Cliff Park High praises conflict combat scheme

A GORLESTON school involved in pioneering a new project that aims to combat conflict has described how the scheme has helped their pupils.

RAINBOW (Restorative Approaches in Ireland and Norfolk Bettering our Work) is a joint project between Norfolk County Council, schools and other organisations in Norfolk and Dublin.

It takes its cue from restorative justice and encourages resolutions to conflicts by showing school pupils and others how their behaviour affects people. The project is about sharing new ways of working restoratively with young people, families and schools, and a conference in Norwich yesterday gave an insight into how this is being introduced in Norfolk and Dublin.

Jim McGrath, a restorative practice expert, told the conference of the importance of making sure everybody had a voice, and said ideally restorative approaches should be about preventing issues arising rather than fire-fighting problems.

Among the schools already taking part is Cliff Park High School in Gorleston. Headteacher Rob Sherington said since the school adopted restorative approaches its exclusion rate has been reduced by half and there are far less repeat offenders.

He said the school deals with conflicts using conferences where the victim and perpetrator meet and talk about the effect of what happened and a contract is signed by both to resolve the situation.

“We are transforming a conflict because we are taking into account the issues and feelings of the parties involved and there is an opportunity for reflection,” Mr Sherington said.

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He said form groups had ‘circle time’ where students are encouraged to talk as a group, and the school had student leaders trained in “corridor conferencing” so they can help deal with conflicts between fellow students. He said some Cliff Park staff were helping other schools introduce restorative approaches.

St Michael’s Junior School in Bowthorpe, Norwich, is also taking part. Headteacher Helen Newell said the school was promoting restorative approaches by encouraging dialogue between pupils with group ‘circle time’ sessions, encouraging children to resolve issues themselves through peer mediation, and having an active school council.

She said the school was excited about the prospect of sharing their approaches with the wider community, and she said the restorative approaches had had a “very calming effect” on the school.

“It is very solution-focussed and has helped the children learn about how to deal with issues,” she said.

“They talk to each other and they can come up with solutions. It has promoted a more respectful culture.”

Norfolk County Council’s ambition is that Norfolk will be a restorative county by 2015. Hub schools, including Cliff Park, will help other schools implement restorative approaches. A Norfolk consortium of trainers has been created to raise awareness and provide training opportunities.

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