RJ for Schools

How bad is it?

A recent national study on violence in schools found that:

  • 22,2% of children experienced various forms of violence, including sexual assault and online bullying during the period demarcated for the study
  • 44,1 % of learners had experienced some sort of theft
  • classrooms were the most common sites for the incidence of sporadic violence
  • feelings of fear were commonly associated with the schooling experience

As this was a national study, the situation is not this bad in each school. Whatever the case may be in your particular school, it’s still likely to be a challenge – as it has been for most generations! There are many reasons why children misbehave and each generation needs to find suitable ways of responding.
Current approaches often seem to very legalistic and fragmented. While there is place for proper procedures, what is needed is an integrated approach. Based on the concepts of restorative justice, the approach of restorative discipline is gaining support internationally.


What is Restorative Discipline?

Restorative discipline has a dual focus:

  • It prevents ill-discipline, violence and crime in teaching and learning through the development of social and emotional skills for the purposes of re-affirming relationships
  • It responds to incidents by focusing on harm and wrong doing through facilitated dialogues, for the purposes of repairing and rebuilding relationships.

During these dialogues, particular attention is paid to helping perpetrators accept responsibility and addressing the needs of victims.
Restorative discipline is concerned with the needs of everyone who has been affected by an incident.

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Possible benefits of such an approach

  • A more peaceful school environment
  • Reduction in stress levels amongst both learners and educators/teachers
  • Better discipline in classrooms and towards educators/teachers
  • leading to fewer distractions to learning - The core benefit is the biggest and the most obvious. When students are not worried about being bullied, fighting, or being injured, they are able to focus on learning. The same goes for teachers and their ability to focus on teaching in a safe learning environment. Fewer distractions mean the school can successfully operate in the capacity it was intended: as a place of learning.
  • Improved performance amongst previously intimidated learners. Hand-in-hand with fewer distractions, safer learning environments result in higher academic achievement.
  • Fewer incidences, suspensions, and expulsions – By addressing security problems, which is necessary for achieving a safer school, incidences occur less frequently or are less likely to escalate. The result is fewer suspensions, expulsions and other disruptive actions that cause suffering for both students and schools.
  • Greater respect between learners as a result of increased sensitivity to violent acts – In environments where incidences of crime and violence are curbed, the community as a whole is more sensitive and responsive to incidences that do occur. For example, the first time a student brings a weapon to school, the community will rally and address the issue. However, if weapons on campus are common, the community resets its expectation and is less likely to respond, causing a degeneration of the environment.
  • Decreased liability – Obviously, with fewer incidences, the school is subject to less liability. Lawsuits from parents, students and the community can result from incidences on campus, the failure on the part of teachers or administrators to appropriately respond, and actions (or inactions) which inadvertently put students at risk. By creating an overall safer environment with fewer incidences, the school can effectively reduce its liability.
  • Cost savings – Cost savings result from fewer resources being allocated to post-incident evaluation and clean-up, fewer legal fees, and less time spent on event response. There are also reduced costs associated with lost time in classrooms or re-teaching and re-learning required when students are distracted. The school may also save money on equipment that would be needed to monitor and control dangerous environments.

To date there has been very little systematic implementation of restorative discipline in South Arica, particularly in government schools. There are a number of initiatives in private schools. A notable programme is one developed and implemented by the Catholic Institute for Education, Building Peaceful Catholic Schools. For more information see http://www.cie.org.za/publications/