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Anti Bullying Week: What role can teachers play in building a better school community? – Pete Wallis

anti bullyingWhen writing the text for What are you staring at?, a graphic novel about restorative justice in a school setting, I couldn’t resist taking a side-swipe at the antiquated system of school detentions, as a repost to the endlessly repeated rhetoric calling for ‘discipline’ to be brought back into the nation’s schools. By pointing out that more often than not, slapping a detention on a young person for wrong-doing is actively counterproductive, I hope to illustrate how ineffective a punitive system is for resolving behavioural issues or engendering self-discipline within a school community. In one of Joseph Wilkins’ most evocative images, our protagonist, Jake, is seen sitting alone in a large classroom. He is serving a detention for punching Ryan, a pupil in the year below, and we see him simmering with anger and resentment at the injustice of it all. At this point in the book, no one has taken the trouble to tease out the story behind his violent behaviour, and because the punishment hurts (as it is designed to) he is minded to take revenge on the very person he harmed in the first place – namely the innocent Ryan – for being the ongoing cause of his pain. Precious little scope there for reflection, understanding, resolution or healing. Continue reading

Read an extract from A Practical Introduction to Restorative Practice in Schools

Hansberry_Practical-Intro_978-1-84905-707-3_colourjpg-printIn this extract, Bill Hansberry draws upon real stories from school life to give a strong sense of what restorative justice is and how it works. He begins with the story of two boys, Tristan and Jason, whose intractable conflict was seemingly spiralling out of control. Admitting that restorative justice is at times not for the faint-hearted, he nonetheless asserts that its constructive approach to conflict resolution ‘improves behaviour by improving relationships between people in schools’.

>>Click here to download the extract<<

Suitable for education settings from preschool to college, A Practical Introduction to Restorative Practice in Schools explains what restorative justice is, how it can be used in schools, what it looks like in the classroom and how it can be implemented.  Featuring case studies that illuminate the underlying restorative principles and practices,  the book covers a wide range of topics from the basics of restorative justice, through to school-wide processes for embedding the approach in policy and practice.

Drawing on the expertise of educators and consultants, this is a must-have resource for any school or centre that is serious about reducing bad behaviour and developing safer learning communities.

Restorative schools are kinder schools – Bill Hansberry

Hansberry_Practical-Intro_978-1-84905-707-3_colourjpg-printIn this article, Bill Hansberry reflects upon his new book to discuss the importance of restorative justice as a constructive approach to conflict resolution in schools compared to traditional punitive methods. Suitable for education settings from preschool to school, A Practical Introduction to Restorative Practice in Schools explains what restorative justice is, how it can be used in schools, what it looks like in the classroom and how it can be implemented. It is an essential resource for any school or centre that is serious about reducing bad behaviour and developing safer learning communities.

Restorative Practices are not for the faint-hearted. They demand that our work in schools be less political and more human. This demands that, when things go wrong in schools, we empathise with students (and those who love them) and move into emotional spaces with them that we may not have occupied previously. Restorative practices are not a discipline from a distance. They are up close, personal and at times confronting, which is at odds with the direction that many schools are taking their disciplinary systems. As communities become increasingly disconnected and fearful of one another, responses to conflict, harm and wrongdoing that bring people and their difficult emotions face to face can seem too risky for many, yet schools who have bravely embraced restorative practices have found that this is a risk well worth taking.  Continue reading

Developing essential skills for mediating across dispute contexts and cultures – An Interview with Tony Whatling

Tony Whatling is the author of the new book, Mediation Skills and Strategies: A Practical Guide.  With over 25 years’ experience of mediation practice, he has published widely on the subject of mediation and is a professional practice consultant to a number of mediation services. He has designed and delivered training to over 1,000 Muslim mediators in the UK, Pakistan, India, USA, Canada, Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Portugal, Syria and Afghanistan.

In this interview, Tony shares his experiences of mediating within different contexts and cultures, and explains why there is the need for a comprehensive guide to the skills and strategies in mediation.


You have worked in the field of mediation for over 20 years – what led you to become a mediator?

From the late 1960’s, I had a professional background in social sciences, social work practice, management and education, always with a part-time involvement in family therapy practice, throughout those different roles. As a tutor and head of a university department of social work education, I had always believed that, to maintain credibility, academics should not be detached from practice, so looked for a part-time role locally.

