What is Peer Support?

“Peer Support begins with the natural willingness of most young people to act in a cooperative, friendly way towards one another.  Peer Support systems build on this intrinsic quality and create structures which facilitate the young person’s potential for responsibility, sensitivity and empathic caring” 

Helen Cowie and Sonia Sharp

“If the culture of the school rejects bullying and supports its students in telling rather than suffering in silence, then the greater good of a safe school will win out over fear of reprisals, rejection by the peer culture, or tyranny...One of the ways in which a school can create a safe culture is through the adoption of peer support strategies… If the students are fully involved in the solutions, they have a very good chance of working.”

Keith Sullivan

Peer Support projects in schools enable volunteer students to offer help and support to fellow students by setting up projects and schemes in their own schools.  Projects are run by and for young people with adult supervision.  Projects remain under the direction and control of each individual school and can be implemented in many different forms.  Students will require training in listening, being supportive, communication skills and how to be an effective supporter.

One of the ways in which schools can create a safe culture is through the adoption of Peer Support strategies.  Such strategies, which include Peer Mentoring, “Buddy” schemes, Peer Counselling and Playground Buddies/Peer Mediation, are among a school’s best weapons in combating bullying.  Such strategies also support inclusion, pupil voice and contribute to a school’s ethos of care.

The potential for using the Peer group in this way is enormous and almost limitless.  From asking pupils to act as guides to visitors to being a “Buddy”, from Circles of Friends to mediating disputes, from school councils to school policy contributions, young people are willing and able to support each other and their school.  However, one essential element is often overlooked.  These young people need guidance, training and supervision to perform these tasks to a satisfactory standard.  At Children’s Services level, Nottingham City has the experience of the Anti-Bullying Support Team available to schools to help instigate or enhance their Peer Support systems.                                                                                

This handbook is designed to help link adults who may be Teachers, Teaching Assistants, Learning Mentors or other adults in schools, with the practical issues of all aspects of Peer Support schemes.  The options and suggestions draw on several years of experience and are constantly informed by the work of colleagues and Peer Supporters in our schools.

Without adult support and supervision, all Peer Support schemes will inevitably wither away and fail.  As with all aspects of education, the role of the adult is central and crucial.  However, it is also important to acknowledge the following: a statement which is at the core of any good Peer Support scheme:

“Sometimes young people know how to do things better than adults”.

What is the model offered?

·          Selection, supervision and training of young people to act as Peer Supporters in their own school.

·          The focus and purpose of the Peer Support can vary from school to school.


Principles of Peer Support

Peer Supporters should be:

·          Volunteers - It is important to recruit volunteers as Peer Supporters. Experience shows that when the group is “selected” by adults a much greater drop out rate is experienced.

·          “As well as, not instead of” - Peer Support schemes do not replace any measures the school takes. The scheme complements such measures.

·          Supervised by adults - Adult support and supervision is crucial. (Discussed on page 11)

·          Selected by pupils - Pupils should be involved in the selection process, usually by being members of an interview panel.

·          Professionally trained - Access to a proven training programme for Peer Supporters is essential. We provide such training, accredited by the Mentoring and Befriending Foundation (MBF)

Examples of Peer Support Models

·          1-1 “BUDDIES”: - sharing time and giving one to one support regularly.

·          PLAYGROUND BUDDIES: -  Helping children on the playground.

·          ADVANCED MEDIATORS: - Non-violent conflict resolution.

·          PEER MENTORS: - helping to solve problems by giving positive feed back and the benefit of experience.

·          PEER COUNSELLORS: - confidential listening service focused on a particular problem (e.g. bullying).

Objectives of a Peer Support Programme

·        To train young people in the skills of listening, communication, problem solving and conflict management.

·        To provide young people with the opportunities to establish caring and meaningful relationships with their peers.

·        To develop and enhance young peoples’ leadership, self esteem and personal skills.

·        To enable young people to operate effectively as part of a team.

·        To empower young people to take more responsibility for the quality of life in schools.

·        To use the power of the peer group to find solutions to problems.

·        To enable older children to experience themselves as caring, valued and useful individuals.

·        To enable younger children to experience themselves as worthy of special attention and kindness.

Positive outcomes identified by young people trained as Peer Supporters

·        It’s fun

·        Receiving training in communication skills

·        Learning to be an open minded and understanding listener

·        Developing different ways of communicating

·        Learning the importance of confidentiality 

·        Learning to look deeper into problems

·        Learning new techniques to understand other young people

·        Having the ability to deal with personal problems as well as support others

·        Learning from other Peer Supporters

·        Being trained to do presentations

·        Helping others to be more assertive

·        Having increased confidence

·        Attending conferences and workshops

·        Makes you feel more responsible

Positive Outcomes identified by pupils being supported by Peer Supporters

·       Feeling less stressed

·       Gaining confidence, increase in self-esteem

·       Understanding how to express their feelings

·       Feeling more trusting

·       Feeling more comfortable around older people

·       Getting help to adjust to new environments

·       Peer are providing positive role models to students in lower school

·       Getting to know older students in the school and feeling more confident

Peer Support Schemes: Longer term impacts identified by schools

·       Brings about changes in attitude which impacts on the culture and atmosphere within a school.

