Embedding restorative practice in a Special Educational Setting


Bank View School is rated by Ofsted as an outstanding special needs school.  It is based over two sites in the north of Liverpool, for pupils with complex learning difficulties. Bank View School caters for 7 to 19 year olds.

18 months ago the school joined an authority led pilot scheme looking to embed restorative practice principles in schools, working with Restorative Thinking Ltd. The challenge has, and always will be, to support our complex pupils, many of whom have a diagnosis of autism and/or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, with their understanding and awareness of emotions.

The school has used a wide variety of visual cues, emotional regulation charts and extended questioning techniques to support this. The use of these visual cues allows our pupils to recognise and express emotions that they may not be able verbalise. They can then relate these emotions to an incident that has taken place. Through repetition and reinforcement pupils are then able to begin to link the emotions to real world situations.

The greatest challenge to restorative practice is the response of our pupils to restorative questioning. We are developing a piece of work linked to the principle of blank level questioning. We are mapping out the potential level of answers one would expect a pupil to give against their level of cognitive understanding. For example we might get a high level of response to a “what happened” question and then a very low level of response linked to a “how did you feel question” or vice versa.

When putting together restorative conferencing the school places a great deal of emphasis upon preliminary meetings to ensure the issues are clearly understood. Once in the meeting it is common for the facilitator of the meeting to paraphrase answers given by the pupils involved in the preliminary meeting. This is outside of the normal protocol of a restorative conference but we find it an invaluable way of supporting the needs of our pupils.

What has really helped in our setting is the application of restorative language throughout the school. It is actively encouraged by the school leadership team, in classroom practice, by the mentors and office staff, in staff meetings, and by the pupils themselves.

We have used restorative practice to support behaviour within the classroom. Through our behaviour report logs we have identified pupils who demonstrate challenging behaviour over a period of time. We have then held restorative meetings with groups of pupils to discuss the implications upon themselves and to reflect upon the impact their actions have upon the wider school community

We have developed a restorative pals program with pupils. This is a short course for pupils who then apply the principles and support their peers during playtime and within the classroom. They then report back to their class teacher about the positive things they have seen through the day. This is then shared with the whole class.

We also work closely with families and encourage the use of restorative practice in the home. For example, a parent contacted us about the challenges she was facing with a 10 year old pupil at home. This pupil demonstrated aggressive, violent and controlling behaviour in the home. None of the behaviours described were witnessed in school. Restorative questioning sessions were held on an individual basis with each family member before we hosted a conference with the family, onsite, with positive outcomes being suggested by each family member.  These were then implemented in the home.

At Bank View School we are already seeing the positive impact restorative practice is having on our school community and are excited to see what the future progression of restorative practice may bring.

Below are some quotes from parents and pupils.

Pupil 1: “Restorative practice makes me think before I get into an argument”.

Pupil 2: “Restorative practice helps me when I fall out with my mates”.

Parent 1: “Restorative practice has changed the way we talk to each other as a family”.

Please visit https://bvhs.co.uk/ and www.restorativethinking.co.uk for more information or to contact us.

About The Authors

Andy Wrigg has worked in education for 18 years. For the first 10 years he worked in a mainstream school as head of physical education. More recently, he has worked in Bank View School. He has been in his current role as assistant headteacher for the last 3 years. Bank View School is a special educational needs school for pupils with autism and a learning needs.

Paul O’Kane has worked in education for 15 years. He has worked with all age ranges in mainstream schools in Liverpool as a mentor. He has worked at Bank View School for 3 years. He supports pupils in the school within his role as part of the well-being hub.


MARG THORSBORNE    30 Aug 2021 07:31

I love the idea of “blank level questioning” and would love to see the map, along with creating the space at school to help families handle conflict at home. Great work!!