Case study: Reflective conversations, peer mediation and a restorative ethos

Written by: Andy Oliver & Lee Farmer | Published:
Outstanding: Students at Holte School, where peer mediation and reflective conversations encourage a restorative approach to behaviour

A restorative approach to behaviour management, including peer mediation and reflective conversations, has helped Holte School to win a Mentally Healthy School Award. Andy Oliver and Lee Farmer explain

Holte School is located in Lozells, west Birmingham, one of the most deprived electoral constituencies in the country.

We are a mixed secondary school catering for students aged 11 to 18. The school has 1,160 students on the roll, of which 24 per cent have SEND, 87 per cent have English as an additional language and 62 per cent are entitled to Pupil Premium funding.

Additionally, 167 students are classed as “vulnerable” – this is significantly above the national average. Holte was graded outstanding by Ofsted in 2012.

A restorative approach to behaviour management, including peer mediation and reflective conversations, has led to significant improvements in attendance and behaviour and reductions in disruptions and exclusions. The school has become the first in the UK to receive a Mentally Healthy School Award from the Centre for Child Mental Health and Trauma Informed Schools UK.

The challenge

Classed as an area of high deprivation (the Ladywood constituency is said to have the highest level of child poverty in the country), Lozells has a long history of migration of refugees and displaced people.

It is known for its drug culture, gang activity and high levels of violent crime, including gun crime. Widespread poverty and exposure to violence presented significant challenges for our school, particularly around attendance, punctuality, behaviour, safeguarding and the mental health and wellbeing of students. The measures we implemented are outlined below.

Conflict resolution

One of the first steps we took was to implement an alternative approach to conflict resolution and behaviour management, with an emphasis on engaging in restorative conversations.

The approach incorporates key aspects of the Pivotal Education (Pivotal is an educational training consultancy) training programme for behaviour management. All of our staff have been trained to use the restorative approach to managing conflict, and all NQTs and trainees undertake a four-week training programme in the Pivotal principles which consists of four small group, one-hour long sessions as part of their induction into the school. Training is also offered throughout the year to any other member of staff who may need it, including department heads.

The Pivotal principles include:

  • No judgement is ever made about the student’s behaviour or identity during interventions.
  • Students are held responsible for the choices they make.
  • Behaviours are shifted to the past tense as soon as possible.

The core components of our restorative approach involve looking at what has happened, its impact and how it can be resolved. Restorative language is used in classrooms school-wide. Examples of effective statements include:

  • “That has frustrated me because...”
  • “That has affected me because of...”

Our staff also developed a “behaviour blueprint” which outlines the approach to behaviour management adopted throughout our school. The key points include:

  • Meeting and greeting pupils at the classroom door.
  • Showing passion and enthusiasm for subjects.
  • Having high expectations.
  • Being consistent with behaviour management.
  • Avoiding shouting.
  • Modelling calm and patient behaviour.
  • Using rewards strategies.
  • Managing behaviour in a calm and understated way.

Additionally, we implemented a peer mediation programme where student mediators work with their peers to help resolve low-level conflicts, address bullying and prevent fights.
Students undertake a two-day course, which is accredited by the College of Mediators. Holte is the first school in the country to provide college-accredited mediation training for students.

Our PSHE and citizenship curriculum teaches students across years 7 to 13 what peaceful conflict resolution looks like and how to manage conflict. We focus on the social, emotional, spiritual and cultural development of students – and this is embedded within all subject areas.

Staff wellbeing is also a key component of our approach to promoting a culture of positive mental health. Every half-term a staff wellbeing group meets where colleagues can discuss their feelings and stress triggers, after which the senior leadership team is updated on meeting outcomes. A range of initiatives are also offered to staff, including physical and emotional wellbeing programmes through an external agency.

The results

The use of restorative practice at our school has significantly improved attendance and reduced low-level disruption and exclusions. Fixed-term exclusions have decreased significantly over recent years. In 2006/7 there were 217 fixed-term exclusions. This reduced to 90 in 2017/18. Only one pupil was permanently excluded in 2017/18. This means that our fixed-term exclusion and permanent exclusion rate are significantly better than national averages.

Attendance has risen to 96.4 per cent in the first term of 2018/19 (last year it was 95.2 per cent) and persistent absence has fallen to an all-time low, with only 7.7 per cent of our pupils having attendance below 90 per cent in the first term this year – which we attribute to improved relations between staff and learners.

The number of participants involved in restorative mediation has also doubled, from 60 students and staff in the first term in 2017, to 124 students and staff in September 2018 – an increase which shows how embedded the practice is within our school and the positive perception of it by our students and staff.

The approach has led to a continued decline in fixed-term exclusions and repeat incidents of internal and external exclusions and cases of low-level disruption.

Students are also demonstrating greater ownership of behaviour and the number of cases involving students being removed from lessons has decreased.

Incidents of physical aggression, bullying and discrimination have declined as a result of peer mediation. Behaviour management is reflective rather than punitive and all staff regard restorative approaches and mediation as key to successfully managing conflict.

The approach has put relationships at the heart of everything we do at Holte – our behaviour blueprint and restorative conversations centre on building positive relationships with our students and shifting the dynamic away from “them and us”, towards working together to improve behaviour and resolve conflict.

Holte recently became the first school in the UK to receive the Mentally Healthy School Award from the Centre for Child Mental Health – a not-for- profit provider of CPD and training programmes for school staff – and Trauma Informed Schools UK in recognition of our restorative approach to behaviour management and positive mental health and wellbeing culture.

Our progress was evaluated using their Trauma and Mental-Informed Implementation Check List, which is endorsed by Manchester University. We scored highly across the four key categories of Protect, Relate, Regulate and Reflect – which underpin mentally health relationships between staff and pupils. We were marked on evidence, awareness, emerging practice and embedded practice in a range of measures under each section.

  • Andy Oliver is deputy headteacher and Lee Farmer assistant headteacher at Holte School in Birmingham.

Mentally Healthy School

Schools can apply for a Mentally Healthy School Award or a Trauma and Mental Health Informed School Award by demonstrating that they have met a range of mental health and wellbeing-focused criteria. For details, visit


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