Why we need a move towards a Transformative Justice framework within schools by Ife Thompson

In the absence of government-led reforms to the current racist, chaotic and unregulated state of the Schools exclusion system we have in the UK, we are calling for a school-led change to supporting young people.  We at BLAM UK are calling on schools to channel their energy into less punitive approaches that will, in turn, allow the demise in the current usage of immoderate approaches that inform the excluding process for children. 

In this short post, it will be argued that a move to more contemporary forms of understanding children’s behaviours is the only approach that should be championed in schools. We believe that transformative justice is a framework that should be used by all schools in the UK.

The Current Issues 

The current school exclusion system is punitive and discriminatory, it sees Black Caribbean pupils 3 X more likely to be excluded than their white counterparts.  Last year in the UK we permanently excluded 7,894 young people. The current system allows for children to become further disillusioned with the education system. It is also damaging the scope of progress for young peoples futures  ‘ 96% of pupils in alternative provision fail GCSEs’.

Thus pushing them firmly into the school to prison pipeline- ‘exclusion is a marker for being at higher risk of becoming a victim or perpetrator of crime– 23% of young offenders sentenced to less than 12 months in custody, in 2014, had been permanently excluded from school prior to their sentence date.’ The current frameworks used in the school exclusion system are not fit for purpose, as they are allowing too many young to go unsupported. 

Reimaging how we support children through a Transformative Justice Framework?

 The Transformative Justice framework was further enhanced through the work of ‘Ruth Morris, a Quaker in Canada, challenged restorative justice because it did not address issues of oppression, injustices, and social inequities within conflicts….Morris argues that while restorative justice challenges the retributive justice system and brings people together, it fails to recognize the socio-political and economic issues addressed by transformative justice’.

Although transformative justice builds on the framework of restorative justice, it goes further by encouraging those using its framework to think wider than the person at hand who has caused the harm, and urges them to centre in the socio-political factors that will have influenced a persons behaviour. 

The research by Anthony J. Nocella II shows different organisations approaches to using Transformative justice- AVP, Save the Kids, and Generation Five to emphasise what may be thought of as the core philosophy of transformative justice (TJ): 

· TJ is against violence and punishment, institutionalization and imprisonment. 

· Crime is a form of community-based conflict, where society and the government are also involved as possible offenders. 

· TJ brings issues of identity back into the realm of justice by addressing socio-political injustices toward Women, People of color,  GLBT, Poor, Immigrants, People with Disabilities, and other marginalised groups. 

· TJ believes in the value of mediation, negotiation, and community circles to transform conflicts. 

 ‘Transformative justice, while addressing oppression and the role that groups, institutions, and agencies have in creating and maintaining oppression, does not view anyone as an enemy, but rather argues that everyone needs to be involved in a voluntary safe constructive critical dialogue where people take accountability, responsibility, and the initiative to heal.’ Transformative justice centres the notion of communal healing from harms. This could look like ensuring that there is a counsellor that can support the young person in your school that maybe be having behaviour problems. It could like referring them to children’s counselling organisations. It also looks like providing a holistic plan that doesn’t seek to punish the behaviour but instead look at why this happened?, what socio-political context is this happening in? How it happened? What can be done to prevent this from happening again?. The UK Government summary on school exclusions showed ‘ Persistent disruptive behaviour is the most common reason for both permanent exclusions (35%)’ it can, therefore, be argued that if the  ‘disruptive behaviour’ is interrupted and treated within a holistic framework supported by Transformative justice, we could see a change that will allow us to provide the much-needed support many of these young people often need. 

Next steps for schools 

We at BLAM UK would encourage schools to follow best practice from schools in Scotland that have drastically reduced the use of school exclusions, last year there was only 3 permanent exclusions.

No police in schools. We would encourage schools to stop the further criminalisation of children that is aiding in the school to prison pipeline. We would encourage educators to support the current no police in schools campaign by Kids of Colour and the Northern Police Monitoring Project.

To read more texts on Transformative Justice and to reword behaviour policies to take into account this new transformative approach to supporting young people.

Written by our Founder Ife Thompson she is a Barrister, community activist and former youth worker. 

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