At that time family mediation was beginning to evolve in the UK, and in 1984 a mediation service opened in the city and offered the first ever national training in family mediation. I was subsequently appointed and within two years became one of a small team of trainers to deliver training across the UK in the not-for-profit sector. I left the university some 18 years ago to become a self-employed trainer, and expanded my experience so as to also offer training in community/neighbour, health care complaints, victim/offender and workplace mediation contexts.

Why was it important to write a book about mediation skills?

Despite the substantial growth in literature related to mediation, conciliation, conflict management and alternative dispute resolution (ADR), it is surprising that a book which offers a straightforward, comprehensive handbook of mediator skills and strategies has not so far been written. Whilst referring to some skills, books with titles referring to ‘mediation skills’ more commonly cover theories about conflict, legal issues, and how to manage the mediation process and its stages, rather than the essential core skills and strategies used by practitioners. My decision to write the book was also heavily influenced by constant requests to do so from the very many people I have trained over the past two decades.

Can you give us some examples of skills that mediators routinely employ? Mediation is practised in many different kinds of settings – are these skills employed universally?

The good news for trainee mediators is that the key skills that mediators use are effectively the same as those used by councillors, therapists, managers, and HR staff – indeed anyone involved in what can be termed ‘people-working’ professions. They are essentially also what most people have developed as good quality interpersonal communication skills for everyday life: for example, active listening with understanding, paraphrasing, summarising, clarifying, empathising and using a range of different forms of questioning. The key difference is that mediators are using such skills for different outcome objectives than, say, a therapist, namely in helping disputants negotiate agreements and mutually acceptable settlements. Again, the good news is that these skills are entirely appropriate across all dispute resolution contexts. The procedural steps employed by a mediator will differ depending on the conflict at hand – for example, a spousal dispute versus a commercial or workplace dispute – but the skills are universal.

You make the distinction in the book between skills and strategies – tell us about this.

Typical dictionary definitions describe a skill as ‘the ability to do something well’ or ‘expertise or dexterity’, whereas a strategy is commonly defined as ‘a plan designed to achieve a particular long-term aim’.

Professionals firstly need to practice and develop specific core mediation skills in order to be able to apply them with a particular outcome in mind.

It is hard to conceive of any skill being used by a mediator that will not have some degree of either minor or major strategic effect. For example, the mediator will use the skill of active listening so that they fully understand the client, but also to demonstrate an interest in them as a person. In this scenario, the client hopefully perceives the mediator as both skilful and interested in them as a person. This in turn will also help towards developing trust in the mediator, and indeed the mediation process itself as a method of resolving the dispute. I give many more examples in the book of these core mediation skills and how they are applied strategically towards helping the parties involved to move through the mediation process. Purposefulness and intentionality therefore are the hallmarks of skilled practice.

You run skills training throughout the UK, but also around the world. Are there differences in the way that mediation is practised within different countries and cultures?

There are significant differences in the way that mediation is practised within different countries and cultures, and the most significant differences relate to the Western versus non-Western cultural context. Generally speaking, in Western, individualist cultures, conflict is regarded as an inevitable fact of everyday life and, in many cases, even as a necessary indicator of a need for improvement – for example, in unsatisfactory work-place relationships or with consumer products. Consequently, mediation has come to be regarded as a way to get things out into the open and on the table so as to solve problems and negotiate mutually acceptable settlements and agreements, usually with the help of impartial, trained mediators who are not normally known to the parties in dispute.

By contrast, in many non-Western, communitarian cultures, conflict is generally regarded as abhorrent, a threat to community cohesion and a matter of individual, family and community failings, and is therefore something to avoid, suppress or smooth over. Mediation in this context tends to be conducted by known and respected senior members of the community. Conflict management and negotiations are typically much less direct, take longer and may involve many more members of the extended family and community stake holders – usually with a strong emphasis on reconciliation and a ‘bandaging of the wounds’. Where such internal processes are unsuccessful, arbitration is historically more commonplace and again is provided by respected community and faith elders. Settlements determined by such processes tend to accepted by all concerned, regardless of who wins or loses, as an indication of the historical respect for the authority of the arbitrator.

What has been the most challenging piece of work that you have done which involved drawing upon all of your skills as a mediator?

