Towards Restorative Pedagogy: Overcoming The Punishment Model At School

Abridged version in English of the original


Over the last decades, coexistence issues at school have been and still are the focus of social and educational attention. School mediation programmes have consolidated as an effective procedure to improve coexistence. However, in most of the cases, the approach to conflicts and the actions taken to address them are still rooted in a more traditional punishing approach. Restorative justice programmes promote a shift in the penalising culture as a way to order coexistence in centres, by pushing for reparations and taking responsibility not only of the facts but especially with regards to solution seeking. Through a comparative analysis of the evaluations carried out among the restorative justice programmes of 67 schools in the United Kingdom, we were able to identify the key elements for its implementation as well as transference to our education context.


Keywords: Restorative Pedagogy. Restorative Justice. Mediation. Conferencing. School

This qualitative-descriptive study analyses the implementation process of restorative justice programmes at school, which is widely used in the Anglo-Saxon context.

The table below (Table 1) shows four evaluation reports of restorative programmes implemented in the United Kingdom between 2004 and 2012 that have been published on the Internet. The analysis of the documents has been carried out based on five dimensions (Table 2). Due to the extension constraints of this article we will only show the analysis of dimension 2: implementation. The other dimensions will be explained in detail in other papers.


Two approaches are identified, global approach and pocket approach.

Global approach:

It implies the incorporation of the model in the school policies and standards. Punishments are replaced by a continuum of restorative actions. It means changing the school culture from below, and it which allows teachers and the entire school personnel to adapt to the new way to proceed in a fast manner.

Pocket approach:

This partial pocket approach does not imply a change neither in terms of the standards nor of the school policies, but it is implemented per field (school levels, types of conflict, sectors of the education community, etc.).

Three reports indicate that some schools apply the global approach. EW identify only four schools (out of 26), BRI one (out of 10) and the LA SCT specify that the primary schools of one area (Fife) implement the global approach.

Training provided

The following sub-dimensions have been identifies: origin of the trainers, target personnel, contents and schedule.

Origin of the Trainers:

They mostly come from outside the school (EW, BRI, LA SCT). Trainers can be officials from juvenile justice offices, penitentiary services and/or police officers, but they are in general expert professionals from restorative justice institutions11 that are accredited by the United Kingdom Restorative Justice Council.

Target Personnel:

BRI describes the training that targets all the school personnel, the LA SCT specify the training for both general staff and specific personnel, EW focuses on training for specific personnel. England and Wales are the only ones that include training to external personnel of the school (practitioners from community mediation services, staff from juvenile justice offices and police officers).

Contents of the Training:

Training is provided at two levels:

  • General training (BRI, LA SCT), which includes the fundamentals, values and main tools of restorative justice, and
  • Specific training (EW, BRI, LA SCT), which consists in training to conduct conferences.

Widely speaking general training is conducted during the school hours and at the school premises, whereas specific training is conducted outside the schools hours and school premises (LA SCT).

Introduced Restorative Practices

The implemented restorative practices or processes are widely varied, and they mostly provide participants with strategies to manage relationships, conflicts and classrooms.

Practices to manage relationships

The LA SCT Report is the only report that refers to the use of restorative language (restorative questions) for relationship management. According to LA SCT restorative scripts-questions seek to standardise the process and are used by the facilitators in formal practices such as conferencing, and by all the school staff in informal situations. In many schools, restorative questions or scripts are posted in the classroom and they become a guide used to manage all situations.

According to LA SCT restorative questions and scripts are more than just a specific practice; thus, using them can be applied to daily interactions in general as they promote active listening, empathy and non judgement. For this reason, they are described as practices aimed to manage relationships and not only conflicts, and they are obviously the basis for the practices defined for conflict management and classroom management. Indeed, according to the LA SCT, the school staff thinks that scripts are useful and, in general, restorative questions are considered the basis of any intervention.

