Restorative justice in schools

Last week I attended an education forum out at Porirua on restorative justice in schools. What I heard there was very exciting. This is a practice that is helping keep youth engaged in their education and gives teachers the skills to deal with issues.

The restorative approach is based on the belief that people best placed to resolve a conflict or a problem are the people directly involved and that imposed solutions are less effective, less educative and less likely to be honoured.

In essence the approach puts repairing harm done to relationships and people over and above the need for assigning blame and dispensing punishment.

The key values of the approach are to create an ethos of respect, inclusion, accountability and self responsibility in an environment that is non-judgemental and ultimately empowering.

There are many advantages to adopting this approach in schools including a reduction in bullying and conflict, a greater emphasis on responses to inappropriate behaviour and less suspensions and expulsions from school.

What I found really exciting to hear was the type of environment this approach can create in our schools and that is a safer and more caring environment, a greater commitment by everyone to take the time to listen to one another and the adoption of behaviours that seek to reconnect and not further disconnect our young people.

An example where this approach is successful is Manawatu College in Foxton. When the programme was trialled there last year, the number of student assaults fell from 33 in 2008 to five in 2009. The number of stand-downs fell from 34 to seven.

The students were also instrumental in introducing a rewards system called ManaBuys to encourage good behaviour. Similar to Flybuys, students earn points for positive behaviour, such as picking up litter, helping teachers or showing compassion. The points can be saved up and traded for awards like canteen, The Warehouse and movie vouchers.

I am told that students at the school say the approach has not only encourage better behaviour but also the students feel more confident and have greater school pride.

It is so important that we stay connected to our young people and that as adults we ensure our young people feel valued and know that we do believe they can take make good decisions and take responsibility for their choices.

I hope this will be a programme that all schools adopt.