Restorative Practice in Leeds – Overview

‘A unique investment and commitment to ‘Restorative Practices’ is having a transformational impact on culture and professional practice across both the social work services and the Children’s Partnership. This places children, young people and their families at the heart of the decisions which affect them’

(Leeds Ofsted SIF report, January 2015)

What is Restorative Practice, and why is it important for Children’s Services?

Central to the Leeds improvement journey was a simple premise – that families (however they define themselves) are the most important influence on outcomes for children, and that if we work with families in restorative ways – with the child at the heart of decisions that affect them – we can enable them to solve their own problems earlier and more effectively. National and international evidence suggests that working with families through high challenge and high support, rather than doing things to them or for them builds resilience, enhances problem-solving skills and fosters compassion over aggression.

This was the driver for Leeds in establishing and embedding a restorative culture across our children’s workforce, giving colleagues the understanding, confidence and practical skills to work in different ways with families. Relationships are the key component of any organisation which works with people; good relationships help and support people to deal with busy and complicated lives, while fractured relationships can cause significant damage. Restorative practice offers a language and a way of being that explicitly promotes the importance of relationships and supports the nurturing of them.

Children and staff at Carr Manor Primary School in Leeds talk about their Restorative Practice journey and the incredible impact it has had on them and their school.

Restorative Practice at Carr Manor Primary school Leeds 2018

Deborah Kenny (Headteacher) ‘I think after my first year here when I was occasionally carrying children out under my arm and dealing with parents who fought in the playground and some very difficult staff situations, I think by the end of the second year I realised how different my life was’.

Katie Lamb (Key Stage 1 Phase Leader and Restorative Practice Lead) ‘When we first decided as a school to become restorative, we had a brand new Head so it was the right time for us as a school to be making new changes and as a key stage one practitioner, restorative practice fitted in with all of my own personal values and beliefs anyway’.

Tae (Age 11) ‘Before restorative practice, we were kind to each other but we fell out easily’.

Noah (Age 9) ‘Now because restorative practice is here, I feel a lot better. It’s like I can talk now. I can make sure other people understand my feelings’

Katie Lamb ‘For a child to live within restorative practice they’ve got to understand their own feelings first before they can value and respect the impact that they can have on somebody else’s. I think as a school that was a real big challenge for us and it’s not something you can do quickly’.

Finlay (Age 6) ‘I can tell when someone is happy because, yesterday my friend had a massive smile of their face’.

Lee (Age 10) ‘I can tell when my friends are upset because they normally run off or either they start crying or they go to a corner. If they’re upset or crying I go to them and see what’s wrong with them, but if they don’t want to talk I leave them for a couple of minutes and go back to them when they look more cheery’.

Deen (Age 7) ‘If they were angry no one would be playing with them, and if they are sad they would be sitting alone’.

Finlay (Age 6) ‘You can tell someone’s feeling upset when they tell you they’re feeling down in the dumps’.

Lacey (Age 7) ‘If our teacher’s happy we can’t be bad for them because they’re enjoying the day so we can still be good for them’.

Lee (Age 10) ‘My favourite teacher is Miss Lamb because she helps us with RP with all our questions.

Noah (Age 9) ‘Mr Davies because he’s so funny and he’s a really good teacher’

Interviewer ‘How do you think he’d feel if we showed him that you thought he was a really good teacher?’

Noah ‘I think he’d feel like, so happy’

What happens when children get in trouble?

‘If I was in trouble by a teacher it would make me feel really upset and it would make me think what I’ve done and how I could make it better’.

Noah ‘Getting in troubles not good, it’s sad as well because nobody comes to school just to get told off’.

Tae ‘If there was always nice all the time, that’s a good thing. If you’re a bit sterner it helps the children understand why they shouldn’t be doing that’.

Deborah Kenny ‘After we’d had our initial training I think it dawned on people how challenging Restorative Practice is in terms of us as leaders and the children as people who have to take responsibility for their behaviour and there was a lot of work involved’.

What happens when you see someone being unkind?

Noah ‘You can try and sort it out which is going over to them, sometimes standing the middle helps’

Lacey ‘Say what happened, how did you feel and all that stuff’.

‘These three girls fell out in year three and I sorted it out. On this RP lanyard it has questions you can ask people like what happened, how did you feel, how can you move on, what needs to happen next’.

Tae ‘It makes me feel joyful when I help other people because it’s not just helping my day but it helps their day as well’.

Deen ‘There is I think a hundred and something RP reps here so we can call an RP rep and there are more RP reps than teachers’.

Katie Lamb ‘We have definitely noticed a shift with the relationships we have with parents, they are much more willing to come in and talk to us and they really do work with us because they understand restorative practice and they value the impact that it can have on their child’.

Finlay ‘Last week I was having a little bit of a blip. Then we had a meeting in here with my mum, dad and Miss Lamb, after the meeting I’m feeling happy because I’ve decided to change my actions. I said to Miss Lamb that I wasn’t going to hurt my mum’s feelings’.

‘This is the Restorative Practice cooler, a hut slash shelter when you can cool off and calm down. We also wanted the feelings wall as some times the little ones didn’t know how to explain how they’re feeling’.

