Peer mentoring can be of enormous value to both primary and secondary schools, providing opportunities for pupils to support one another. As many as one third of schools now have peer mentoring programmes in place, and the benefits often extend a lot further than just the individual pupils who access the service, with evidence to suggest it boosts self-esteem, promotes wellbeing and helps to combat bullying throughout the whole school.
Peer mentoring programmes vary from being very formal, with mentors wearing slightly different uniforms and receiving training from providers external to the school, to ‘buddy systems’ that involve older pupils being matched with younger peers to befriend.
Establishing and managing a programme
Here is a quick guide to establishing and managing a peer mentoring programme:
Nominate a member of staff to oversee things
This person won’t necessarily be expected to single-handedly set everything up and run the programme, but it will be helpful for pupils to have a single point of contact.
Consider organising a pupil wellbeing audit to get a head start on what issues the school is facing
This will enable you to decide what areas to focus on when training the mentors, and the peer programme itself can be named as a specific intervention the school is implementing in response to the audit.
Nominate the peer mentors
You may have certain pupils who you instinctively feel may be especially good in the role, but it is important to provide opportunities for pupils to nominate themselves or their friends. You might want to draw up a basic ‘job specification’, outlining what the responsibilities will be, and provide an idea of suitable personal characteristics. A peer mentoring role can also be beneficial for older pupils who perhaps struggle with self-confidence, so consider the scheme from that perspective too.
Train the peer mentors
The peer mentors need to know how to handle specific situations that may arise and when to contact a member of staff. You may be able to receive input from voluntary organisations who can teach listening skills and, depending on the age group, provide appropriate information on different issues that may have been raised in the school audit.
This scheme is designed to be beneficial to the school, not exhaust or worry the pupils involved – establish some ground rules, with due reference to the school’s Child Protection and Safeguarding Policy. Some basic points to work from include the following:
- Bullying, or disclosures of self-harm, eating disorders, abuse or anything else that is a particular cause for concern always need to be passed to a member of staff as soon as possible, with no exceptions.
- Peer mentors must never promise to keep secrets.
- Peer mentors must ‘check-in’ with the coordinator at least weekly, or more regularly if needed.
- Being a peer mentor must not be harmful to those in the role.
- Being a peer mentor may be dependent on good conduct and conscientiousness.
Good practice can be maintained by ensuring smooth procedures are in place for peer mentors to feed back any issues they pick up, and having a paperwork trail for more serious matters. Chances are, peer mentors will mostly find themselves being a friend to other children who feel lonely, or are worried about exams or day-to-day school life; but it is best to work towards worst case scenarios and have structures in place in case a child makes a serious disclosure.
Access to peer mentors can be encouraged by having visible indicators of who they are, such as badges, hats, etc., and hosting lunch clubs where peer mentors work in pairs and use a classroom as a drop in for any pupils who want to drop in.
For more information about peer mentoring schemes, and for an example of how it can work safely and effectively, take a look at the work underway at The Magna Carta School in Runneymede, Surrey, who have developed an entire wellbeing zone and welcome other schools to use their experiences as a blue print for replication elsewhere.
The Mentoring and Befriending Foundation (2010) ‘Peer Mentoring in Schools’, pg. 4
The Magna Carta School (n.d.) ‘Wellbeing Zone’ <http://magnacarta.surrey.sch.uk/511/pastoral/wellbeing-zone> [Accessed: 21 June 2017]