...."If this approach is embedded in the school at every level, if it gets into the everyday language and people know they will always have a chance to speak, calm down and listen, then you start to get a fundamental change in the culture of the school," says Roger Stanley, the former assistant head of Ratton School, a secondary school for 11- to 16-year-olds specialising in the performing arts, on the outskirts of Eastbourne.

The approach, known as restorative justice, is used to help rehabilitate criminals by allowing victims to tell offenders about the impact of their crimes and giving offenders a chance to understand what they've done and make amends. It is the philosophy behind South Africa's Truth and Reconciliation Commission and it is now spreading into workplaces, communities, hospitals – and schools.

In East Sussex, a secondary school, primary school and special school have been introducing it since 2007 under a pilot programme of training and support, run by the CfBT Education Trust, an educational charity. At Ratton School, as in many secondary schools, behaviour issues tend to revolve around low-level bullying, arguments between friends, and flare-ups between pupils and staff.

"You might, for example, have a situation where a student has told a member of staff to eff off. In the past, the follow-up would have been automatic punishment and exclusion," says Roger Stanley, who led the introduction of restorative justice at the school before his recent retirement.

"But under this system there is a chance for the situation to be gone through and for the student involved to be asked: what were you thinking? What were you feeling? You can get the realisation of what each one is doing to the other and the way their behaviour is having the effect it is having. Maybe the kid will come to feel that the teacher is not so down on them after all. And it also offers some way forward."

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