Student Rights

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Restorative justice

Restorative justice is a way of thinking about and responding to harm. It’s an alternative way of managing relationships which originated in the criminal justice system. It can be used in a school setting in response to misconduct, and to reduce the number of stand-downs, suspensions and expulsions.

It involves a different way of looking at things – the focus is not on punishment but on repairing harm and restoring relationships. A key principle is that the whole school community works together to both develop rules and to find ways to move forward when rules are broken.

What is a restorative approach?

Depending on the situation and misbehaviour, it could range from an informal chat to a sit-down conference.

It can involve the person who has caused harm, the person harmed, school staff, whānau, community members and, if necessary, the police. The purpose is to establish what harm was caused, why it was done, the wider emotional context, what is needed to put things right, and how the situation can be avoided in the future.

It allows everyone involved to meet and gain a better understanding of the impact of the incident, the reasons it happened and the preferred outcomes.

Is it easy for schools to implement restorative justice?

Not necessarily. It works best if the school is willing to invest time and resources. Schools will need to engage in a school-wide cultural change, which will involve staff training and regular evaluation. But schools who have done it suggest that it is worth the effort. Restorative justice fosters a culture of respect, takes a lot of stress out of the day-to-day school environment, and encourages high levels of student engagement.

My child is the victim of bullying. If they have to face their bully, will they just get bullied more?

No, not if the process is followed properly. Restorative justice focuses on victims’ needs, which many find empowering. Instead of making distressed people re-live trauma, restorative practice can give them the opportunity to express their anger and have their questions answered so they can move on.

When young people are asked what they need when they have been harmed, their answers tend to be similar: someone to listen, time to calm down, acknowledgement of the impact, a sincere apology and reassurance it won’t happen again. Restorative approaches can meet all these needs.

My child often gets in trouble but their teachers never listen to their side of the story. How would restorative justice help?

When a young person behaves in a way that is challenging for a teacher, it’s likely that both student and teacher will feel some kind of grievance. Unless both feel heard and understood, it’s possible that the relationship between teacher and student will be damaged, affecting the way they work together in the future.

Restorative justice allows a young person who has caused harm, on purpose or deliberately: time to think, a chance to explain, an opportunity to apologise, a chance to make amends, and reassurance the matter is dealt with and they can move on. More traditional, punitive approaches rarely provide the kind of environment that can meet these needs.

Is it a soft option?

Not really. Restorative approaches are often more challenging, as students must face up to their shortcomings and are held to account in front of people who matter to them.

Key differences between restorative justice and traditional approaches to discipline

Traditional discipline

Restorative justice

Imposed on the student by the disciplinary authority

Involves a person who caused harm, the person harmed, school staff, whānau, others in the community

Key questions:

  • What happened?
  • What rule was broken?
  • Who is to blame?

Key questions:

  • What happened?
  • Who has been affected?
  • How can we make this right?

What is the punishment going to be?

How can we involve everyone to find a way forward? How can everyone do things differently in the future?

Assumes punishment acts as a deterrent and changes behaviour

Encourages students to evaluate their behaviour and take responsibility for it

Doesn’t consider the needs of those harmed

Focuses on the needs of those harmed by the wrongdoing

Doesn’t help ongoing relationships

Tries to repair the ongoing relationship between those involved

Can be disruptive to learning

Recognises that successful relationships are necessary for successful learning

Can be a negative experience with authority

Encourages positive, respectful relationships between students and teachers

More information

Sean Buckley and Gabrielle Maxwell Respectful Schools: Restorative Practices in Education (Office of the Children’s Commissioner and The Institute of Policy Studies, Victoria University, Wellington, January 2007).

Restorative Schools:

Restorative Justice in New Zealand:

Te Kotahitanga:

Positive Behaviour for Learning Restorative Practice:

Authority given or delegated

Education Act 1989 gives authority to:

Board of trustees to control and manage schools (subject to other New Zealand laws). This includes making policies and bylaws to put those policies into effect.

Principal employed by board of trustees as the chief executive to manage the school day-to-day.

School staff: The principal delegates certain responsibilities to teachers and administrative staff.

This table is a guide only to the level of consent a school might expect to seek, based on guidelines by the Ministry of Education. However, whether consent is needed will depend on all factors. If you have any issue, contact the school or the Student Rights Service on 0800 499 488.