Restorative Approaches



The use of a structured discussion process between pupils or adults to resolve conflict, address harm caused and agree a way forward

Called ‘restorative justice' in the criminal justice field the term ‘restorative approaches' is now used in the school context because it includes a range of allied techniques and use of restorative language in addition to the more formal restorative justice.

Effective learning cannot take place if relationships are damaged. The restorative process is designed to make sure that those involved in a conflict find an agreed solution. No one else can solve a problem between two people - be they teacher and pupil, pupil and pupil or school and parent. The process of asking Restorative questions puts the onus of solving problems where it belongs - between the two or more people involved.




This development came from Restorative Justice based on work in Australia. In criminal justice terms a Restorative Justice Conference deals with the harm caused and tries to repair the relationship through a formal process bringing together all those affected and using restorative questioning to get clarity about fact, feelings and needs. Restorative Justice techniques are used widely in Youth Justice field to help ‘offender', ‘victim' and others affected by an incident communicate and come to an agreement on an incident and agree a way of repairing the harm done. Youth Offending Teams have targets for providing opportunities for RJ in a high proportion of cases.

Restorative approaches are now being used in a range of primary and secondary schools, Special Schools and Pupil Referral Units.


Relevance to teachers


Restorative approaches are about removing barriers to learning.

Restorative approaches in schools are used in:

  • managing behaviour in classrooms
  • resolving playground, social areas and school community issues
  • to support running Circle time, PSHE, Citizenship and other curriculum activities
  • to help the democratic processes of a school - e.g. School Councils
  • dealing with significant problems such as bullying, theft and damage
  • resolving conflict between adults within the school community or conflict between the school and families
  • in dealing with the most serious incidents when a Headteacher might consider an exclusion.

In the most serious cases by using restorative approaches an acceptable outcome can mean that the pupil stays in school and avoids the negative effects of exclusion on future education. At the same time the school community is assured that the pupil causing damage to relationships has had to confront their behaviour in a way that means they are less likely to cause offence again.

Facilitating a full Restorative Conference is a highly skilled role which requires thorough training. However restorative questions can be used informally and will still focus more constructively on the problem in the relationship not just on ‘breaking rules' or ‘the authority of a teacher / the school ' .

The focus is on Restorative Questions which leave the ‘players‘ in the conflict with the responsibility to  listen, express their views and own an agreed outcome.

  • What happened?
  • What part did you play?
  • Who has been affected?
  • What do you need for this situation to be put right?
  • What do you think needs to be done to put the situation right?

This process is used effectively in classrooms, by support staff, by receptionists and lunchtime supervisors.

Does it work?

Early evaluation evidence (YJB 2005) has focused on the use of the formal Restorative conference.

Out of 625 formal school based conferences which took place :

  • 92% resulted in successful agreements between parties
  • Of these 96% of the agreements made were being sustained after a three month period
  • Where Restorative approaches were being used in a whole school framework staff perceived an improvement in behaviour.

It is clear that a number of schools are committed to Restorative Approaches and value the contribution this makes to school improvement including in some very challenging circumstances.


Indicative reading


Hopkins, B. 2003 Just Schools: A Whole School Approach to Restorative Justice London Sage

Wallis, P. Tudor, B. 2007 The Pocket Guide to Restorative Justice London, Kingsley

Johnstone, G., Van Ness, D. 2006 Handbook of Restorative Justice London, Willan


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Key Stage 2, Key Stage 3, Key Stage 4, Key Stage 5, Middle, Primary, Secondary

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