The Growth and Diversity of Restorative Justice in Schools Around the World


Restorative justice, centered on rectifying harm caused by criminal behavior rather than punishing the offender, is progressively recognized in schools across the globe as an alternative to conventional disciplinary measures. This article surveys the growth and diversity of restorative justice in international educational contexts, inspecting its adoption in various countries and settings. It will also deliberate the potential opportunities and obstacles associated with this approach, its transformative influence on school environments, and its utility in fostering more equal and inclusive school atmospheres.

The Widespread Application of Restorative Justice in School Environments

Restorative justice, a method of conflict resolution that prioritizes fixing the harm caused by a wrongdoing over penalizing the wrongdoer, has recently gained popularity in school settings as a substitute for traditional disciplinary approaches. Restorative justice in schools is generally implemented through a variety of activities and processes, such as restorative circles, restorative conferences, and restorative practices.

Restorative circles are organized discussions that involve all affected parties by a wrongdoing. In these circles, individuals are encouraged to express their viewpoints and emotions about the incident in a secure and respectful environment. The aim of these dialogues is to facilitate understanding of the impact of their actions on others and identify ways to mend any harm caused by the incident.

Restorative conferences are gatherings between those affected by a wrongdoing and those accountable for it. Participants discuss the effects of the incident on them and discover ways to rectify any harm it caused during these conferences. These meetings often involve facilitators who steer the conversation and ensure that all parties feel listened to and respected.

Restorative practices, on the other hand, are strategies utilized in classrooms or school communities to foster positive relationships among students, teachers, administrators, parents, and other stakeholders. These practices can encompass activities such as group problem-solving sessions or peer mediation programs designed to equip students with skills to peacefully resolve conflicts without resorting to violence or other disruptive behaviors.

Restorative Justice’s Response to School Discipline Issues

Restorative justice is a disciplinary approach that concentrates on repairing the harm caused by misbehavior rather than merely punishing the student. This method has recently gained popularity as an alternative to traditional disciplinary measures such as suspension and expulsion. Restorative justice aims to address the underlying causes of misbehavior and promote healing and reconciliation between those involved.

The primary principles of restorative justice are accountability, responsibility, and reparation. Accountability involves acknowledging that a wrong has been committed and taking responsibility for it. Responsibility entails understanding the effect of one’s actions on others and making amends for any harm caused. Reparation involves rectifying the harm done through restitution, apology, or other forms of compensation.

Restorative justice practices can be employed in various ways in schools. For instance, restorative circles can facilitate dialogue between students involved in a conflict or dispute. These circles provide a safe space for students to express their feelings and perspectives without fear of judgment or retribution. Restorative conferences can also be used to assemble those affected by an incident to discuss the best methods to rectify any harm it caused.

In addition, proactive restorative practices can be used in schools to establish relationships between students, staff, and administrators, and foster a culture of respect and understanding. This could include activities such as community-building circles or peer mediation programs that teach students how to resolve conflicts peacefully without resorting to violence or other disruptive behaviors.

Global Leaders in Restorative Practices

Restorative practices are a growing approach for addressing conflict and harm in educational, criminal justice, and community settings worldwide. Several countries have led the way in terms of implementation and research in this domain.

The United Kingdom is a frontrunner in restorative practices. Through various initiatives, including the Restorative Justice Council (RJC), they provide training and support for practitioners while ensuring the integration of restorative approaches in policy and practice across England and Wales.

Australia is another leader, having invested significantly in research into restorative justice and implementing numerous successful initiatives in its education system, aiming to foster a culture of restorative justice in schools.

New Zealand’s restorative practices are influenced by traditional Maori dispute resolution processes, such as the Family Group Conferencing model. This approach, which involves all parties affected by an incident, is increasingly used in schools to promote open dialogue and conflict resolution.

Canada has been progressively incorporating restorative practices into its educational systems, with school boards like the Halifax Regional School Board in Nova Scotia leading the way with pilot programs designed to foster communication, understanding, and resolution among students.

In the United States, several school districts, including the Oakland Unified School District in California, have successfully launched Restorative Justice Programs, significantly reducing suspension rates and improving graduation rates.

