Mediation and restorative practices in Hungarian schools

Discipline problems, peer abuse, ostracism. Child aggression and peer abuse present themselves in different ways in different institutions and are an increasing challenge for teachers, students, parents and professionals working in the school environment. Almost all schools are now affected in some way. Without appropriate tools, tensions are rising and helplessness can turn into aggression. Those affected [...]

Discipline problems, peer abuse, ostracism.

Child aggression and peer abuse present themselves in different ways in different institutions and are a growing challenge for teachers, students, parents and professionals working in the school environment. Today, almost all schools are affected in some way. Without the right tools, tensions increase and helplessness can turn into aggression. Even decades later, those affected still carry the consequences. In the long term, it affects their well-being and quality of life.

Our national and international experience shows that the best way to tackle aggression in preschool and school is prevention. And the key to prevention is a strong community, where individual and collective responsibility is based on commonly agreed rules. Partners Hungary Foundation has been working since 2015 to address and prevent conflicts, aggressive behaviour and peer abuse in educational institutions (kindergarten, primary and secondary schools). Currently running, our secondary school programme experiences were shared with the public at our conference in March 2017.


Our common interest to repair the damage to the community

  • Negrea Vidia, a trainer and board member of the International Institute for Restorative Practices, shared her decades of professional experience on the positive effects of restorative approaches to school incidents.
  • Basically, you don't become a criminal, but you live in a relational system, and you are driven by the need to belong, so you allow yourself to function in this way because of others. This also means that if nothing is done about the community, the people involved, following an incident, then no meaningful change can be expected.
  • Very short, structured spaces are sufficient to create the necessary framework for connection and collaboration, and a restorative proactive circle that can be integrated into the lesson is a great help. In restorative justice, from which the school methodology is derived, all participants come together and decide together on the impact of the act committed and take responsibility for their future roles and responsibilities.
  • No matter how just the judge decides, the story always continues in the corridor, because it is not those who own the conflict who decide. Restorative procedures, like mediation, return the conflict to the parties involved. Very often, the heightened emotional state of those involved blocks the possibility of moving forward, so community support is needed to resolve an incident.
  • Generally speaking, those who become perpetrators in the school environment are unlikely to have been given the support to become cooperative. Often we ourselves, as adults and educators, become victims in school incidents, so it is very important that we can give ourselves what we need emotionally, and only then is it worth looking at who owns the conflict and who is involved.
  • Restorative models aim to create a supportive community and strengthen relationships so that there is space and opportunity for community members to signal if a member is about to make an unwise decision before the incident occurs. If that space and openness is created, then there is an opportunity to focus on repairing the damage and making amends in the event of a disaster.

As a mediator, educator and in many other roles, it can help us a lot if we ask the right questions. Corrective questions:

  • What happened? What was your part in it?
  • Who is affected?
  • How has it affected you?
  • What needs to be done to put things right?
  • How do we prevent it next time?

It is important that neither shame nor blame remain in the situation, which inhibits communication. Emotionally based statements are very helpful in this regard, i.e. being able to talk about what worries you, what gives you pleasure, how you feel about the situation.

For a good school climate, the 80% of our day should be about giving attention, regular feedback on individual choices, the impact of actions, and our emotions.

Proactive circles are about getting in the right mood, setting the groundwork for good vibes or working together, and working out the rules.

In the event of a problem, reactive circles serve to restore security, redress grievances and take joint responsibility.

A restorative conference involves those affected by an act with negative consequences in a collective discussion. It is a structured, scripted process in which individual conversations are followed by a collective discussion. Those affected can talk about how they have been affected by the act and what they should do to put things right.

Family Decision Making Conferencing is used when a child becomes vulnerable or the family needs to be supported to make the necessary changes and they themselves develop the plan to provide a solution.


For a school to work in this way, all the actors must speak the same language and have a common motivation.

The legal framework for alternative conflict resolution procedures in schools

From In our Erasmus+ programme the legal adviser of the Szolnok Service Vocational Training Centre, Dr. Orsolya Zolnai Zolnai, spoke about the integration of mediation and restorative procedures into the life of the school.

The legal background to the procedures is set out below:

  • Act CXC of 2011 on National Public Education (hereinafter: Nkt.)
  • EMMI Decree No. 20/2012 (VIII. 31.) on the operation of educational institutions and the naming of public educational institutions (hereinafter: EMMI Decree)

Its institutional background is governed by the organisational and operational rules of the public education institution and the school's house rules.

The Partnership against Aggression in Schools programme was introduced in the schools of Szolnok from 1 September 2017, following the training of teachers as mediators and restorative facilitators:

"Based on the EMMI Decree 20/2012 (VIII. 31.) on the operation of educational institutions and the naming of public educational institutions, our school also has the possibility to the disciplinary procedure conciliation procedure (mediation or a procedure using restorative methods) precede, which aims to process and evaluate the conflict, and on the basis of this, to reach an agreement between the parties to the conflict in order to remedy the grievance and prevent further similar conflicts."

