Peer Support Schemes

More formal schemes may be in operation in some schools, each with their own unique title however these broadly fall into the following categories.

Student Councils

This is a formal arena recognized by staff and pupils where young people are elected to represent the views of their peers on a wide range of topics. This creates an environment where young people feel valued and listened to and provides an opportunity to get items of concern on the school agenda. Standing for election for such a position also offers a valuable opportunity for young people to improve their self confidence and self esteem.

Peer Mentors

This type of scheme can be valuable in reducing social isolation for vulnerable young people. Training is often provided for mentors who can act as a positive role model and be-friend students and help them to fit in. This type of scheme can work extremely well when older students act as "buddies" to younger students who may be vulnerable during the transition from primary to secondary school, which may be a very stressful time.

Peer Mediators

This type of scheme focuses on young people resolving conflicts before they escalate further. Training is provided to mediators in order to help young people express their views, see both sides and come to an acceptable compromise, thus facilitating the maintenance of friendships.

Peer Counselors

Training is provided to students who volunteer to become counselors. At specified times a common room or classroom is staffed by counselors on a rota which enables students to drop in and discuss their difficulties in a confidential setting. This is often useful as young people may find it easier to discuss problems with their peers. Those with a chronic illness may be particularly suited to act as a counselor as they may be particularly empathetic and/or demonstrate superior communication skills.

Anti-Bullying Policies

All schools should have a robust anti-bullying policy with clear systems in place that are communicated to staff and students regarding to how bullying is dealt with. Often the main focus is to eliminate the climate of bullying and tackle bystander behavior. This involves not only intervention for the victim or bully but for all young people, who learn that bullying is not acceptable behavior.

The peer support of friends and school-initiated policies may also be a positive way of dealing with bullying. When mechanisms are available to students, they are more likely to discuss and tackle their problems at an early stage before they escalate. Talking to someone of a similar age who understands allows the young person to enlist support and help in dealing with the bully. Without peer support, the victim may eventually tell teachers, however this is usually happens much later in order to avoid being accused of 'tattle-telling' and usually the matter has become more serious and young people feel desperate. In view of the reported associated negative psychosocial and psychosomatic health problems (28), young people who are being bullied should be encouraged to seek help.

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