·       Creates an ethos of responsibility and care, with pupils openly disapproving of bullying.

·       There is less bullying.

·       Increases confidence and self-esteem amongst pupils.

·       Provides a complimentary network of support within school.

·       Pupils develop their communication skills.

·       New relationships and new trust is built.

What Peer Supporters Learn in Training

Link Adults Key Responsibility:

To recap the skills Peer Supporters have learned in training at least once a term.

Training sessions for Peer Supporters take six hours. The training usually takes place during school time and will be led by trainers from the ABS team or their Associate trainers. In Primary schools training takes place in three two hour sessions and in secondary schools two three hour sessions. It is very important that trainees attend the whole of the training or they may not be able to join the scheme in their school. There are common activities and core skills that are covered in the training sessions for all the different Peer Support jobs. These are:

·      The Qualities of a Peer Supporter. Trainees are encouraged to identify the helpful characteristics in the people they would choose to talk to e.g. a good listener, understanding, patient, helpful, and trustworthy, etc. We then bring out the point that these qualities will be expected of them by the pupils they work with.

·      Being Welcoming (Welcoming Wizard in Peer Mediation/Playground Buddy Training). The importance of initial approaches is emphasised and trainees are encouraged to identify and role play welcoming behaviours e.g. smiling, using peoples’ names, body language and tone of voice.

·      Serious Issues / Breaking Confidentiality (Confidential Cat in Peer Mediation/Playground Buddy Training). It is essential all trainees understand when they must pass issues on to an adult even if the person they are working with does not want them to. A list is made of these issues which include serious threats, abuse at home or dangerous objects being brought into school.

·      Their Promise. All Peer Supporters make a promise to the pupils they are working with based on the premise that they will not gossip about what the “clients” say but they will have to tell a teacher if a serious issue is disclosed.

·      Active Listening (Listening Lion in Peer Mediation/Playground Buddy Training). Signs of bad and then good listening are identified by the trainees from role plays by the trainers. Good listening behaviours include making eye contact, giving people time to speak, nodding, etc.

·      Using Open Questions (Open Question Owl in Peer Mediation/Playground Buddy Training). Trainees are made aware of how asking open questions means they will get some information from the person they are talking to. The importance of building up an accurate picture of the situation if you are going to try and help someone is discussed.

·      The Boundaries of each job are made explicit. Trainers reinforce when adult support must be sought.

There are also additional job specific activities and skills covered in the different training sessions. These are:

In Buddy Training

·      Reflecting back what they are told is covered in order to check they have got details correct.

·      Reacting to what your little Buddy says, not just asking them a list of questions.

·      Suggested topics of conversation that might get your little Buddy talking.

In Playground Buddy Training/Peer Mediation

·      Reflecting Rabbit reminds Mediators they need to retell the highlights of the story they have been told in order to check they have got the details right.

·      Mediators are trained to offer help to children, to defuse minor problems on the playground and around school, and to be available to assist with everyday problems. (Helpful Hippo)

In Advanced Mediator Training (Offered to chosen trained Peer Supporters)

·      Mediators cover a simple process of conflict resolution based on hearing both sides of the story in a disagreement, talking about the feelings of the people involved and trying to help them come to an agreement to make the situation better.

In Peer Counselling Training

·      Towards the start of the Peer Counsellor training the group defines bullying behaviour under three headings verbal, physical and indirect. Racism, homophobia, sexism and prejudice against disability are discussed as possible causes for bullying behaviour that could take many different forms.

·      Trainees are reminded of the importance of reflecting back or re-telling the main points of the story they have been told to check that they have understood the details correctly.

·      It is stressed to Peer Counsellors that their service is “client led and non-directive” and that their job is to help people find their own solutions and not to tell people what to do. The group brainstorms a list of possible suggestions Peer Counsellors could make to their clients.

·       Appropriate ways to end a meeting are given to the group.

Training sessions for all jobs are concluded with each trainee being given the chance to practice the job for which they are training in a role play situation. This forms an important part of the trainers’ assessment of each trainee’s suitability to do the job. 

It is essential for Link Adults to understand the skills Peer Supporters have been trained with so the skills can be made reference to when Peer Supporters talk about the work they do in supervision meetings. We recommend at least one supervision meeting a term is used to re-cap the skills the Peer Supporters have been trained to use.

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