How Restorative Approach is Leading the Way

Gwent PCC Ian Johnston made his comments earlier today as he went back to school with the Welsh Assembly Member for Monmouth, Nick Ramsay, to congratulate staff and pupils at Monmouth Comprehensive School on becoming the first secondary school in the UK to receive the Restorative Justice Council's Quality Standards Mark. The school received the mark for its successful approach to building community cohesion through secure and lasting relationships.

Funded with £50,000 over two years from Mr Johnston's office in addition to funding from Monmouthshire County Council and Gwent Local Authorities, the Making Connections project run by Monmouth Comprehensive School aims to bring together those harmed by conflict and those responsible for it into communication. This enables everyone affected by a particular incident to play a part in repairing the harm and finding a positive way forward. During their visit today, Mr Johnston and Mr Ramsay met with staff and pupils at the school to find out how the project has made a real and positive difference.

The 'restorative approach' at Monmouth Comprehensive School starts in the classroom with students encouraged to share their thoughts and feelings, develop empathy for others and explore the impact of behaviours. These skills are then used to good effect during conflict resolution sessions when harm has been caused. Three years after the scheme was introduced at Monmouth Comprehensive School, exclusions for inappropriate behaviours are down by 93% with only 13 days lost last year through exclusions. The school has removed detentions and merit systems so that it can promote the intrinsic motivation in young people to look out for one another.

The latest evidence suggests that the approach helps reduce levels of crime, in particular amongst young people. In Monmouth, referrals to youth offending teams are down by 78% compared to three years ago and levels of anti-social behaviour with a youth tag have dropped by 48%, which in part are attributable to the climate and ethos created by the approach at the school. This year also saw the schools highest set of results at A Level and GCSE (with 94% of student getting at least 5 A* -C grades).

The funding from the Police and Crime Commissioner over the last two years has been spent on providing high quality training, support and development for Gwent Police and other partner organisations in the methods of restorative approaches. They are all now using the same 'restorative' language. The aim is to enable those who have received training to become qualified trainers themselves and to extend the project beyond the borders of Gwent. Monmouthshire County Council has also committed itself to the project and aims to develop the restorative principles across the authority.

According to Ian Johnston, the results in Monmouthshire prove that implementing a restorative approach can help reduce crime and reoffending whilst increasing satisfaction rates amongst victims.

"Young people stand a much better chance if they are coming out of school with the right attitude and without any offending behaviour and that's what this project is all about", explained Mr Johnston.

"The restorative justice approach focuses on putting things right for the long term by repairing relationships and bringing people together. Not only does it give the victim the opportunity to get some satisfaction and closure, it also gives the offender an opportunity to make amends, see what impact their actions have had on their victims and make a positive contribution to society without being criminalised."

Mr Johnston added: "If the restorative approach is adopted throughout Wales and beyond, it could have a significant impact on reducing criminal activity by addressing the root causes of problems before they escalate into something bigger."

The Deputy Headmaster at Monmouth Comprehensive School, Andy Williams, has been teaching at the school for 12 years and has been championing the restorative approach for the last seven years.

He believes by keeping pupils in school and helping them through problems that lead to inappropriate behaviour, the restorative approach can help reduce the number of young people not in education, work or training.

Highlighting the benefits of the project, Andy Williams, said: "This project helps build the confidence and self-esteem of young people and diverts them away from crime. Using a restorative approach has helped staff and pupils at the school to have a much happier place to work and study. The outstanding GCSE results the pupils achieved this year and the significant reduction in exclusions and levels of anti-social behaviour prove that the restorative approach has the desired effect on all aspects of schooling in the 21st century.

All our teaching and learning have essential restorative elements at their heart. The language we use to communicate with pupils is compassionate and non-violent and the way staff deal with situations is also done in a restorative way. It's not a 'cosy' response and we do hold people to account. It's just a more human and mindful approach which helps people to reflect on their behaviour."

The Welsh Assembly Member for Monmouth, Nick Ramsay, said: "I'm pleased to support this innovative approach to dealing with exclusions. Prevention is always better than cure and if we can get to the root of why some pupils act in the way they do then we have a much better chance of solving the problem. I look forward to working with the Commissioner and the staff and pupils of Monmouth Comprehensive School to develop this scheme."

Three years after the scheme was introduced at Monmouth Comprehensive School, Andy Williams believes the results now prove it's time to roll out the project into more schools and communities throughout Wales.