Two particular examples stand out as the most challenging. The first was a family mediation involving a divorcing couple where the wife was terminally ill, with possibly weeks or at best a few months to live. She expressed very considerable anger with the surgeons, who had at initially thought that surgery had been successful – only to discover later that her illness had spread extensively. She was also still very angry with her husband who had left her for another woman prior to her diagnosis. We achieved little other than some plans for the next few weeks, as we had to end the meeting when her emotional and physical condition deteriorated to the point where she could no longer communicate effectively. I still believe that it was right to respect her wish to mediate. At an intellectual level it made sense, and yet emotionally – given the catastrophic losses that this woman faced: marriage, children and life itself – how could anyone be expected to cope with negotiating arrangements for a time when they are no longer here?

The other situation involved a couple in Syria and matters of family honour. Two members of the wife’s family had not only defrauded her husband of a substantial amount of money through business dealings, but had maligned his character within the close-knit local community. It would not be appropriate to give details, but after some eight years the matter had gone from bad to worse, despite many attempts at mediation and reconciliation. Given the family connections and long running emotional stress, the dispute now threatened the husband’s long-standing marriage, as well as his career as a very successful business man and academic. My female Muslim co-worker and I worked with the husband and wife for several hours, through intense heat and inadequate air-conditioning, on the day we were due to leave Syria after delivering a training programme. By the end, we felt that we had gone some way to helping to reconcile the marriage and the couple both expressed sincere gratitude, in particular for the fact that we had been the first people not to tell the husband to ‘forgive and forget’ or to get on with his life for the sake of his family, his children and community cohesion. We also helped to begin to formulate a plan in which a mutually trusted relative from the wife’s family might be sufficiently trusted on both sides, to convey an apology from her father to her husband – an option that would potentially enable both families to save face. The husband was fully prepared to write off the substantial financial loss, but had become obsessed – to the point of potentially serious mental and physical ill heath – with the damage done to his reputation as an honourable man. This situation brought home to me vividly just how very serious matters of shame and honour are in certain non-Western, communitarian cultures. When at one stage I asked the husband what he would do if an apology was not forthcoming, he thought long and hard before saying, ‘Then I will have only one remaining option, which is to kill them.’ He looked and sounded very serious.

I like to believe that he was sufficiently intelligent and aware of the legal consequences of such actions enough to not carry out that threat, and yet I was left in no doubt of the intensity of his emotions and beliefs. Whilst in many respects he had outwardly become very Westernised, his cultural values regarding family honour were still deeply embedded in his psyche. As someone brought up in a Western culture, I can potentially understand and indeed empathise with his wish to avoid dishonour and shame, and yet, personally upsetting as it might be, the actions I might resort to are incomparable across our different cultural worlds.

To return to your original question, such disputes inevitably test a mediator’s skills to the limit. They are also a powerful reminder of what I refer to in some detail in the book, namely that they should never be applied outside of a framework of appropriate professional values, attitudes and cultural sensitivity and awareness. Skills, strategies and professional practice can never be value-free.

Copyright © Jessica Kingsley Publishers 2012.

Mediation Matters: Tony Whatling on Training Muslim Mediators in Afghanistan

A personal perspective from Tony Whatling, mediation consultant and trainer, and author of Mediation Skills and Strategies: A Practical Guide.


Kabul revisited

The flight from Dubai to Afghanistan had taken us over the breathtaking panorama of the majestic snow-capped peaks and deep dark valleys of the Central Highland mountain range, which cover over 160,000 square miles.

It was late October 2010 and as we touched down at Kabul airport I reflected on my last training visit in 2004 and wondered what changes had taken place over that time. The excitement of my return to this wonderful country had been overshadowed by the news that, on that same morning, on the outskirts of Kabul a suicide bomber had taken the lives of thirteen NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) troops and eight civilians.

Within three weeks of that dreadful event, many more innocent citizens – men, women and children – were slaughtered by more bombs as they celebrated the joy and excitement of the festival Eid Mubarak, in central Kabul.

Compared to 2004, it was sad to see that Kabul had become a city under siege. Every building of any importance was now hidden from sight and fortified with 20-foot high concrete walls, topped with razor wire. Getting into the hotel from the road took around 10-20 minutes every day as each steel barrier, followed by massive steel gates, allowed only one car at a time to pass through and be examined. They checked underneath the car, the boot and the engine bay. Once out of the car, bags were searched and checked by sniffer dogs before being put through airport-style scanners. All hotel uniformed guards carried machine guns at the ready with – rather concerningly – twitching fingers. Only main roads were surfaced, but all were inches deep in dust. There were many more cars than last time and driving was all based on a ‘he who dares, wins’ game of bluff and counter-bluff, with a terrifying lack of regard for the risks involved or for the lives of pedestrians attempting to cross the road.

