The Short Restorative Conference

(Chapter from Restorative Solutions, Mahaffey, H. and Newton,C.,  Inclusive Solutions, 2008) 

‘Problems are my friends’     (Tom Peters)

In this chapter we will describe:

  • What a short conference is  
  • A Short Restorative Conference Format

When serious incidents of harm or damage occur in a school setting, most staff and families will expect something to be ‘done’, a formal response from the school management. This is where a Short Restorative Conference or a Full Restorative Conference can be used. The school will need to ask itself the following questions: 

‘Has harm been done? Is there a need to repair the harm? Do we have the time to make this investment in our school community? Can we afford not to? (Thoresby, 2003)

A short conference

A “Short” Restorative Conference usually involves at least three people – the adult who is dealing with the incident and the two children or young people involved.  Each participant is encouraged to tell what has happened, what they were thinking and feeling at the time, who was affected and then to identify the harm that has been done. Each is invited to say what they think should be done to repair the harm or make things right.  This approach is suitable for most minor incidents, conflicts and disputes where parents/carers do not need to be involved.  These short conferences can sometimes be run “on the spot” or at little notice and a quiet room is preferable – somewhere you can place chairs in a circle without a table as a barrier. We have been pressed to run short conferences during lesson time in quiet parts of the dining hall, in the library or in unused classrooms but this is far from ideal, as there are always distractions and potential interruptions.

Short Conference Summary Script

‘The script represents a plan, a ‘mud map’, to assist you manage the process of the conference’ (Thoresby, 2003)

Following a script can make sense when you are starting out or until you are familiar with the format and are confident enough to make it your own.

At the Conference Venue:

It is important to ensure privacy and, if possible, keep the victim and offender separate 

before the conference begins. The facilitator should meet and greet both pupils seating 

the victim and offenders either side of his or her self.

The Conference Format

(Tinker et al, 2006.)

This is a basic conference format. Similar questions are asked to each person present to ensure fairness. Given the different positions held there will be a slight variation in the questions asked of each participant and you will need to trust your instincts and sensitivity to judge when and how to do this. Be flexible.


  1. Introductions – Introduce whoever present.
  1. Welcome – Thank both pupils for coming and stress that they have agreed to come. To show appreciation that they have begun the process and want things to be different, it is appropriate to congratulate individuals for choosing to attend. In some settings such as the Hammersmith and Fulham pilot schools, children and young people prefer to include a few basic ground rules at the beginning of the conference and this option will be discussed further in the next chapter.

The facilitator needs to appear neutral, but warm and encouraging as they open up this meeting. The situation needs to be safe and well managed. A certain business like professionalism needs to be clear in the demeanour of the facilitator from the outset. The meeting is going to be effectively chaired.


  1. State the purpose of the conference – 

“We are here today to focus on the incident which happened on _____ between (a) ____ (person who harmed) and (b) _____(person harmed).  (a)___has admitted his/her part in the incident.  We are not here today to take sides or decide who is right or wrong, good or bad but to look in detail at what happened and how (b)___was affected by that.  We will look into how that harm can be repaired and hopefully draw up an agreement together, which will set out how things can be put right.   Both of you will have the opportunity to have your say and be listened to.   I will be asking you questions in turn.

This may have to be reworded for some pupils. The facilitator needs to ensure that all present have understood what has been said.  The facilitator must take care to avoid any suggestion of blame, judgement, or anger in their nonverbal communications as well as in what they are saying aloud. 

  1. Questions to a_____:

What happened?
What were you thinking?

How did you feel?
What have your thoughts been since that time?
 Who has been affected by your actions?

   5.  Questions to b_____:

What happened?
What were you thinking?
How did you feel?

What has been the hardest thing for you?
Who else has been affected by what happened?

  1. Question to a_______

You have just heard how b____ has been affected by what you did and how what you did has caused harm.  Is there anything you would like to say?

  1. a’s_____  response:

Alternatively in the case where both parties have been responsible for causing harm to the other we might say to a and b:   

We have heard what each of you have had to say, tell me what you are feeling now?

  1. Question to a______:

What can you do to put things right?

  1. Variations to this question: What do you need (is there anything you can do) to do to put things right? Is there anything more you want to say?
  1. a______(offers reparation)

This question is difficult for some children and young people.  Allow them time to come up with something.  If the facilitator judges that the child or young person is really struggling, he or she may wish to invite some ideas from the other young person or to ask a question like: What do you think( b)____ might need to feel safe with you? Tentatively offering some ideas and suggestions may be appropriate for those children who continue to struggle, in order to ensure that a range of options are offered. Also it is crucial that you check out that what they then choose has some meaning to them. The young person can then translate these into their own words and say how they will carry them out i.e. days, times etc.   What is offered must be realistic and achievable. 

The facilitator could ask further questions to find out who might be able to support and assist the young person in honouring the commitment. A useful question at this stage might be: Is there anyone else who can support you in this?

  1. Question to b______:

How do you feel about that offer?

  1. Question to a______:

On (date) you made the choice to (summarise the incident) and today you have made another choice and have agreed to (summarise reparation offered).  Which choice do you feel better about?

  1. Question to b______:

You have heard _____ say how his/her behaviour has caused harm and what he/she will do to put this right.  How do you feel now?

  1. Pupils draw up the agreement.
  • Both sign it
  • Agree to meet again to review how things are going and whether the Agreement has been adhered to in a reconvened conference. 
  • Date this. 

The process of completing the Agreement and signing can be a time of informal reconnecting for the involved pupils. The facilitator is wise to give them some space as they do this.

  1. Questions to a______:

You have said that you have taken responsibility for what you did and that you are going to put things right by: (sum up agreement)

How do you feel now?
How will (these people) feel if you do not keep to the agreement?

How will s/he feel if you keep to the agreement?

How will you feel if you keep to the agreement?

At this stage you might want to say something about the follow up meeting and the form that will take. Sometimes this might be informal but  for  more serious cases setting a time to check how the agreements are going is important. 

  1. Facilitator:

Congratulates a_______ and b____ on making  positive choices and both for listening to each other. Emphasise b___’s courage for facing a___

 Thank pupils for coming.

  1. Post Conference tasks:
  • Staff information sheet completed and posted on notice board
  • Conference record sheet completed – Copies in each pupil’s files
  • Agreements photocopied – originals to pupils

– copy to each pupil’s file

  1. Evaluation sheets (if used) – a copy  for a___ and b____ and for involved school staff

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