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Bullying in Schools: A Complexity Approach to Sustainable Restorative Approaches?



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The issue of bullying is an international concern; specifically, the harmful influence that bullying has on young people in educational settings. Restorative approaches have been viewed as an appropriate intervention for addressing bullying. A review of the literature suggests that the Whole School Approach is the most common form of implementing restorative approaches in English schools. This research has sought to address a substantial gap in the existing literature, which has focused on implementation rather than the sustainability of restorative approaches.

This research has developed a qualitative inquiry using a constructionist epistemology to explore the phenomena of change from the perspective of secondary school educationalists in their local ecosystems. Prior to the research phase, a soft systems methodology was used to stimulate opportunities for internal creativity with staff developing restorative approaches in their school. This enabled staff to develop a range of self-generated activities to enhance restorative interventions in their setting. A phenomenological methodology was used to focus on staff perceptions of change happening over an academic year. Focus groups were conducted in each of the four inquiry schools using a semi-structured interview process. A complexity-informed thematic analysis was conducted to synthesize and critique the data collected during the focus groups.

The findings from this research suggest that staff perceptions construct a complex and nuanced understanding of restorative approaches, whilst exploring the tensions and accommodations of school change. Furthermore, this research reveals how systems can innovate or distort initiatives such as restorative approaches. Consequently, there then follows a discussion for implications of the findings from this research in response to the research questions. Furthermore, there is a wider discussion on the implications for the field of restorative approaches. This includes how a complexity theory-informed analysis provides insights into the phenomena of school change and the sustainability of restorative approaches. The thesis ends with reflections and possibilities on how those seeking to implement and sustain change in complex adaptive systems can act as system-synthesis leaders to engage with complex phenomena.





Cremin, Hilary


Complexity, Bullying, School Change, Systems Thinking, Restorative Approaches


Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Awarding Institution

University of Cambridge