Practices for conflict management

To manage conflicts in a restorative practice gathering we have identified a broad range of practices that differ in terms of participation and formality; these practices can be grouped as follows:

  • Practices that do not include the participation of support personnel and can be either formal or informal: mediation (EW, LA SCT) and peer mediation (EW, LA SCT). According to EW, mediation is a restorative conference that does not include the participation of those who have a significant relationship with the parties. The LA SCT refer to formal mediations for conflicts between students and teachers, and informal mediations for situations that occur in the school yard, hallways, etc. that can be conducted by adults or by the students themselves, especially in primary schools.
  • Practices that vary both in terms of the participants and how formal the process is: informal conferences (EW, LA SCT), restorative meetings (LA SCT), mini-conferences (LA SCT); these practices might imply the participation of support people and might be either formal or informal.
  • Practices that include the participation of support people and are conducted in a formal way. These have been mostly indicated in the analysed reports, especially conferences (EW, BRI, LA SCT).
Practices for classroom management

Of the practices specifically aimed to manage classrooms, circle time is the most spread one (EW, BRI, LA SCT); on the other hand, classroom conferences and restorative isolation (a practice by which restorative questions are used for individual reflexion) have only been indicated in one of the cases (LA SCT).

Discussion and conclusions

About the approach

Skinns, Du Rose and Hough (2009) state that one of the problems for developing the approach is the materialisation and delimitation of the implementation process. Therefore, it is not surprising that one of the shared interests in three of the four cases analysed is the identification of implementation guidelines that guarantee the successful development of the restorative approach. Blood and Thorsbone (2006) recommend a global approach and clearly indicate the specific stages for its correct development. The global approach implies a shift in mind-sets and methodologies, and it requires the support of the school’s leadership and also of the Administration.

When thinking about implementing the global restorative approach we might have to face resistance to change in two ways. First, the materialisation of the change process itself. Second, the difficulty of doing away with the punishment model used to manage coexistence. Kohn (2006) has largely wondered about this resistance: if we know punishment is not effective, why do we keep on punishing? According to this author, it is mainly due to the following reasons: punishment gets you obedience, in the first place; moreover, most of us do not know how to act in a different way because up until now we have been immersed in a punishing management of conflicts environment.

About the training

Training is another element that is considered crucial for the success of this approach. In the cases that were analysed, training was conducted by people who are external experts. However, in order to achieve a sustainable approach it is necessary to set up an internal training team. That is, empowering professionals to achieve the feasibility not only of practices but also of the training itself, the approach, and the leadership for a change in culture.

On the other hand, two levels of training are proposed, a more general one targeting the entire team of the school, to raise awareness and capturing the minds and hearts of people, where the values, principles and basic skills of the restorative approach are discussed, and a more specific or specialised one focused on conducting formal conferences.

About the practices

Restorative practices are not only a reaction to a conflict situation but also a proposal for new strategies to manage relationships and the classroom. The restorative approach, Hopkins (2011) says, does not only deal with conflicts, but with relations and with favouring the emergence of friendlier environments where everyone feels comfortable, listened and valued, and this is related to the use of restorative language, as identified in one of the four reports, and the circle time for managing classrooms that was identified in three of four reports.

In this regards we can see the development of a new relational model that borrows the key principles of the restorative processes: all standpoints are valuable and valued, the thoughts of all the people involved in a specific situation are taken into account, and also how these influence emotions and actions, where empathy, identification needs and share responsibility are promoted to overcome any situation (Hopkins, 2009).

The restorative practices that are a reaction to a conflict situation (conferencing, conferences, circles and all its adaptations) and that add to mediation, allow for a range of strategies that are used to give non punishing responses. We believe it is worth noting the fact that they should include the community, in terms of taking responsibility for the facts and in terms of cooperation to positively resolve conflicts.

To sum up, the global approach and the promotion of restorative practices not only for conflict management but also for classroom and relationships management indicate that this approach promotes overcoming the punishment model and implies a structural change that goes beyond only training in mediation skills, which might be an added value to the mediation programmes that are implemented in Spain; these are comprehensive, global or integral programmes (Boqué, 2002, Alzate, 2000, 2010 and Torrego, 2006) that seek not only to train all the members of an educational community but, ultimately, foster a mentality change.

We, therefore, conclude that, like in many English-speaking countries and other countries in Europe, Latin-America, and beginning in Spain, for example Baleares12, it is interesting to transfer the restorative approach to our educational context as a proposal that can join the coexistence programmes implemented in our environment.


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