Restorative practice and the Department for Education – what’s next?

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Jon Collins
5 September 2016

Unlike the Ministry of Justice, which was the focus of my blog from 1 August, the Department for Education has seen some ministerial survivors of the recent reshuffle. A new secretary of state, Justine Greening, has come in to replace Nicky Morgan and Nick Boles and Sam Gyimah have moved on (the latter to the Ministry of Justice). But the two key ministers of state, Nick Gibb and Edward Timpson, have survived (as have universities minister Jo Johnson and junior schools minister Lord Nash). This suggests that there won't be a wholesale rethinking of policy in this area, although grammar schools do appear to be firmly back on the agenda.

For those of us interested in seeing restorative practice playing a greater role in schools, this continuity in approach may not be wholly welcome, given that the Department for Education has been a source of some frustration in recent years. Keen on devolving responsibility to headteachers and academies, they have been reluctant to set out a clear governmental position on the use of restorative practice in schools. With Nick Gibb, a strong supporter of school autonomy, retaining the schools brief this is not going to change. The Department for Education is simply not going to mandate that all schools should use restorative practice.

So what should we be asking the department to do to support the ongoing development of restorative practice in the schools sector? It’s a small step, maybe, but we’d like the Department for Education to work with the RJC to produce guidance on how to implement high quality restorative practice in schools and the potential benefits of doing so. To ensure quality in delivery, the Department for Education should also follow the lead of the Ministry of Justice and officially endorse the RJC’s standards and the RSQM. Both of these measures would begin to formalise and legitimise the use of restorative practice in schools.

That’s not all that the Department for Education should do, though, because their remit extends far beyond schools. As minister of state for vulnerable children and families, Edward Timpson’s responsibilities include children in care, children’s services and creating ‘rounded and resilient young people’. There is clearly an important part for restorative practice to play in this work and Timpson – highly regarded in this role – has an opportunity to champion a restorative approach.

His first priority should be the report of Sir Martin Narey’s independent review of children’s residential care, which was published just before the summer recess. Recognising the value of using restorative practice within children’s care homes, it recommended that the Department for Education should urge local authorities to apply a restorative justice approach in dealing with children’s unacceptable behaviour. The Government’s response is expected in the autumn and the Department for Education should accept and implement this recommendation without delay.

More broadly, and given the challenges faced by children’s services currently, Edward Timpson should look closely at the work that has been done to turn around Leeds Children’s Services, with restorative practice at its heart. There is a great deal that other areas could learn from their experience and the Department for Education should play an active role in ensuring that they do. As part of this, they should also consider the role that family group conferencing can play in work with the most challenging families – there is real potential to extend its use.

There are many ways to use restorative practice in work with young people, and the potential benefits are huge. The Department for Education has an important role to play in this. The Ministry of Justice has done a huge amount in recent years to promote the use of restorative justice. It is now time for the Department for Education to follow suit.

My next blog will look at priorities for the Home Office. Any ideas are welcome, via the comments below or email.