New restorative justice project tackles bullying in schools
In the county’s first event of its kind, pupils from all over Bedfordshire have attended specialised training to learn how to tackle bullying, prejudice and discrimination in their schools
In a unique partnership between Bedfordshire Police, the Anne Frank Trust and the Bedfordshire Police and Crime Commissioner, Kathryn Holloway, almost 50 students from eight schools attended the event at Police Headquarters, in Kempston, on Wednesday, 13 September. The schools included Biddenham International School and Sports College, Goldington Academy, Grange Academy, Chalk Hills Academy, Queensbury Academy, Lea Manor High School, Putteridge High School and Stopsley High School.
Students from year nine learnt to become arbitrators in situations of conflict, or disruptive behaviour at school using a restorative justice approach. This is a technique which is used by the Bedfordshire Police Signpost Hub to help victims deal with the emotions and stress caused by crime. It also helps offenders to understand the impact their actions have had, and provides them the opportunity to make amends.
In schools, a restorative approach can be used to challenge the prejudice and discrimination found in hate incidents or bullying, before it escalates. As facilitators, the students will give an opportunity to those who have been harmed to communicate in a safe, controlled environment, with the person who caused the harm.
PC Chris Turner, who led the innovative event with the trust, said: “This is the first time we’ve taught restorative justice techniques to young people in schools. It has developed out of the anti-hate crime project we’ve undertaken with the Anne Frank Trust. In teaching young people to recognise the deeply distressing effect prejudice and discrimination has on others or on their communities, showing them how to spot it, challenge it and report it, this training has now taken the next step; in how to resolve hostility.
“Through the project, we had already spoken to children about how the police uses restorative justice. Following this, a number of our Hate Crime Ambassadors asked if we could train them to become facilitators within their schools. The teachers jumped on board and we’re really excited it will now be rolled out to the local schools we’ve worked with, and hope to continue the training further with more education establishments across Bedfordshire”.
The students received specialist training in communication and listening skills, to be able to provide peer-to-peer support using tools such as mediation and conflict management. This helps further in developing citizenship skills, with the emphasis placed on the greater involvement of young people in their own school communities. A ‘whole school’ approach is encouraged, in which everyone in the school community can use restorative skills on a daily basis, and importance is placed firmly on identifying a shift in values, where misbehaviour is defined as rule breaking, to a restorative model, where it is defined as harming relationships.
Val Ross, Eastern Regional Manager for the trust, explained: "Training young people how to use a restorative justice approach is very much in keeping with the Trust’s educational methodology, which seeks to empower young people with the knowledge, skills and confidence to confront and challenge prejudice themselves. We are committed to working with Bedfordshire Police and our partners, including our networks of ambassadors, to create a more cohesive, supportive and positive environment for us all to thrive.”
Commissioner Holloway, who provides funding for the Anne Frank Trust’s work in local schools, added: "As we know, education is key in eliminating hate from our society, and education is what restorative justice is all about – educating the harmer to understand the impact of what they did by listening to the person they targeted. Often in hate incidents, that person has no idea of the devastating impact targeting someone, simply because of their identity, can have.
“I’m a huge advocate of restorative justice as it’s such a powerful process to help victims get closure after a traumatic time. People who have participated have reported it has been an empowering experience, one which allowed them to feel more in control of what happened to them. If we can help this to take place in our schools, by also promoting tolerance and respect, this will be another massive leap forward in taking a stand against hate in Bedfordshire.”
To learn more about how Bedfordshire Police tackles hate crime, and how it offers restorative justice to victims and offenders though the Signpost Hub support service for victims, visit www.bedfordshire.police.uk/information-and-services/Crime/Hate-crime-and-hate-incidents