It was all a stark reminder that, whether the disputes were between warring spouses, angry neighbours, work colleagues or nations, such conflicts would never be resolved by violence. Referring to a much-respected retired general, Britain’s former Ambassador to Afghanistan wrote: ‘Like most Afghans, he knew that the only answer was reconciliation between all the parties to the conflict. There had to be a new political settlement in which the Taliban, and the tribes and views they represented, were included, not excluded. Trying to defeat the Taliban by military force would never produce lasting peace.’*

Mediation for the people by the people

Over the past ten years, I have had the great pleasure and privilege of delivering a total of twenty programmes of family and community mediation training in eleven different countries, including Pakistan, India, Syria, Kenya, Portugal, the USA, UK, Canada, Uganda, Tanzania, and Afghanistan.

The training programmes are arranged by one particular Muslim group, which has faith communities in some 23 different countries worldwide. Most of those communities have now established dispute resolution teams, staffed by volunteer-trained mediators who are available to deal with disputes referred from within their particular local faith community group.

And so it was that I was returning to Kabul to train the latest group of carefully selected, newly appointed volunteer mediators from various districts in Afghanistan where this particular faith group has long-established communities.


Photo: Tony Whatling with trainees in Kabul.

Tony Whatling with trainees in Kabul.


For many of the 50 or so trainees, the learning challenges they faced were compounded by the physical discomfort of some 3-4 days walking, apart from the occasional luxury of a donkey ride to get to the training venue in Kabul. Much of their route – for example, from the northern mountainous Hindu Kush regions of Badakhshan – consists of little more than rough tracks. Some told of how the path had become closed behind them by ice and snow. Their safe return to loved ones and businesses was, as they put it with a resigned shrug of the shoulders, ‘now in the hands of Allah’.

For these people, who had lived through centuries of peaceful conflict resolution faith teachings combined with a tradition of voluntary service to their community, the personal risks involved were far outweighed by an awareness of the urgent need to connect faith traditions with contemporary dispute resolution practice.

New learning inevitably generates complex and challenging questions

One of the great pleasures of training such groups is the strong level of commitment, attention, and the high value which they attribute to any form of education and training. As a result, their acquisition of knowledge and skills tends to be much accelerated in comparison to their Western counterparts. This is all the more surprising since every sentence has to be translated, in this instance into Farsi.

Sadly, male trainees still outnumber women – one consequence of which is that men have to assume the role of women in role-play. This is always a source of great amusement within a group. In what other circumstances would you find a high-ranking officer from the department of counter-terrorism, a former mayor, a serving army general, judges and farmers, sitting cross-legged on the floor, acting out the role of a distressed divorcing wife?

The influence of the trainer in empowering trainees to stretch their boundaries never ceases to amaze me. To their credit, during the role-play debrief, these men frequently comment about the eye-opening insights they gained from this gender shift experience.

Here in Afghanistan, the training and learning challenges are complex, as participants struggle to make sense not only of the knowledge and skills they are gaining, but of the application of these to their non-Western culture and faith traditions.

It is very apparent that they are convinced by, excited about and wanting to apply these new ideas and practices. Yet at the same time there is an inevitable uncertainty and insecurity about the extent to which such practices will be acceptable within their more remote regional communities.

Evidence of this internal struggle becomes clear from the nature of the questions from – and often heated debates between – members of the group. Constant requests for help and advice are made about how to deal with the anticipated resistance to such ‘new ways’ being imported from the West.

This has been a common experience and preoccupation in the training of other groups for example in India, Pakistan, East Africa, Syria and, more recently with a group from Iran, where long-standing cultural traditions of dispute resolution are far more akin to arbitration.

In the more remote regions of these countries, disputes are traditionally referred to wise community leaders and/or groups of respected elders, who have the absolute authority to hear the case and determine the settlement. Regardless of the opinions of the winners or losers of this informal justice system, the judgement will be accepted and respected by all concerned. Consequently, introducing contemporary and non-authoritarian dispute resolution, by party empowerment and negotiation, challenges the authority of the tradition and risks a lack of respect for the authority, and therefore the status of mediators, regardless of Western contemporary beliefs in its efficacy.

