the friend online
02 October 2009

Equality and social justice

Belinda Hopkins’ work in social justice drew her to Quakers. She outlines how the enlightened approach of restorative justice is helping many schools handle conflict

Since 2000 when the first schools began to train staff in restorative approaches, inspired by the philosophy of restorative justice, more and more schools have taken an interest in this innovative way of managing relationships and behaviour.

There are many challenges in implementing a whole-school approach since the restorative way challenges deeply-held notions about power and control and the urge to make someone suffer when they have ‘misbehaved’.

  • When harm has been caused people need:
  • A chance to tell their side of the story and feel heard;
  • To understand better how the situation happened;
  • To understand how it can be avoided another time;
  • To feel understood by the others involved;
  • To find a way to move on and feel better about themselves.

If conflicts and challenges are dealt with in a way that get these needs met then those involved can repair the damage done to their connections with the others involved, or even build connections where there were none previously. They feel fairly treated and respected, since they have been trusted to find solutions for themselves and put things right in their own way. Because they have been listened to, people in conflict are more ready to listen to others’ perspectives and emotional responses, and so empathy is developed. This can change the choices made in future situations, as mutual respect and consideration develop.

Conversely, punitive responses:

  • Cause resentment rather than reflection;
  • Are rarely considered fair;
  • Do not repair relationships between those in conflict and indeed can make them worse;
  • Leave those labelled as wrongdoers feeling bad about themselves leading to further alienation;
  • Can often leave the adults expected to act punitively feeling uncomfortable and frustrated – and wishing there was an alternative.

Scotland is leading the way by implementing restorative practice across all Scottish schools – an initiative supported by the Scottish government (a recent evaluation can be found online).

Some local authorities are further ahead than others although most local authorities across England and an increasing number in Wales have at least one restorative school initiative. Lewisham has been pioneering an approach since 2002 and has published several booklets about its success. It is also the first authority to base its anti-bullying policy on restorative approaches.

Barnet Council will soon publish a report indicating that whereas exclusions have gone up by fifty per cent around the borough, in schools using the restorative approach they have gone down by fifty per cent!

Some schools are pioneers in advance of local authority championing the approach. Ormesby School in Middlesborough has been implementing a whole-school restorative approach for the past three years. The school has had reductions in exclusions, and an improvement in school climate and in staff confidence in dealing with challenging behaviour. The increased interest nationally can be linked to developments in policy and practice amongst those supporting young people and their families. It links to the ‘Every Child Matters’ agenda, a government initiative ensuring that no young person falls through the net in terms of support and care, and one that emphasises the importance of giving young people a greater involvement in decisions made that involve them. Restorative approaches seek to identify the underlying causes behind any behavioural issues and tries to address the needs of all involved.

A whole-school restorative approach is also an emotionally literate response to behaviour and conflict and as such helps staff to model that the Social and Emotional Aspects of Learning (SEAL) agenda is all about. By seeking to build cohesive, compassionate communities in school, restorative approaches also address community cohesion in practical and pragmatic ways.

A restorative approach offers the ideal answer to the issues many schools face today – giving a framework to deal with the day-to-day challenges that inevitably occur in a diverse community of individuals, not all of whom have chosen to be there and many of whom have untold challenges in their lives beyond the school gates.

Belinda works for Transforming Conflict, the National Centre for Restorative Approaches in Youth Settings. See

Belinda Hopkins


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A testimony to Love
Judy Kirby, Editor
Circles of silence
Gerard Benson
A view of Quakers
David Wood
Testimony to peace
Helen Steven
Middle East witness
Ann Wright
Peace for all
Stephen Hanvey
Living the testimonies
Helen Drewery
Harvey Gillman
Testimony to Equality
Jonathan Dale
Committed relationships
Phil Lucas
Quaker thought in literature
Marina Lewycka
Quaker thought in poetry
Gerard Benson
Ros Smith
Marian Liebmann
Equality and social justice
Belinda Hopkins
Testimony to Simplicity
Jan Arriens and Marion McNaughton
Laurie Michaelis
Testimony to Truth
Linda Pegler
Integrity in public life
Tony Stoller

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