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Transforming primary education through restorative justice : insights from case studies

Sullivan, Meara Brighid


Meara Brighid Sullivan


Gerry Johnstone

Max A. Hope

Catherine, 1962 Montgomery


Restorative justice is an aspirational social movement with Indigenous roots. Around the world, an increasing number of schools are implementing restorative justice as a behaviour management mechanism and in some cases, as a means of transforming everyday interaction and relationships. Correspondingly, there is an expanding body of literature on the potential positive effects of restorative justice in education (Brown, 2018; Cameron and Thorsborne, 1999; Hendry 2009; Hopkins, 2002; Karp and Breslin, 2001; McCluskey et al., 2011; Morrison, 2006; Thorsborne and Blood, 2013). However, amidst this optimism, there are considerable gaps in our knowledge of how restorative justice is “characterised and operationalised” in the everyday operation of schools (Morrison and Vaandering, 2012, p.148). To gain a better understanding of restorative justice in schools, I negotiated access to three primary schools in Ontario, Canada where significant time was spent observing, interviewing and collecting documentary information. The primary research question was: How is restorative justice constructed, and embedded within primary schools? And the sub-question: How does restorative justice interact with the school’s educational mission? The findings illustrate the complexities of restorative justice in schools. The three schools had different histories with restorative justice and were at different stages of implementation. In an established whole school approach, restorative justice was largely viewed relationally, whereas in two schools with a new commitment it was most commonly described as a behaviour management technique used by staff. However, there were significant similarities across sites. In all three schools, leaders were essential to the construction and embedment of restorative justice. Gaining buy-in was a process that took time and continued far beyond implementation, yet what occurred was not overtly called or labelled “restorative justice,” and students in all three schools were unfamiliar with the terminology. However, questions and dialogue were essential to how restorative justice was constructed and embedded. Circles were the most visible practice, and while punishment was understood as oppositional to restorative justice, it was still utilised. By considering restorative justice with educational theories on social control and radical change, I was able to explore how and to what extent restorative justice represented a change. This interaction was complex and multidimensional. However, when restorative justice was viewed as a relational ethos, it was seen as transforming the entire school.


Sullivan, M. B. (2019). Transforming primary education through restorative justice : insights from case studies. (Thesis). University of Hull. Retrieved from

Thesis Type Thesis
Deposit Date Nov 25, 2019
Publicly Available Date Feb 23, 2023
Keywords Law
Public URL
Additional Information Law School, The University of Hull
Award Date Feb 1, 2019


Thesis (7 Mb)

Copyright Statement
© 2019 Sullivan, Meara Brighid. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced without the written permission of the copyright holder.

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