Any response to such challenging questions must demonstrate a good level of understanding on the part of the trainer, together with all due respect for cultural and sub-cultural differences and traditions.

Whilst the questions may relate to the anticipated resistance in potential mediation clients, the underlying or ‘meta’ questions are also a reminder that the trainee, too, is a product of that same cultural environment.

The response of a trainer to the trainee’s uncertainty and doubts can be seen as a mirror image that reflects the doubts and uncertainties that clients may well bring to them as mediators. Trainers and mediators alike, on perceiving such doubts, must have the professional maturity to be able to steer into such confusion. Instead of trying to avoid it, they should share responsibility for their part in such uncertainty, rather than regarding it as the client’s problem. In other words, expressed or perceived doubts from trainees or clients should be encouraged, heard, understood and respected as normal at times of uncertainty and disequilibrium.

Is mediation an ‘idea whose time has come’ for Afghanistan?

Having referred earlier to the wise words of the former British Ambassador, I woke today to the news that, on the occasion of President Karzai’s meeting with Britain’s Prime Minister in London, it was announced that talks had now officially started between mediators and representatives of the Taliban.

My work in Afghanistan is related to one small Muslim faith community that is located within many larger and more complex historical faith, cultural and political systems. The work is a very minor contribution compared to the wider picture in this war-torn country. Nevertheless, there seems little doubt now that mediation and negotiated peace settlements are the only viable alternative, as for example we have witnessed in countries like South Africa. In such entrenched conflicts, we are dealing with highly complex and long-standing disputes involving deeply held values and principles.

When compared to disputes over substantive issues such as regional boundaries, electoral systems, or numbers of weapons, negotiated settlements will never be achieved by one side changing its position or values. Whilst we may all change and adapt our values as we go through life, we tend not to do that when in dispute. That is a time to stand up for them at all costs, regardless of risk to life and limb. The only way to achieve a resolution to such values disputes is when each side eventually comes to recognise the right of the other side to exist as fellow human beings – albeit having entirely different cultural and faith traditions, values and beliefs. Once that position is established, the respective factions can come together to negotiate practical measures by which they can learn to live side-by-side, regardless of their value differences – as is now happening with the Northern Ireland peace agreement.

Such major international conflicts will not be concluded easily or swiftly, just because peace agreements are signed. In the cases of South Africa and Northern Ireland we may be facing decades of transition and yet, it would seem that once the tipping point is reached, despite attempts by minority groups to disrupt the accord, it is unlikely to revert to former states of all-out warfare.

Despite the marked differences between the advances of one minority Muslim group that I have had the privilege of working with, compared to the enormity of conflict in Afghanistan as a whole, the good news is that the skills and techniques that mediators bring are precisely the same.

Obviously very different procedural steps are needed when we compare spousal disputes with workplace, or commercial contexts with complex multinational conflicts. Nevertheless, the skills and processes of mediation are universal. So too are the essential principals that underpin the practice, such as voluntary participation, demonstrable impartiality as to outcome, joint party empowerment, confidentiality and fairness etc. – all of which are explored in more detail in the forthcoming book, Mediation Skills and Strategies.

Political leaders, community elected representatives and diplomats will inevitably take centre stage in such negotiations. Nevertheless we can only hope that they have the wisdom to ensure that highly-skilled, trained and respected mediators are ’embedded’ at every stage of the process. They must be regarded as integral to the process throughout. Their values, skills and strategies are substantially different from the key stakeholders – and should be respected as such.

My personal view, from experience over the past decade, is that, in terms of cultural credibility, such mediators should ideally be recruited from within the Afghan community and culture rather than imported from the West. It is likely that training will need to be imported initially but it must to be seen to be culturally sensitive to substantial differences between Western Individualist and non-Western Communitarian cultural attitudes to conflict and dispute resolution.

Tony Whatling
January 2012

Copyright © Jessica Kingsley Publishers 2012.


*Sherard Cowper-Coles, Cables from Kabul: The Inside Story of the West’s Afghanistan Campaign (Harper Press 2011), 352pp.

