Who We Are:  RJ4sch and Youth Resilience UK CIC are independent restorative practitioners who have extensive experience in delivering conferencing, support and training to schools within the UK and Europe.  We have a small team of practitioners and have been established for over 14 years, we are also registered training providers with the Restorative Justice Council.  We have worked widely within Education, Youth Justice and the residential looked after child setting. Our Director Lynne Russell is also a director of Youth Resilience UK CIC alongside our Lead Trainer Kelly Walker.

What we were asked to do: come into a school in mid Kent to assess whether a Restorative Justice Conference would help a group of students who had been affected by the racist behaviour of another pupil and if possible re-integrate them into their present class bubble.  We were told that the incident that had spread onto social media had affected pupils for a variety of schools (over 200 students involved in the social media post the school had seen with awareness of others beyond this platform)and there was thought to be an potential safety issue for the wrong doer as well as their own actions having breached the level where Police could be called in and a criminal offense had taken place.

  • What had happened:  The wrong do-er a year 9 pupil had used racist views and insults to other pupils within their class bubble.  The situation got further out of control when they were taken out of class by a senior member of staff and instructed to give an apology, after giving a clearly insincere apology a class member asked if they had to accept the apology and the wrong do-er used the “N word” to a black pupil. There was then an incident on social media where the wrong do-er, after being tagged by a classmate, made further racist comments including calling another class member of colour a “half caste” “return to your own country” and tagging pupils from other local schools drawing them into the situation.  The wrong do-er has a history of making inappropriate comments which could be homophobic, gender abusive, Islamophobic or simply insulting.  They also had a reputation for not engaging in class work appropriately.

  • Restorative Justice Conference between wrong do-er, their parents, the six class members deemed most affected and a senior member of staff and a member of staff who will try to support the students going forward.

    We came into school and spoke with the wrong do-er, who admitted their behaviour but at this point showed little or no remorse or understanding of the affect it had on others.

    We then spoke to the six students who had been identified as those most affected by wrong do-er, behaviour.  All the students told a very similar sequence of events with some small variation, which is very normal for conflict situations.  They all spoke about their frustrations with having wrong do-er, in their class when situations such as these have happened over such a long period of time without them being resolved.  The students also spoke about their general frustration at wrong do-er, behaviour in class, their lack of engagement in learning, disregard for staff especially around using their phone in class, their resentment of how some staff allowed the student to use their phone as long as they weren’t disruptive, and how rude they could be to staff which wound them up and affected their time in class.

    We re-interviewed wrong do-er and went into greater details of their reactions to other pupils being upset by their actions, this seemed to start to have an impact on wrong do-er, responses and understanding of the situation.  We also spoke to them about their lack of engagement in learning and this seemed to genuinely surprise them that they was viewed in this way.

    We met and prepared wrong do-er, parents giving them an opportunity to think about their responses to issues that have been growing at school.  It also gave them the space to consider what additional actions they needed to take to ensure a change of behaviour was appropriate and genuine.  We then spoke to wrong do-er again about how everyone would benefit from a genuine resolution and explained that we had spoken to the parents in details about the situation, how it had affected others, what they could do differently and wrong do-er, engagement in class.  This seemed to further surprise the wrong doer  and we were at this point a little more hopeful of a positive outcome.

    Restorative Conferencing is a process which aims to meet the needs of those affected but is also known to be likely to change the behaviour of wrong do-er’s.  As we had some concerns about wrong do-er willingness to engage appropriately we decided to tell the six students this to ensure they were fully aware of the situation.  They said that regardless of whether wrong do-er, feelings were going to be genuine they would like to go ahead with a meeting and see what would come from it.  We spoke to the students about their expectations to ensure that they fully understood our reservations about wrong do-ers engagement.

    We held the conference, wrong do-er spoke first, they had clearly spent some time thinking about their options and apologised in what seemed a genuine manner and was making a real effort to resolve the issue.  This then gave the six students the opportunity to talk about how what had happened had affected them and what they would like to come out of the meeting.  They all said they would like wrong do-er to change their reactions to conflict and engage appropriately in class, they also said that they would support them if they saw a genuine attempt to change. An agreement was drawn up and refreshments were served.

  • Staff /Class Circle – we were asked to facilitate a circle between the six-affected pupils and staff so the students recognised that they have had an opportunity to be heard.  They took the opportunity to put forward their views on how issues relating to diversity in school could be dealt with in the future.  They asked for black history to have greater representation within the curriculum and issues affecting people of colour to have a greater presence within school.  It was mentioned to them that an Afro-Caribbean group was being started and that they may like to engage with this group in the first instance.  The staff gave the girls some information on how any potential repeat of the recent events would be dealt with whilst also recognising the wrong doers right to confidentiality.

  • Class Circle after the Conference – we held a class circle, allowing the six affected pupils to tell their classmates about the conference and wrong do-er, reaction to it.  They all said that they felt wrong do-er, apology was genuine and that this had been backed by a willingness to change and engage appropriately in lessons.  We also asked all the class to consider whether or not they had added to the situation themselves in any way and about half of them recognised they had either added to the situation or had not done enough to defuse it, which was very positive.  At the end of the circle wrong do-er was brought in and voluntarily gave another apology to the class, once again in a remorseful manner.  One student offered to become a “buddy” for the wrong doers reintegration back into class that afternoon and to sit with her and support her catching back up with work missed. This was a great outcome from this circle and one that really supported the successful reintegration.

  • Wider Impact of the Conference – it is our belief that the wrong do-er was making themself very vulnerable to attack, possible radicalisation and permanent exclusion from school.  Their engagement in learning was poor and behaviour in class was disruptive to others.  By taking them through a process that ensured they considered the impact of their behaviour on others followed by an opportunity to repair those relationships, this allowed them to reintegrate back into their class bubble in a way that was able to meet the needs of those affected by their behaviour and their own need to reflect, repair and change their behaviour.

Follow Up from the Conference – Kelly Walker came down to see how the situation was progressing the students including wrong do-er seemed much happier, they acknowledged so far that wrong do-er has been engaging in learning much more appropriately and that they had not been any repeat of the issues that had caused the initial upset.

We were very pleased that everyone felt that they had benefited from the conference and that the first initial steps have been taken to a better learning environment for everyone.  We are scheduled to come into school in the New Year and do a final follow up.

A quote from the staff involved “Sincere thanks to you both for all the excellent work you have done for X and the ‘super 6’ of Y. All seems calm and well” and “Thank you for this, and for the magnificent work you have done with X and the group. All seems to be going well currently”

As a result of the incident and the students voices being heard through our work we have raised the next VRU bid based on the response.

We have a willing cohort of young people keen to support the growth of these issues in a way that supports students, staff and parents in having a safe platform to raise generic concern and have support in the form of appropriate and high quality training coupled with strategies to help develop resilience within young people to prevent these conflict flashes occurring.

For the sake of this report we have withheld identifying genders and specifics to maintain confidentiality.