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Book Review: JustSchools: A Whole School Approach to Restorative Justice

By ‘justice’ Belinda Hopkins means fairness, and the restorative approach that she describes is based on respecting the individuality of everyone in a school – adults as well as children.

Belinda Hopkins.  London and New York:  Jessica Kingsley Publishers, 2004.  ISBN 1 84310 132 7  

Review by Martin Wright

By ‘justice’ Belinda Hopkins means fairness, and the restorative approach that she describes is based on respecting the individuality of everyone in a school – adults as well as children – although the reader is slightly thrown off the scent by Guy Masters’ foreword on using restorative methods in the criminal justice system. Hopkins, a former teacher, sets out her material clearly. She defines her terminology and describes how to start a restorative programme in a school (although the Safer Schools Partnership which she describes includes the police, which sounds as if it could lead to incidents being criminalized; but later she recognizes the ‘fuzzy’ distinction between victim/offender mediation and conflict mediation (p. 106)). There are practical ideas for bringing people on board and establishing the vision, recognizing the need to tackle causes and to accept that adults may sometimes contribute to the escalation of incidents.  

Part II, ‘Restorative skills and processes’, outlines how to become a ‘listening school’, with suggested techniques for encouraging children to work out their rights and responsibilities. She advises against postponing difficult conversations, giving unwanted advice and asking too many questions, and gives case histories. The restorative approaches to bullying will be of interest to many people. She believes in mediation as a process of transforming relationships and attitudes (Bush and Folger), using narrative to re-frame stories in the light of other people’s points of view (Cloke and Goldsmith). She describes five basic steps, obviously writing from her own experience.   

Throughout she stresses the importance of a whole-school approach, and she acknowledges the need for a careful balance between blaming the victim and recognizing that his or her behaviour sometimes provokes an attack.  There is a section on circles, which can also be used by governors, staff and others in resolving conflicts.   

The last part is about implementation and sustainability, and grasps the nettle by questioning whether rewards and punishments are the best way of managing relationships. Incentives and sanctions ‘ensur[e] people behave in ways the authority figures believe to be appropriate’, while ‘[t]o behave well in order to be rewarded … encourages self-centred motives , and dependency on others’ approval’ (p. 150). To behave well in order to escape punishment also encourages selfishness, because it focuses a person’s attention on himself rather than others; it also gives the message that it is acceptable for a powerful person to control others by threats. Howard Zehr’s paradigms of retributive and restorative justice are adapted to make them relevant for schools.    

After a discussion of consistency and voluntariness , Hopkins gives more guidance on five stages for making a start, recognizing that the aim should not be merely ‘negative peacemaking’ to make children behave, but to show them conflict management skills. Schools should be not merely re-structured, bur re-cultured, and the restorative method introduced in teacher training. Finally, some of the text diagrams are helpfully reprinted in reproducible form.   

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