Equipping Young People to Choose Non-Violence

By Gerry Heery, author of Equipping Young People to Choose Non-Violence: A Violence Reduction Programme to Understand Violence, Its Effects, Where it Comes From and How to Prevent It.


Where does one start when talking about violence? I was fortunate to grow up in a family where violence was not present. However, from an early age I experienced and witnessed a range of violent experiences mostly related to the communal and political unrest which took place in Northern Ireland. I was subjected to several attacks. My family were forced to leave our family home when I was 14 years of age. The first seven years of my married life was spent living in an area where communal conflict occurred and several of our neighbours were murdered. My home, along with the seven other neighbouring houses have now all been demolished and replaced by a ‘peace’ wall which looms high as a barrier dividing the community. I have learned that violence is an immensely complex phenomenon and anyone is capable of using it.

As a social worker and probation officer I also came into professional contact with other various forms of violence occurring within relationships, families and communities. I became particularly interested in violence within close intimate relationships and families and the devastating effects this could often have on the victims or those who happened to witness it. I always remember my son’s nursery school teacher pointing to the young three year old child who was behaving aggressively towards others and wondering out loud as to what in God’s name must that young child be seeing at home? I became involved in developing and delivering interventions for adults aimed at helping them to address their use of violence and I continue to do this work.

It was then with some trepidation that I accepted the challenge to help develop a ‘violence’ programme aimed specifically at young people. Such violence is multi-faceted and complex. For some it may be a way of dealing with conflict and frustration they have seen modelled at home or as part of a gang culture. For others it may be an ‘enjoyable’ part of their social activity, associated with the use of alcohol or drugs, and it may also be linked to prejudices against particular groups in society. We see these and other elements acted out within families, on the street, in gangs and, for example, in the recent riots in various English cities.

The continued need for comprehensive and co-ordinated policies to address the disadvantaged and troubled familial, social and cultural experiences of many young people will always be critical in dealing with many aspects of societal violence. To expect individual young people to be able to always choose ‘non-violent’ approaches just through individual work without cognisance being given to the bigger picture of their lives is unrealistic.

Nevertheless, and despite the above, I believe there is always a place for engaging in an individual way with the young person. Retuning to my own experiences in Northern Ireland, one of my heroes was the Nobel Laureate John Hume who constantly sought dialogue with those who felt that there was no option other than violence and who, ultimately, was able to persuade many people that there were other ways. In one sense, this programme offers a vehicle for a conversation with the individual young person, a space in which to try and connect with the him or her and get a sense of what their violence is about and the possibility of choosing non-violent options. The Youth Justice Agency of Northern Ireland have piloted and continue to use the programme. The agency which bases its approach on restorative principles wanted to have something with which to specifically engage with young people whose use of violent behaviour was causing problems. It is with this support that I have been encouraged to publish the programme as a resource which may also be useful to others working with youth. This is done very much in the spirit of take what helps and use in your own way, but also does offer a structured focused intervention if that was felt to be needed.

Copyright © Jessica Kingsley Publishers 2011.

Belinda Hopkins on the healing power of Restorative Justice

Belinda Hopkins is the author of Just Care: Restorative Justice Approaches to Working with Children in Public Care, published by Jessica Kingsley Publishers. She is also a Director and Lead Trainer of Transforming Conflict, a centre for restorative justice in education.

How did you first become interested in Restorative Justice?

In some ways I have always been interested in a restorative approach when working with young people – although in the early days I would not have used the phrase ‘Restorative Justice’ or ‘restorative approaches’.

My first experience of teaching, in the field of English as a foreign language, radicalised me in terms of thinking of my students as autonomous, self-directing partners in their learning. Having subsequently trained as a modern language teacher, I found the authoritarian regime of school difficult to accept. I was inspired by Reimer (1971), Postman and Weingartner (1971), Holt (1966) and Freire (1982), who questioned the role of adults vis-à-vis children and the issue of children’s rights and responsibilities. I also read about non-violence and conflict resolution in schools (Isaacson and Lamont 1982; Judson 1982).

