Restorative Justice in New Zealand Schools: An Evaluation of Sustainable Practice
Over the past two decades, Restorative Practices have emerged internationally within schools as an alternative to the traditional punitive punishment model. Within New Zealand, schools have shown growing interest in Restorative Practices, with some adopting this with enthusiasm across their whole school practices, while others have shown a more cautious or short-term adoption. In spite of the growing interest, little is known about why some schools are successful adopters and others are not and what processes are occurring to promote well integrated and sustainable Restorative Practice in schools.
This study investigated the sustainability of Restorative Practices across three New Zealand secondary schools, each of which had been successfully implementing Restorative Practice for a minimum of eight years. The goal of the study was to carefully trace the experiences of these schools, examining the processes that allowed Restorative Practice to become embedded in the school culture and what led to lasting integration. Schein’s model of organisational culture was used as an evaluative framework to explore the extent to which Restorative Practices were embedded within the schools. A comparative case study design was employed, gathering data from focus group sessions, semi-structured interviews, and observations. The data was analysed thematically to identify emergent themes.
The findings indicated that the schools shared many similarities in their adoption and implementation of Restorative Practices. Factors that appeared to support the lasting integration of Restorative Practices were a contextual fit, including school readiness and the existing beliefs of the school and wider community, and leadership and support, including the commitment of Principals, the role of senior management, and the need for ongoing whole-staff professional development. Differences emerged across the three schools that also related to these factors. The study highlights the importance of the consistent and systemic embedding of Restorative Practices within school organisational culture if it is to be effectively implemented. It also underscores the need for better resourcing to equip schools to sustainably integrate practices that hold the potential to reduce the damage caused by punitive systems in schools.