A guide to understanding restorative behaviour and how to support good practice in school

This briefing offers advice and guidance for teachers and leaders across the UK on restorative behaviour.

It has been produced in response to a number of reports, including some high-profile cases, where restorative behaviour practices have been misapplied or misinterpreted.

What is restorative behaviour?
The view of the NASUWT
Restorative behaviour guiding principles
Next steps

What is restorative behaviour?

Restorative behaviour has a wide range of definitions and can, therefore, be subject to a varied and often conflicting understanding of what it is.

Most definitions draw on its roots in the criminal justice system, where it is a practice that puts the focus on repairing the harm that has been done by harmful conduct or behaviour. It is an approach to conflict resolution that includes all of the parties involved.

This practice has been transposed into the education system, drawing on extensive academic literature that reports its benefits. This academic grounding has been turned into practical steps for schools to take, popularised through widely-read bestselling books, in particular, When the Adults Change, Everything Changes, by Paul Dix.

A number of restorative behaviour programmes have also been designed by consultant groups to guide and support schools in adopting this practice.

A distinctive feature of this approach applied to schools is the use of so-called ‘restorative conversations’. It involves an approach where a pupil whose behaviour has fallen below an acceptable standard takes part in a conversation with a teacher or other appropriate adult in the school. The aim of the conversation is to ensure that the pupil recognises where their behaviour or conduct has fallen short of this standard.

The conversation should also involve understanding how such behaviour impacts adversely on others in the school community and the steps that the pupil must take in future to ensure their conduct is appropriate.

Critically, it should also involve identifying any barriers that the young person faces in meeting standards of acceptable behaviour and how these barriers can be removed.

The view of the NASUWT

The NASUWT recognises that restorative behaviour approaches have been shown, in some circumstances, to be an effective way of managing conflict, repairing damage and ensuring responsibility is taken by those who have caused harm. This does, however, rely on the skills and knowledge of those managing the restorative process, as well as the context in which the practice sits.

The union understands schools may wish to adopt restorative behaviour approaches into their behaviour management procedures.

The key concern is when restorative practice is carried out under a misunderstanding of how and when it should be used. There is also a risk that restorative behaviour is open to misinterpretation, which has, in some cases, led to negative consequences and worsening behaviour rather than the positive outcomes anticipated.

The NASUWT believes there are a number of principles that should be considered when schools are thinking of introducing restorative behaviour practices into their setting. They are also useful principles to guide a review of restorative behaviour approaches that have already been put into place.

Furthermore, we would expect that all approaches to behaviour management reflect the NASUWT’s advice, guidance and overarching principles.

  • Principle 1 – Restorative behaviour policies should be created through a whole-school approach.

  • Principle 2 - Restorative behaviour policies must be part of a whole-school expectation on behaviour.

  • Principle 3 - Escalation to senior staff should be part of the restorative behaviour process.

  • Principle 4 – Using restorative behaviour approaches should not open up opportunities for teacher-blaming.

  • Principle 5 - A restorative conversation is only effective if it forms part of a wider behaviour management strategy.

  • Principle 6 – The use of restorative behaviour approaches should be reviewed regularly and feedback should be listened to without judgement.

This guide will now explore these principles in more detail.

Restorative behaviour guiding principles

Principle 1 - Restorative behaviour policies should be created through a whole-school approach.

As with an overarching behaviour management policy, any new elements that will seek to address behaviour that challenges should be developed through a whole-school approach.

This is explored in more detail in the NASUWT’s guidance on developing a behaviour management policy.

By adopting this approach, it ensures policies are created and owned collaboratively across an entire school and are therefore more likely to succeed than those imposed from the top down.

In committing to a whole-school approach, as well as staff and students, the wider school community should also be involved in the development of policies.

This is also applicable to the review of the policy.

It is important that a breadth of stakeholders are involved in the ongoing monitoring of any procedure and approach such as restorative behaviour, to ensure its continuing appropriateness and effectiveness.

Again, this is set out clearly in our guidance on developing a behaviour management policy.

Principle 2 - Restorative behaviour policies must be part of a whole-school expectation on behaviour

Literature and best practice guidance on restorative behaviour in schools stress the importance of children being taught expected behaviours. These have to be reinforced regularly to ensure pupils, teachers and the wider school community understand the expectations on behaviour.