Growth of Restorative Justice in schools around the world

  • Late 1970s to early 1980s: The principles of restorative justice, initially developed in the context of criminal justice systems, begin to be recognized as potentially beneficial in addressing school discipline issues. Early adopters include schools in the United States and Canada.
  • Late 1980s to mid-1990s: The first programs integrating restorative justice principles, such as peer mediation and conflict resolution, are introduced in some schools in the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom.
  • Late 1990s to early 2000s: Restorative justice programs in schools become more structured and widespread. There’s an increase in the use of restorative circles and conferences in schools in Australia, New Zealand, and Northern Europe, along with growing interest in the United States, Canada, and the UK.
  • Mid-2000s to early 2010s: Restorative justice starts being recognized as a valuable approach for addressing school discipline issues by educational policy makers and researchers. In the U.S., RJ practices start spreading in response to criticisms of “zero-tolerance” policies. More schools in Europe, Australasia, and North America adopt restorative practices.
  • Mid-2010s to present: There is significant growth and diversity in the implementation of restorative justice in schools worldwide, with many countries and regions adopting these practices in their educational systems. Research into the impact of RJ in schools increases, supporting its effectiveness in improving student behavior and school climate.

Restorative Circles in Classroom Settings

Informal restorative circles can be a potent tool for promoting positive communication, fostering relationships, and resolving conflicts in a classroom setting. They provide students with a safe, supportive environment to discuss issues affecting them and work collaboratively towards a solution.

The circles typically involve all classroom members sitting together, taking turns to speak and listen. The focus is on mutual listening, expressing feelings, and fostering understanding. The goal is to cultivate a space where everyone feels comfortable sharing their thoughts and feelings and is committed to finding a positive outcome.

Potential Improvements of Restorative Justice to Student Learning Outcomes

Restorative justice aims primarily to repair the harm caused by a student’s misconduct. Through dialogues between the student, their peers, and school staff, students are encouraged to take responsibility for their actions and make amends with those affected. This process also gives students insight into the impact of their actions on others and how they can prevent similar incidents in the future.

Research has demonstrated that restorative justice can positively affect student learning outcomes. Studies have shown that students participating in restorative justice programs are more likely to stay in school, achieve higher grades, and show improved behavior compared to those who don’t participate. Additionally, restorative justice can reduce recidivism rates among students who have committed serious offenses.

Challenges of Implementing Restorative Justice in Schools

Like any innovative approach to discipline and education, implementing restorative justice in schools is not without its challenges.

Firstly, time and resources are critical factors. Restorative practices require a significant time investment from all parties involved, from the preparation phase to the process itself. Schools, often operating under limited resources, may struggle to dedicate sufficient time to support these programs.

Secondly, it requires a substantial shift in mindset from punitive approaches to restorative ones. Traditional disciplinary methods are ingrained in many education systems, and moving away from these requires staff training, support, and patience.

Lastly, to effectively implement restorative justice, schools need the buy-in and commitment from all stakeholders, including teachers, students, parents, administrators, and even the broader community. The challenge lies in building this collective commitment and maintaining it.

Restorative Justice – The Future of School Discipline?

Despite the challenges, there is substantial evidence suggesting that restorative justice can bring significant benefits to school communities. From building stronger relationships between students and staff, improving school climate, reducing school violence, to enhancing students’ social and emotional skills, the impacts of restorative justice are far-reaching.

Moreover, as education systems continue to evolve to meet the complex needs of students, the values of restorative justice – respect, accountability, and empathy – are increasingly seen as key elements for nurturing responsible, caring individuals who can contribute positively to their communities.

With this growing acceptance and implementation of restorative justice around the world, it’s reasonable to speculate that we may be witnessing a pivotal moment in the evolution of school discipline.


The growth and diversity of restorative justice in schools around the world are impressive. As we navigate the complexities of the 21st-century education system, there is a significant shift from traditional punitive disciplinary practices to more inclusive, understanding, and restorative approaches.

With a wide array of practices, such as restorative circles, conferences, and other strategies, schools across the globe are working towards fostering environments of empathy, understanding, and respect. These practices, guided by the principles of accountability, responsibility, and reparation, have shown promising outcomes, from enhanced school climates to improved student outcomes.

However, implementing restorative justice in schools is not without its challenges. The requirement for time, resources, a shift in mindset, and community buy-in are substantial hurdles to overcome. Despite these challenges, the movement towards restorative justice in schools is gaining momentum, paving the way for a future where respect, empathy, and understanding are at the heart of our education systems.

Thus, while the landscape of restorative justice in schools is varied and dynamic, it is clear that its influence is growing. Through the continued effort and dedication of educators, administrators, and community leaders worldwide, restorative justice will continue to play an increasingly important role in our global educational landscape.