My teaching style was informed by a desire to create a democratic classroom, and I often used a format which is now called classroom conferencing (Thorsborne and Vinegrad 2004) – resolving differences and problems by sitting in a circle, actively listening to each other and finding ways forward together. I based much of my modern languages teaching around the social goal of creating community and trust in the group, using game-like activities to develop self-esteem, communication skills and cooperation, albeit in French and Spanish. Eventually, in 1994, I left the teaching profession to become a freelance trainer and consultant in the field of conflict management and mediation. In 1997 Terry O’Connell, a police officer pioneering Restorative Justice in New South Wales was invited over to the UK by the then Chief Constable of the Thames Valley Police Force, Sir Charles Pollard to talk about his work with young offenders to youth justice professionals and educationalists. Hearing O’Connell speak I saw the relationship between work I had been doing in schools for many years and the potential of restorative justice philosophy to provide an overarching framework for this work. After O’Connell’s visit I was invited to be involved with the Thames Valley Police to develop work in schools, and I began to write about the connections between restorative philosophy, conflict management, mediation and circle time, urging people to consider restorative justice more as a whole-school approach than a discrete intervention (Hopkins 1999a; 1999c; 2002b; 2003a). These ideas all came together when I wrote my first book on the whole school restorative approach – indeed THE first book ever to be written on the subject- Just Schools (JKP 2004). (this section is an extract from an article that can be found here and was adapted for my doctoral thesis)

What do Restorative Approaches have to offer that the more traditional routes of blame and punishment don’t?

Traditionally, in families, schools and in the criminal justice system there has been a response to wrongdoing that could crudely be described as ‘name, blame, shame and punish’. In other words if someone does something wrong then they must be punished for it. If there is no punishment then the miscreant has ‘got away with it’. Certain key questions inform the mindset of those with the power in such settings:

     • What happened?
     • Who is to blame?
     • What is the appropriate response to deter and possibly punish those at fault, so they will not do the same thing again?

The first question – What happened? – is based on the belief that something factual happened, some essential ‘truth’ and that this can be discovered by interviewing or even interrogating whoever was involved or whoever witnessed the event. Words such as ‘interview’, ‘interrogate’ and ‘witness’ give away the origin of this approach – the criminal justice domain requiring people to be detectives! In this approach discrepancies are viewed as suspect, inconsistencies considered proof of dishonesty and written testimonies acquire the status of evidence, often with priority given to those statements given by those with more age, rank or status.

The second question – Who is to blame? –  is informed by the belief that when something bad has happened there must be a culprit or culprits. ‘Dealing with the situation’ comprises first identifying this guilty person or people and laying the blame for what happened at their feet. The third question –what sanction will deter and punish? – is based on the belief that accountability comprises being punished, and that punishment will deter both the miscreant and others from repeating the wrongdoing. This latter belief is held on to despite evidence to the contrary. Sanctions and the threat of sanctions are rarely sufficient to deter further wrongdoing – a fact about which much more will be said.

Restorative practitioners bring a different set of questions to bear on any situation of conflict or wrongdoing.

     • What’s happened?
     • Who has been affected or harmed?
     • How can everyone who has been affected be involved in repairing the harm and finding a way forward?

The first question – What’s happened? – looks deceptively similar to the first, traditional, question. However its intention is very different. When a restorative practitioner asks a person to explain what happened they appreciate that this is only one person’s perspective, and that they will get a different answer from everyone they ask – and that this is inevitable, normal and interesting. They appreciate that there is no ‘one truth’ about an event, but many truths – and it is the discrepancies in perception about an event that may have given rise to the problem in the first place. Thus a key quality of a restorative practitioner is curiosity, and they like to encourage that curiosity amongst everyone they interact with.

The second question – Who has been affected or harmed? – recognises that when something has gone wrong people will have been affected or even harmed (as in – distressed, hurt, upset, angered) and that whatever else happens there will be the need for some kind of repair. Many working and domestic environments remain unpleasant because conflicts have not been resolved and relationships that have been damaged are left in tatters. Curiously people’s needs are very similar whether they have been personally harmed by conflict or wrongdoing or whether they themselves have been responsible for causing harm (either inadvertently or on purpose.)

The third question – How can everyone who has been affected be involved in repairing the harm and finding a way forward? – contains the key to what is different and radical about a restorative approach . It comprises two challenging paradigm shifts for some people – letting go the need for sanctions and letting go the need to be in control and impose solutions.

Many people equate justice having been done with the administering of a punishment, and in schools and residential child care contexts a similar expectation prevails, or is believed to prevail. The logic is that if somebody does a bad thing then a bad thing needs to be done to them. In a sense this is the ‘eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth’ philosophy, but of course this lesson taught to children by adults can lead to behaviours in youth settings and in the community that mimic this approach, which is based on revenge. A restorative approach, coupled with interpersonal conflict resolution training, can offer an alternative that may influence the way young people deal with conflicts in later life.

