Durham County Council
In my role as an Educational Development Advisor and member of the steering group for restorative approaches within Durham LA I have known and worked with Dr Belinda Hopkins and therefore her company, ‘Transforming Conflict’, for four years. Her pioneering work on restorative approaches and its practical application, particularly within educational and residential settings, was a key deciding factor in helping us identify the most appropriate provider to meet our training needs as a developing restorative authority.
Initially within Durham LA, restorative approaches were championed within the Residential Children’s Sector using a scripted model and training programme from an established and valued provider. However, after having experienced both the existing scripted training programme and the skills based development programme of Belinda Hopkins, it became clear that Belinda and her company could offer us the skills and breadth of expertise we were looking for in supporting the development of restorative approaches both at a strategic and operational level within any setting. Consequently we invested in a long term contract with Belinda and her company.
In essence, Belinda is the embodiment of restorative approaches both in her everyday interactions and within her professional role. Hence her support and guidance goes beyond that of a contractual provider in that she actively seeks to build and maintain positive working relationships with the people she professionally supports, as demonstrated through her regular contact and additional support when requested.
We are indebted to Belinda for the excellent quality of training she has provided for our school staff, including their respective Head teachers and in particular for her leadership skills in supporting the steering group on their developmental journey and in offering challenge to extend progress and enhance the evaluation of impact measures .
Belinda has not only been instrumental in successfully launching restorative approaches within the educational setting and supporting the needs of our pilot schools in terms of training ( thirty two staff) but has greatly empowered our work force with the skills and confidence to lead in this field so that the development of restorative approaches is sustainable within the LA . Consequently, as a direct result of the quality of Belinda’s training we now have competent trainers who are regularly called upon to deliver training to a range of service providers within the county including: Durham County Constabulary, Behaviour Support Services, Access and Inclusion providers and staff from the Residential Service.
In terms of the impact of her work we now, as a training provider, solely offer the ‘Transforming Conflict ‘model of restorative approaches having moved staff’s competence levels beyond that of a scripted model. Hence staff at all levels within the Residential Children Sector have received training, delivered by trainers who were originally trained by Belinda.
The quality of provision, in terms of restorative approaches, and the development and maintenance of positive relationships and subsequent climate within our children’s homes is currently being monitored through an accreditation system generated and conducted by the Residential training team. Quantitative impact measures can be evidenced through the fall in first warnings and convictions for young people in the looked after system which is attributed to the investment in restorative approaches. Hence PI figures, prior to the introduction of restorative approaches, reflected high numbers of: 3.2 – 1 for young people (which means that a young person in the looked after sector was three times more likely to receive a first warning or conviction). Following the introduction of restorative approaches numbers have greatly reduced and currently stand at 1.44 -1. Further, an increase in occupancy and a reduction in external placements are positive indicators of the supportive climate nurtured through the restorative philosophy.
Within the RA pilot school settings, after a year of implementation significant impact is discernable in three key areas: attitudinal changes, ethos development and operational structures.
Quantitative data from both pilot schools reflect a reduction in the overall number of Fixed Term Exclusions. Significant reductions of 62% were made by one of the pilot schools resulting in a 49% reduction in days lost to learning, whilst the partner school made a further 7% reduction on an existing low figure.
Multiple Fixed Term Exclusion data indicates a low frequency rate in comparison to other secondary schools within the LA. Individual data for the pilot schools reflects a high success rate in terms of students responding positively to intervention strategies, including that of restorative approaches, at this juncture with 85% and 97% of students within their respective schools successfully modifying their behaviour.
In one of the pilot schools a mentoring programme, conducted by RA trained staff, for 14 vulnerable students reflected significant improvements in attendance and a 39% reduction in major behaviour incidents.
RA trained staff in both schools perceive that restorative enquiries have, in most cases, led to long term successful outcomes as a direct result of increased participation of the parties involved in shaping the outcomes which affect them directly.
A paradigm shift of placing the value of relationships foremost and adopting an open mind set is emerging through the facilitation of reflective dialogue (circle processes and restorative enquiries) to enhance young people’s social, emotional learning and a sense of connection. Secondly, a common language, associated with the restorative philosophy, is developing amongst adults which in turn supports consistency of approach through conveying a shared purpose which lies at the heart of ethos development and quality teaching and learning.
Operational Structural Change:
Structures have changed and are changing within the pilot schools to mirror the values associated with the restorative philosophy and to secure sustainability. Hence, departmental buddy systems and pastoral systems led by RA trained staff have been created to facilitate a range of restorative approaches, resulting in the sharing of good practice across the school and greater participant satisfaction.
Following Belinda’s guidance and the need to evidence impact objectively Durham University’s Centre for Evaluation and Monitoring has been commissioned to conduct an evaluation of the project over a term of three years.
In summary, there is substantial evidence that restorative approaches are having an ongoing positive impact not only on the experiences of children and young people but also for the adults who support them. Belinda’s role in supporting the roll out and training of staff has secured sustainable internal capacity and heightened the profile of restorative approaches within and beyond the LA.
We are forever indebted to Belinda for her continued support and guidance as a lead practitioner in this field who generously shares her expertise and passion for the nurturing of restorative approaches wherever it is welcomed. We fully endorse her work and her company ‘Transforming Conflict’.
Christine White EDA (on behalf of the RA steering group)