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Putting restorative practice into education


Restorative practice is a way of repairing relationships when things go wrong, and has been used in a variety of settings – from murder to bullying and neighbourhood disputes. It is also a way of being, of developing quality relationships with those around us, both in our personal and professional lives, that seeks to reduce the likelihood of harm and conflict.

These approaches are increasingly used in schools as a way to resolve conflict and mend damaged relationships. However, few universities include restorative practice in their education degree syllabus.

Gail Waite, a lecturer in Brunel University London’s Department for Education, wrote for Resolution, the Restorative Justice Council’s member magazine, about the importance of introducing restorative practice at an early career stage.

Since 2013, I’ve been teaching a module called ‘working restoratively with children and young people’, as part of Brunel University London’s undergraduate BA Education degree programme. The programme is aimed at students interested in pursuing a range of careers including teaching, youth work and social work.

The inclusion of this module is innovative. While many universities incorporate behaviour management techniques into their education degrees, I’m not aware of any that dedicate an entire module of their undergraduate education programme to restorative practice. The module itself draws from relevant academic literature and research, which gives students a firm theoretical foundation of knowledge before moving on to skills development and practice. Both the theoretical and practice aspects are assessed.

While I firmly believe restorative practice has application in all aspects of life, developing skills to work restoratively in the social care field is crucial. This is especially true in the current economic and political climate, where funding is tight and councils are being expected to do more for less. The quality of relationships in this field can make the difference between the engagement and non-engagement of children, young people and their families in key aspects of society, including education. By teaching students restorative practice, we give them a framework to develop positive, productive relationships in their future work.

University is a time when our understanding of the world around us is challenged and we are asked to question many of the things we think are ‘true’ or fixed. It’s a privileged space where we have the luxury to question culture in its widest sense; where we are encouraged to challenge societal norms.

Over the seven years I have been training professionals to work restoratively, I have come across two potential threats to increasing the use of restorative practice. Firstly, there are individuals who embrace the ideals and values of restorative practice, but are frustrated by an incongruent organisational culture. Secondly, there are those who are so committed to an authoritarian culture and professional identity that they are unable or unwilling to consider a different path. If we want to avoid both disillusionment and prejudice, then the time to make our case is at the point when young professionals are at the beginning of their journey, when they’re optimistic and open.

One of the criticisms of education is that it merely replicates existing patterns. Busy professionals often lack the time, opportunity and possibly the motivation to stay abreast of new ideas and developments. Many colleagues have told me that one reason schools are willing to welcome students from our course is that they bring new and contemporary ideas and initiatives into the learning environment.

For the majority of our students this is the first time they have encountered restorative practice. Some embrace the ideals and values immediately. For others, the module is a journey of discovery. For a very few, it is something they now understand but don’t subscribe to. Whatever the outcome, the module has raised the awareness of restorative practice to each cohort of students over the last four years and has equipped them with the skills to not only work in this way but to also spot good and poor practice and understand the difference.

If we want to make a difference on a societal level regarding how we deal with and manage difference, I see the inclusion of restorative practice on all education programmes as the right direction of travel.

Engaging people in meaningful, supportive and restorative discussions will, I believe, improve outcomes for professionals and families alike. I’ve found that introducing our future teachers, youth workers and social workers to restorative practice can have a profound effect down the line.

Article reproduced with permission of the Restorative Justice Council.

The BA Education programme at Brunel University London is ranked 1st in London in The Complete University Guide 2018.

(Image: CC by flickr/_masha)

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Joe Buchanunn, Media Relations
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