A restorative response, with its focus not on blame, punishment and alienation but on repair and re-connection, encourages a wrongdoer to take responsibility for the harm they have caused, and gives them an opportunity to repair the harm. Empathy is developed, accountability is encouraged and the outcome can help both wronged and wrongdoer feel better about themselves and the other person. (this section is adapted from Chapter 2 of Just Care)

Why are Restorative Justice Approaches particularly pertinent to residential child care?

Statistics show that young people in Residential Child Care are disproportionately represented in the criminal justice arena (DfES 2006; NACRO 2003a; NACRO 2003b). This situation has arisen not necessarily because children in care are more likely to offend but because the disruptive behaviours of the children have resulted in a call from staff to the police, often followed by an arrest and a caution or final warning (NACRO 2003a). Probably neither the staff concerned , nor the police involved, would wish for such an outcome. However, without training in alternative strategies staff often turn to the police in desperation, whilst the police themselves, because of crime recording protocols and targets, feel obliged to deal with the incident as a crime. Using a restorative approach instead can divert children in care from the criminal justice system by ensuring that the incident is dealt with by staff in such a way that both wrongdoer and those affected reach a mutually agreed way forward without recourse to the police (Willmott 2007).

However whilst restorative justice in its formal sense can and does make a contribution in care settings, it is in its less formal aspects, described as ‘restorative approaches’, that it can have most impact and address many of the issues and challenges currently facing the residential child care sector. In residential care settings staff who were initially trained in the restorative conferencing model swiftly discovered that the more formal process was less useful than they had first hoped because most of the incidents they needed to address flared up quickly and needed immediate attention. More often than not there was no clear-cut case of ‘offender’ and ‘victim’ but simply two people in conflict, each blaming the other. They therefore began to request training in a range of less formal processes which were nevertheless informed by the philosophy of restorative justice. Their experiences using these processes has gradually led to a realisation that the approach required a cultural shift in the way staff and young people interact on a day to day basis and that the benefits of using such an approach could go far beyond the narrow remit of reducing potentially offending behaviour.

One particular concept that is gaining ground in residential settings is that of ‘social pedagogy’ and it is be argued that day to day restorative practice provides a framework for care staff to operationalise socially pedagogic principles, especially in challenging situations. (This section is adapted from Chapter 1 of Just Care)

Could you tell us a little about your organisation Transforming Conflict?

I founded Transforming Conflict in 1994 for the reasons I explained earlier. In the early days I was the only trainer and consultant, but over time I have built up a superb team with backgrounds in education, social work, youth offending teams, and residential care who share the training with me. Having developed a reputation for being one of the lead training organisations in the UK we are now also known as the National Centre for Restorative Approaches in Youth Settings. We offer training, consultancy and support in a variety of youth settings for people seeking to enhance their skills in building a sense of community, fostering a spirit of inclusion and dealing creatively with challenging situations. Our work is underpinned by the philosophy of Restorative Justice, which stresses the importance of relationships above rules and the value of dialogue in healing the damage done to relationships by inappropriate behavior.

We have experience of running courses for teaching staff, learning support staff, lunchtime controllers, parents and students, educational psychologists, pupil support teams, residential care staff, senior management teams, governors, social workers, police officers, youth justice and other local authority personnel. We work in primary, secondary and EBD and PRU school settings and run both public and bespoke in-house courses.

In recent months there has been increasing interest in developing joined –up approaches across all multi-agency teams in a single local authority and we are at the forefront of these developments working with teams to look at how they can integrate restorative ways of working not only with their client groups but also amongst their own teams.

What are you currently reading?

I am beginning the research for my new book about restorative classrooms – exploring the links between pedagogy and classroom management so I’m afraid my current reading is all work-based.

I am very excited by my friend and colleague Richard Hendry’s new book, Building and Restoring Respectful Relationships in Schools, and also by an amazing book called Positive Discipline by Jane Nelsen et al. which really turns the whole notion of manipulating children’s behaviour using rewards and punishments on its head. However I do plan to take a break at the end of August and looking forward to reading something totally escapist like The Angel’s Game by Carlos Ruiz Zafon.