The new programme was launched six years ago. In the preceding three years, the school stood down 60 students, suspended 18 and excluded two. After five years of the new programme in practice, there was only one stand-down last year (and that was to enable a student to enrol in alternative education). So far this year, there has been no-one in any of the three disciplinary categories.
The restorative justice system the school has adopted appears very similar to the one used in the outside justice system. A conference is held involving the offender, the victim, school staff and a police youth aid officer, with the aim, as the school puts it, of finding out what harm has been done and trying to fix it.
A crucial element is trying to elicit any underlying cause there may be for the offender’s misbehaviour. The school gives the example of an older boy who at a restorative justice meeting told of having been beaten by his father all his life and of turning to violence himself after the father had left the family. The awareness, which the school might not otherwise have had, of factors that went some way towards explaining why the student was behaving as he did enabled a constructive intervention that led him away from the possibility of a joining a gang and into tertiary education instead.
Results like this are not easy to achieve. The school itself has to devote considerable resources to it â€“ undoubtedly more than would be spent on the process leading to expulsion. It is also demanding on the participants, who are required to face up to their shortcomings. It can be emotionally testing. But for St Thomas of Canterbury the results speak for themselves. And clearly if it saves students who might otherwise be excluded and go off the rails entirely it is worth the effort.
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