Helping schools develop restorative practices

Vanessa Young, a member of Blue Idol Area Meeting, works with schools to help teachers create a restorative environment where conflicts are resolved peacefully.

Students at William Penn Primary School play together
Students play together at William Penn Primary School. Photo: William Penn Primary School

In my years of teaching, I used a restorative approach to conflict. Today I work with schools to help them develop restorative practices within education. The restorative approach works by bringing together everyone affected by unwanted behaviour, giving people a voice and helping them to understand what happened and why, whilst providing an opportunity to discuss how things might be put right.

Quaker school outreach

William Penn Primary School is a Sussex school with Quaker roots; I am one of their three Quaker Foundation Governors. At the beginning of the school year I met with the Headteacher Stephen Kear to further develop the school's existing and effective approach to behaviour management within the context of restorative practice. Stephen and his team felt that the approach would sit well with the ethos of the school and help to ensure that the Quaker values remain alive and meaningful. Restorative Justice 4 Schools trained the teaching staff, and Quakers at Blue Idol Meeting funded the training as part of their outreach work in the community.

Peaceful education

In recent years, a number of UK schools have adopted restorative practice. This happens through restorative circles, chats and conferences as well as peer mediation and other strategies, with teaching and non-teaching staff using the same 'script' (i.e. the same questions and restorative language) when problems arise. It enables relationships to be built, and repaired, and teaches children skills for life.

Schools report improved behaviour and an increased ability on the part of the children to resolve their own differences in a very positive and peaceful way. A substantial amount of research shows that in many schools it has proved to be transformational for children, staff and the wider community.

A learning experience

Last year The Friend featured a Meeting's account of visiting Year 6 children from a school with a restorative approach. The first half of the visit was for the children to learn about Quakerism and the second half enabled Friends to learn from them how they use restorative practice to smooth their communication with each other and help them resolve conflicts. Friends felt privileged and touched to share this experience with the children and are considering how, both as individuals and as Quakers, they can take on board what they learned from the children.

Last year I worked with a Junior School in York whose training in restorative practice had been funded by their local Quaker Meeting House. As I researched the staff's experiences of using restorative practice, found myself seeing again how close the values of this approach to community relations are to the values at the centre of the Quaker faith – peace, truth, simplicity and equality.

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