Introducing restorative behaviour should not replace or undermine the requirement for the whole-school community to understand which behaviours are and are not acceptable within a school.

This should be linked to an understanding of what sanctions apply, should behaviour fall below the expected standard.

Principle 3 - Escalation to senior staff should remain part of the restorative behaviour process

The NASUWT has been made aware of settings that use restorative behaviour as a barrier to escalation of issues to senior staff. Such an approach leads, in reality, to a situation where all behaviour issues must be dealt with in the classroom by the teacher concerned.

In some cases, a teacher wanting to escalate an incident to members of the senior leadership or management team is condemned and in more extreme instances such escalation is even banned.

This clearly creates an unsupportive and combative culture. It also works against the earlier principles that restorative behaviour policies can only be effective if everyone throughout the school participates and engages.

Restorative behaviour approaches should not be governed by a system where escalation should never happen.

Guiding principles should support teachers in making reasonable efforts to address issues in the classroom first, with an agreed point at which escalation is necessary.

To ensure restorative behaviour approaches can be implemented effectively and not cause undue pressure and stress, the policy these rest on needs to be agreed with all staff – which links back to Principle 1. This includes the triggers that lead to an escalation of the issue to a member of the senior team.

It is important that this policy is then followed consistently, which underpins Principle 2 – giving pupils an understanding of expected behaviours and the consequences of not meeting these standards.  

Principle 4 - Using restorative behaviour approaches should not open up opportunities for teacher-blaming.

Where restorative behaviour is used poorly, in cases of behaviour that challenges, there can be an assumption that the teacher must be to blame, that the teacher has ‘failed’ the child in some way and has played a role in the pupil’s behaviour.

The NASUWT has seen a worrying number of schools where a teacher’s capabilities are questioned, along with a judgement on the quality of a lesson, when challenging behaviour occurs.

The restorative conversation then becomes an opportunity for the pupil to explain what the teacher has done wrong to cause their unacceptable behaviour.

This is not and should never be the intended purpose of a restorative conversation; the focus of the conversation should be for the pupil to take responsibility for their own actions.

It may become apparent during these conversations that the pupil’s behaviour is a response to an issue that is troubling them, such as bullying. The teacher can use the conversation as an opportunity to explore this and look at actions that might be taken to address it.

Principle 5 - A restorative conversation is only effective if it forms part of a wider behaviour management strategy.

Restorative behaviour is not a solution in and of itself.

While it has been proven to have the potential to be an effective tool as part of a broader behaviour management strategy, it will inevitably lose impact if there is no framework in place for there to be other proportionate consequences for behaviour that challenges.

The NASUWT has seen cases where restorative behaviour has been used ineffectively because the only tool that the school allows within the behaviour management policy is a restorative conversation(s).

Principle 6 – The use of restorative behaviour should be reviewed regularly and feedback should be listened to without judgement.

Principle 1 refers to the need for settings to review their behaviour management policies, including the use of restorative behaviour.

This should be done in a neutral way, without any accusation that staff who highlight problems with the approach are overly negative or unsupportive of the programme.

The NASUWT has been made aware of instances where teachers who raise issues with the system are seen as ineffective practitioners, which makes them fearful of sharing their genuine concerns.

This will only serve to create a culture of fear, rather than openness and honesty.

This risks creating an environment where incidents of challenging behaviour rise, as teachers will be afraid to raise concerns about ineffective restorative behaviour practice.


The NASUWT would advise all school leader members to evaluate existing or new restorative behaviour policies and approaches against the six principles identified in this guidance.

NASUWT Workplace Representatives also play a key role in ensuring these principles are followed in the creation or review of restorative behaviour policies. They should also ensure that appropriate representations are made to school management about any proposed or existing systems.

Individual teachers will need to be vigilant in safeguarding their own professionalism. They should question and resist, with the support of the Union, practices that do not align with the NASUWT’s principles.

If NASUWT members believe it is not possible to secure appropriate approaches to restorative behaviour, or there are wider issues with behaviour that a school is unable or unwilling to address, they should contact the union for advice and guidance.

Next steps

The NASUWT will continue to defend teachers’ rights to work in a safe environment, free from violence, intimidation, harassment, abuse or disruption.

We will continue to engage with employers and policy makers to assert these rights. We will hold those in power accountable when children and teachers are let down.

We will also take action, including industrial action when necessary, to assert these rights.