Getting Ofsted engaged with restorative practice

According to media reports over the weekend, the appointment of a new head of Ofsted is imminent. And while the people who are reportedly on the shortlist may not be familiar to most of us, this could be a very significant appointment for the future development of restorative practice.

First, and most obviously, Ofsted is the inspectorate for schools and its work has a real impact on what schools prioritise and the strategies that they adopt. In my experience as a parent and school governor, Ofsted’s influence is immense. What they say goes and schools are, for good reason, always thinking about what Ofsted will want to see.  At a time when all schools are potentially due to become academies, lessening the influence of local authorities, and when the Department for Education is taking a decreasing role in deciding what happens in individual schools, this influence is only likely to increase.

Getting restorative practice onto Ofsted’s agenda could therefore increase its use in schools dramatically. Ofsted will never require schools to use restorative practice but if they recognise its benefits then they are more likely to report on it when they see it and connect its use to a school’s achievements. This will in turn encourage more schools to adopt a restorative approach. There is, however, a potential risk that schools may see this as a ‘quick fix’ to please Ofsted. The reality is that for restorative practice to be effective in schools, it needs to be thoroughly and strategically embedded, and there will be work needed to make sure that this is conveyed and understood.

Second, while Ofsted is best known for inspecting schools, it also inspects children’s services. Many have fared poorly. But Leeds, when inspected last year, was rated as ‘good’ and the inspection report praised their restorative work, noting that “a unique investment and commitment to ‘restorative practices’ is having a transformational impact on culture and professional practice across both the social work service and the children’s partnership”. If high-quality restorative work is recognised by Ofsted, and is seen as contributing to achieving a positive inspection report, then more children’s services are likely to follow Leeds’ example and implement a restorative approach.

Third, Ofsted is likely to have an increasingly important role to play in the youth justice system. The Youth Justice Board is widely expected to be abolished as a result of Charlie Taylor’s review and management of youth custody will be increasingly devolved. In this reformed landscape it is anticipated that Ofsted will take on a greater inspection role within the youth custodial estate and will therefore be increasingly important in setting the framework for good practice, as is currently the case in schools. Again, it’s important that its inspections recognise the value of restorative practice.

It is therefore essential that Ofsted not only supports the use of restorative practice, but recognises quality and knows how to identify good practice. To date, they have rarely appeared interested and a change at the top seems like a good time to address that. We know how embedding restorative practice in schools, children’s homes and any agency involved in early intervention can positively impact on the lives of young people. That’s why one of the first letters that the incoming chief inspector receives will be from us.