Katie Lamb ‘ In a school academic year there a 585 play times and lunch times, and for us that means we have 407 children outside on each of those occasions and our children are aged from5 to 11. In 2014 we had 400 unwanted incidents which equates to almost two every single day, the vast majority of those incidents were physical behaviours that stemmed from children falling out with one another and not having the conversational skills that they needed to be able to resolve the conflict. When I did the exact same analysis in June 2018, so just within 4 years, that number of 400 unwanted incident had declined to just 18 and not one of them was physical which for us is really staggering and shows the impact of restorative practice’.

Has Restorative Justice made a difference in school?

Deen ‘I used to always be naughty and not be kind to people but in year two I do.

Tae ‘After RP our school has become more happy and more joyful as a team, now we know how to treat each other well and fair’.

Katie Lamb ‘It can be really really challenging to find and to make the quality time that RP needs. The feedback that we’ve had within our school is that actually when we do stop what we’re doing and we do invest time in the children and we do talk to them, that’s the best part of their day’.

Tae ‘Restorative Practice has really helped me because it has made me feel more mature and be able to have a challenge instead of being emotional about getting things wrong’.

Katie Lamb ‘It’s had a huge impact on attendance at our school and on punctuality, it’s had a huge impact on children’s attitudes to school and to learning and that in itself has had a knock on effect on academic data. My message to any school who is thinking about becoming restorative is to go for it, it’s a no brainer.

We refer to restorative and relational practice as the “way we do things”. They are very similar in meaning although the context can be different. Restorative practice focuses on the principle of doing as much of our work in an atmosphere of high support and high challenge; it is a way of being. At the same time we stress the importance of relationships. Work with colleagues and work with children and families work best when done in the context of relationship – an intentional and concerted effort to ensure that we work with people, and avoid doing things to them or for them. So, restorative and relational practice describes our core value and principle as to how we work with partner local authorities.

Senior leadership commitment to restorative practice – behaviour and culture change

When organisations commit to becoming restorative in nature, this requires effort and hard work. It is somewhat counterintuitive, given the efforts within restorative practice to flatten hierarchies and allow everyone a voice, but we have found that restorative practice needs to be adopted top-down; people will look to their leaders and note when they are not behaving restoratively, which undermines the message.

In Leeds, we start with our leaders; if we don’t, then staff who have been trained in the new ways of working will be supervised by people who haven’t, and who don’t know how to support them to implement the changes. Starting the implementation of restorative practice with senior leaders was a purposeful process; the senior leadership challenged themselves and each other, starting with asking staff what, at the upper levels of the organisation, wasn’t restorative?

Addressing the way we were working with staff and the expectations we had of how leaders and managers treated and spoke to their staff modelled our expectations for how we could work and communicate with children and families in a more effective and more restorative way. We took this even further in Leeds, and senior leaders invited the Children in Care Council to sit in a circle and tell them about the things they weren’t happy with and that they thought was not restorative, with suggestions including social workers being late for meetings or cancelling sessions with them at short notice. Senior leaders were then empowered to address this with social work teams and set out clear expectations for contact with children looked after.

Building relationships between senior leaders and staff and letting staff know that they can challenge their leaders is important to set a positive culture based on learning and improvement and not on blame. When things go wrong, as they inevitably will from time to time, a restorative approach means exploring the issues in a calm way, asking people what has happened and learning from it. When the relationships have already been built and challenge has been sanctioned, staff are more likely to be open about what has gone wrong and how it can be responded to.

Whilst we would advise that for widespread implementation of restorative practice and achieving a restorative organisation requires top-down leadership commitment, there are still things that individuals can do and changes they can make to their own practice that are likely to have an impact on a more localised level. Much of the basis of restorative practice is about values, behaviour and approach and so each of us has the ability to be more restorative by examining our own behaviour and identifying anything we are doing that undermines relationships or respect for our colleagues or the families we work with. For example, Team Managers can ask their staff for feedback about any actions or behaviours that are not restorative; though this must be accompanied by a genuine desire to listen, understand and improve, otherwise it risks damaging both trust and relationships.

City-wide implementation and rollout of restorative practice

Leeds invested significantly in both a workforce development programme to start spreading restorative practice across the city, and undertook a significant expansion of its Family Group Conference service, to put this restorative approach to family decision making at the centre of children’s social work.

Informed by national and international expertise around restorative practice, Leeds introduced a comprehensive restorative practice training programme for staff, with a number of levels of detail; from a half-day introductory awareness session to a ‘deep dive’ programme of seven half-day sessions to a full ‘Train the Trainer’ package. To date, over 10,000 people across the city – within Children and Families, police, NHS, schools, probation, other Council directorates, third sector organisations and businesses – have undergone at least the awareness training, which has helped to foster a common language and way of working across the whole of the children’s workforce, focusing on restorative techniques to facilitate better-quality conversations both in day-to-day practice and when particular challenges arise.

Leeds built on its initial commitment to restorative practice through its Family Valued programme, funded by the Department for Education’s Innovations Programme and introduced in 2015. Following the success of Family Valued, Leeds was one of only three local authorities across the country to be selected to work with other authorities to rollout the learning from its Innovations work, through a programme called Strengthening Families Protecting Children. You can find out more about this programme and about our Family Valued work here.