the pieces of the jigsaw together. In a large school with nearly 2,000 learners and staff, it is important to have clarity about all practices across the organisation that support a restorative culture and ethos and to health-check them against standards.

Our approach to teaching and learning builds relationships and self-esteem from the classroom out, starting with the young person’s experience and giving them skills. In line with our core restorative beliefs, we support young people in expressing their perspectives, their thoughts and feelings, strengthening their sense of self. Mental health and wellbeing are supported through the core business of the school – learning. 

The restorative model of leadership offers the headteacher and leaders at every level a chance to connect to their core beliefs and work with and through others to achieve a high performance culture. This is a model that provides high challenge and support. It holds people to account without devaluing their humanity. Diverging from the dominant educational culture of “top-down” and “doing to”, Monmouth Comprehensive’s restorative mindset ensures a culture of “doing with”. 

In the face of pressure from various sources for schools to become exam factories, the restorative model supports our young people in leading their lives as healthy, resilient, centred and valued individuals.

  • Andy Williams is deputy headteacher of Monmouth Comprehensive School in Wales.

PHOTO: iStock


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