1,600+ Young People and Adults Participate in Restorative Practices Project

Donegal ETB’s Peace IV funded Restorative Practices (RP) project has recently concluded after involving over 1,600 young people and adults across the county in developing skills to support them in resolving conflict in their lives.

In 2018 Donegal ETB successfully secured €500,000 of EU PEACE IV funding for three projects that began in December 2018, supported by the European Union’s Peace IV Programme and managed for the Special EU Programmes Body (SEUPB) by Donegal County Council.

One of these projects focused on the development of Restorative Practices in post-primary schools, Youthreach centres and youth work organisations. The project was due to run until May this year but the COVID-19 containment measures meant the project finished earlier at the beginning of March.

Restorative practices involves viewing wrongdoing through a ‘relational’ lens – understanding that harm has been done to people and relationships and further understanding that when such harm is done, it creates obligations and liabilities. A restorative practices approach focuses on repairing the harm and making things right.

The ETB’s Peace IV funded restorative practices project sought to improve positive relationships between and for young people, staff and volunteers, train participants in accredited and non-accredited approaches in using restorative practices and to develop an understanding of alternative ways of dealing with conflict.

There is a progressive history of promoting restorative practices in schools in Co Donegal for some years, going back to a 2004 initiative. From 2011-2014, the ETB involved 3,250 young people and adults in a Peace III funded restorative practices project which developed their skills set in this area.

This Peace IV funded project was a further development of that work across the county. Nineteen ETB and non-ETB post-primary schools, Youthreach (early school leaver) centres and youth work organisations from across the county got involved in the project including the Abbey Vocational School, Donegal Town; Crana College, Buncrana; Deele College, Raphoe; Errigal College, Letterkenny; Finn Valley College, Stranorlar; Gairmscoil Chú Uladh, Béal an Átha Móir; Loreto Community School, Milford; Moville Community College; Mulroy College, Milford; Royal and Prior Comprehensive School, Raphoe; Scoil Mhuire Secondary School, Buncrana; St Catherine’s Vocational School, Killybegs; St Eunan’s College, Letterkenny; Ballyshannon Buncrana/Glengad, Gortahork, Letterkenny and Lifford Youthreach centres and Foróige.

Specialised trainers provided training to students, staff and volunteers of the schools, Youthreach centres and Foróige, with additional training carried out by staff with their students and young people. For example, the students attending the Buncrana and Glengad Youthreach centres developed artwork that they incorporated into pop-up banners to display in their centres.

The young people from Foróige who participated in the project used the new skills they had learned to produce a short animated video to explain restorative practices to other young people.

Students at Deele College developed posters and pop-up banners to display around their school long after the project has been completed. Deputy Principal Danny McFadden explained, “Over the past eighteen months, Deele College has participated in the ETB’s Peace IV Restorative Practices Project, where the staff of the school has trained in the concept of restorative practice as a means of dealing with conflict within the school.

“Restorative Practice is now the cornerstone of classroom management for all teachers in the school and when dealing with conflict, teachers are trained to look for underlying issues that may be the cause of poor behaviour. By addressing the causes of the behaviour instead of simply punishing a student, it has created a culture of transparency and fairness with regards to the school code of behaviour.”

He went onto explain that students who are members of the Student Council and the School Leadership Team were also trained in this practice, while most of our students participated in different initiatives created by the project; “The school has embraced this project and the concepts of restorative practice, which has led to positive relationships between staff and students, resulting in a more harmonious school environment.”

In addition, twenty-eight staff from nine of the participating post-primary schools and two of the Youthreach centres also undertook and completed a Postgraduate Certificate in Restorative Practices with Ulster University. The staff were from Crana College, Buncrana (4); Deele College, Raphoe (3); Errigal College, Letterkenny (3); Finn Valley College, Stranorlar (1); Gairmscoil Chú Uladh, Béal an Átha Móir (1); Loreto Community School, Milford (1); Moville Community College (3); Royal and Prior Comprehensive School, Raphoe (4); Scoil Mhuire Secondary School, Buncrana (5); Ballyshannon (2) and Gortahork (1) Youthreach centres.

Speaking about their involvement in the project, Deputy Principal of the Royal and Prior Comprehensive School, Tara Cowan, thanked Donegal ETB for their encouragement and support during the project, saying, “We were delighted to get involved in this project. While we are familiar with and practice RP in the school, it was great to bring specialised trainers into the school to support our skills development in this area.”

She highlighted, “I was particularly pleased that four of our staff, including myself, got the chance to complete the Postgraduate Certificate with Ulster University. This means now that at whatever point we get back into our school, we have a core team of highly trained staff to support a restorative practices approach to our work with our students.”

One of the teachers who undertook the Postgraduate Certificate remarked that, “I thought this course might be a struggle as it was timetabled for every second Saturday but I could not have been more wrong. I looked forward to our sessions. The course was led by two outstanding lecturers who made us feel so welcome and valuable. Their instruction allowed us to develop and grow professionally. I met the most amazing people and feel that I have developed strong relationships and friendships. I’ve developed my confidence in dealing restoratively within my work practices and have learned more about myself but also my work colleagues who were also on this course.”

Speaking about the project, Donegal ETB’s Chief Executive Anne McHugh said, “We were delighted to have secured this funding from the Peace IV programme. As an ETB in a border county, it’s important that we play our part in supporting the conflict transformation process here in this region. We did this by enabling the people of Co Donegal to build positive relationships through this project. I was particularly delighted to see a number of non-ETB schools and Foróige get involved in the project. This enabled so many education partners to build more positive relationships which is only a good thing for the young people of this county.”

The project was funded under priority 1 of the Peace IV programme, promoting peace and reconciliation and under action 4.1 of the local authority peace plan which focused on the promotion of positive relations at a local and regional level, characterised by respect and where cultural diversity is celebrated and people can live, learn and socialise together, free from prejudice, hate and intolerance.

Match-funding was provided by the Executive Office in Northern Ireland and the Department of Rural and Community Development in Ireland.

Teaching staff from across Co Donegal who completed a Postgraduate Certificate in Restorative Practices with Ulster University through Donegal ETB’s Peace IV funded Restorative Practices project.