  • According to Orsolya Zolnai, schools are on a bumpy road in disseminating alternative methods, but it helps that the Partners Hungary Foundation trainers mentor the trained mediators and restorative facilitators in the programme. There are colleagues who do not believe in the method because they are not familiar with it and lack confidence in it, so they do not steer the case towards alternative solutions, so we are currently looking for a structured way of bringing disciplinary cases in. It is a success that in one school, one of the trained teachers has managed to get on the disciplinary committee, so that she can advocate more emphatically for the importance of mediation and restorative practices. In addition, working groups have been set up in each school to report on their work during the board meetings, thus promoting new practices and encouraging colleagues to dare to ask each other for help.
  • According to Dr. Orsolya Zolnai, the most difficult thing is to reassess the concept of success within ourselves, which can help us overcome deadlocks. "We have cases that we are proud of and we confess that we are increasingly using mediation and restorative methods to resolve situations and conflicts."

In the afternoon session, Flóra Bacsó talked to teachers Eva Mészáros and Izabella Munkácsiné Tóth about how they can integrate alternative methods into everyday life. According to the teachers, the children welcomed the restorative circles with joy and curiosity, and by the second lesson they had already arranged the chairs themselves. In acute cases, mediation or reactive circles are solved by changing lessons, which requires flexibility and support from the leader.

This was followed by a series of classroom teacher lesson plans, which included conflict prevention, restorative and mediation methods, to give participants a first-hand taste of the experience.

Mediation in harassment and abuse cases?

Krisztina Kukity and Flóra Bacsó gave a thought-provoking presentation outlining the differences between aggression and bullying


The presentation was followed by small group discussions to gather participants' perspectives and information along the following questions.

1.Ki should be the process manager, what skills should he or she have? What to look out for before intervening in a harassment case?

The focus group came to the conclusion that it is good not to approach a situation with a specific set of tools, but with as broad a view and as many options as possible. Pair leadership helps a lot. In mediation, impartiality is a key factor, as it is not advisable to mediate in one's own school with people one knows. When working in a team, there should be room for reflection. It is important to recognise the hierarchy in relationships and to seek to balance power. Detecting and managing game situations: reality checks. In facilitative processes, we need to see where we want to and can get to with the participants (relationship repair? coexistence?).

2.Kik who should be involved in the process? What to look out for before intervening in a harassment case?

It depends on the case: how serious it is, who is involved. In addition to the specific actors involved, the facilitator/mediator, school psychologist, teacher, peer supporter, children's rights representative may be involved in the process. However, if there are many stakeholders (e.g. a whole class), it may not be possible to involve everyone and appropriate representation should be ensured by the facilitator/mediator.

3.To does the adult become aware of the abuse? How to we can make sure that reporting abuse is not perceived as a betrayal signal. What to look out for before intervening in a harassment case?

Often the affected child will tell the parent or teacher, or the unaffected child may pass it on to an adult. A warning sign to the adult may be a bruise, a tear in clothing, a change in behaviour. An idea was to have an anonymous reporting system at school: a box in the corridor or on the internet to pass on to an adult. A good atmosphere of trust is important at school and at home. It is worth creating community spaces at school where this can be a forum: this could be a presentation by a crime prevention adviser or internet safety specialist, or perhaps a class teacher lesson with experiential exercises, drama. It's also good if adults dare to raise the issue and can talk about the problems without blame.

4.What should we communicate to stakeholders that once we are aware of the Case, what will happen? What to look out for before intervening in a harassment case?

  • It's important to tailor your communication to your target group (directness and clarity)
  • Empathy
  • It is worth finding out about the motivations of the people involved and whether they are really volunteering to participate in the process
  • Non-directive support to boost adoption
  • Consideration should be given to whether we talk to stakeholders separately and how we communicate with the community as a whole
  • It is worth involving external support (mental health professional, school psychologist, teacher other than the class teacher)
  • When starting an intervention, a process, it is important to communicate openly about its framework.

5.How should take place the preparation? What to look out for before intervening in a harassment case?

The following points have been made, but are not exhaustive:

  • Who are the stakeholders?
  • Who should lead the intervention?
  • Which method of intervention should be used (facilitative interview, mediation, restorative method, other)
  • Identification of other competent persons who can assist with the agreement
  • To specify the problem: what exactly is the case in which we are planning to intervene?
  • As a member of the Child Protection Signposting System, is there anything about the case that the facilitator is obliged to report?
  • In the event of abuse, whatever the intervention, the role of volunteering is paramount
  • Where and when can the intervention take place?

It is important to bear in mind that each case is unique, so the above points can serve as food for thought and a guide for professionals before intervening.

Thank you for a busy day, we will continue. The professional materials of our school programme HERE to download.



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