Introducing Restorative Practices into Scottish Schools
The restorative practices pilot project was included in a larger framework for school reform called “Better Behaviour, Better Learning.” This framework saw the simultaneous implementation of various programmes targeting behavioural issues and improving relationships within the school setting. Strategies included solution oriented schools, the motivational school and providing for more behaviour support assistants in classrooms. The restorative practices pilot project sought to develop knowledge on the use of restorative practices in the school environment and develop an expressly Scottish implementation.
The three local authorities implementing the pilot – Fife, Highland, and North Lanarkshire – received funding for the project and liberty in how to develop it in their schools. Evaluation was integrated in the pilot project with a research team from the universities of Edinburgh and Glasgow interacting with school staff and students throughout the pilot period. The stated objectives of the evaluation were to:
- identify the training and support which staff feel is required to enable them to implement the initiatives effectively
- explore the different situations, contexts and areas of the curriculum where the new approaches are employed
- analyse the ways in which different participants (school staff, pupils and parents) respond to the innovative approaches and the conditions which appear to produce beneficial outcomes
- identify the characteristics of schools, staff or others which contribute to positive or negative outcomes
- identify the support required from local authorities to promote and support school-level implementation
Six schools from each of the three Local Authorities were included in the evaluation: 1 special school, 7 primary schools, and 10 secondary schools. The evaluation team used a collaborative research methodology, feeding findings and information back into the pilot schools. Each school was visited five times throughout the two-year evaluation period. Data collection included:
- Interviews with a range of Local Authority and school staff
- Interviews, individual and group, with pupils
- School staff survey
- Pupil survey
- Observation of a range of meetings, activities and lessons
- Documentary analysis of school and Local Authority policies
- Participation in a range of Scottish Executive, Local Authority and school based meetings
- Analysis of national and school statistical data
- Focus group meetings with school and Local Authority staff
The study found that restorative practices were implemented in a variety of ways throughout the Local Authorities. In Fife, Local Authority officials undertook an evaluation to decide which schools were ready to introduce restorative practices. In North Lanarkshire, restorative practices had previously been implemented in many of the schools before the national pilot, meaning those participating in the evaluation were picked because of a central location. Finally in Highland, Local Authority staff approached schools to ask for volunteers.
The study found a continuum of restorative practices being used in the pilot schools including:
- Restorative ethos building
- Restorative language and scripts
- Curriculum focus on relationship building/conflict resolution
- Restorative Enquiry
- Restorative conversations/discussions
- Mediation (including shuttle mediation and peer mediation)
- Circles (check-in and problem solving)
- Restorative meetings, informal conferences, classroom conferences, mini-conferences
- Formal conferences
The study revealed differences in the development of restorative practices between the primary and special schools and the secondary schools. The primary and special schools showed a strong commitment to developing a restorative ethos in the school, including modelling by key leaders. These schools developed a variety of programmes to teach restorative practices and relationship building.
Secondary schools, on the other hand, tended to introduce restorative practices in a more diverse way. While commitment of key staff members was still important, restorative practices were only introduced in a few departments or to respond to behavioural issues. Interest in the practices was generated by trained staff working with their colleagues.
The evaluation report lists several key findings about the use of restorative practices in Scottish Schools including:
- Flexibility to do what fits with individual school needs was seen as a strength, as was the balance of support and accountability.
- Effective development of restorative practices could happen using different approaches - both whole-school and more focused strategies. There is no one model of effective implementation.
- Primary schools emphasised whole school, preventative approaches focusing on ethos, language and values in addition to curricular developments and particular practices such as mediation, problem-solving and restorative meetings.
- Secondary schools were more likely to begin with one part of the school or with more challenging pupils and to develop restorative meetings and mediation. However, some were developing wider approaches, spreading to subject departments and classrooms and revising their disciplinary and pastoral care processes along restorative lines.
- Restorative ethos building became increasingly central to schools' implementation; there is a developing focus on the wellbeing of all pupils through restorative practices, rather than only on challenging behaviour and disengagement.
- A continuum of restorative practices was evident in most schools.
- Restorative meetings, informal conferences and mini-conferences were common.
- Mediation, shuttle mediation and peer mediation were widely developed.
- Formal conferencing was not widely used.
- Training /staff development was central - opportunities for internal and external training were both equally important.
- The cost of time for training was seen as a particular issue in rural areas with long travelling times and distances.
- Visible support and modelling of a restorative approach by senior managers and key pupil support staff was very important; in the small number of schools where this was less apparent progress was less visible.
- Involvement of parents was still quite limited in many schools.
- Most energy has gone into developing pupil-focused restorative approaches.
- Emphasis on restorative practices for conflict resolution among staff is generally at a very early stage.
- A response or strategy seen by staff as restorative may not always be seen as such by others involved, e.g. a pupil.
- Funding through the pilot project was seen as important by the schools to support their developments; however, there was also evidence of no-cost practice.
- There was a clear reduction in the use of disciplinary exclusion in primary schools.
- Some secondary schools reduced their use of exclusion.
Note: The lists appearing above are drawn verbatum from the report. The full report is available online from the Scottish Executive.