Stories of restorative justice and school exclusion: an autoethnography of relational understanding

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


The last three decades have seen the introduction and implementation, to the United Kingdom (UK), of a model of practice to repair the harm caused by crime and conflict, called restorative justice (RJ). This research was informed by my own experience as a police officer when RJ was introduced to the UK, and later as a teacher and Special Educational Needs Co-ordinator (SENCo) in schools for 4-11-year-olds in England, UK. This involved my own continuous involvement with the national and international RJ movement across the three decades. The research sought to gain a greater understanding around the core concepts and theoretical underpinnings of RJ that lead to positive outcomes for children and young people (CYP), in the English school system. The focus was on those at risk of school exclusion. It explored the interdisciplinary learning from criminal justice and education contexts through consideration of the accounts of restorative practitioners and adults involved in the school exclusion process and the story of a RJ pioneer who introduced his model of RJ practice to the UK (and me) in 1996. The findings of the study provide a greater understanding of the principles that underpin the set of restorative questions introduced to the UK by the RJ pioneer Terry O’Connell (1998 & 2015), and how these questions might lead to positive outcomes for participants in a range of contexts where harm has been caused and relationships damaged. The broader findings including the thinking of the RJ pioneer, O’Connell, suggest that the core concepts, questions and values of RJ are of less importance than the way in which they are applied in practice and the motivations of those claiming that their practice is ‘restorative’. The use of autoethnography as a methodological approach, has shown that the inclusion of the ‘self’ in research can contribute to identity formation at several levels, as well as a revised worldview of inclusive practice and relationships. Writing an autoethnography has provided a greater range of perspectives to improve our understanding of RJ and for me this has resulted in a learning process that is not only cognitive (an epistemological process) but also an ontological process of identity formation. This has been applied to my own experiences in the fields of criminal justice, education, restorative justice and academia. Understanding relationships lies at the heart of this research and provides a contribution to how, as adults, we can more effectively support learning and the healthy development of our children and young people.
Date of AwardMay 2021
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Northampton
SupervisorCristina Devecchi (Supervisor), Emel Thomas (Supervisor) & John Visser (Supervisor)


  • Restorative justice
  • school exclusion
  • relationships
  • autoethnography
  • restorative practices
  • inclusion

Cite this