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How do schools use peer support?

Peer partnering is a scheme in which a pupil (often older) offers friendship to a child who is vulnerable. This could be for example, a child who is new to the school, one who speaks a foreign language or one who has been bullied. A number of schools in New Zealand use peer partnering to help third formers settle into the school. In this case seventh formers are carefully chosen to offer temporary (perhaps for a term) companionship. The schools involved say it's a successful way of helping children to feel comfortable in the school and it helps counter anti-social behaviour such as bullying.
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Article details

K Sullivan (2000) 'The Anti-Bullying Handbook', Oxford and New Zealand: Oxford University Press. For order details go here.
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Author details

Dr Keith Sullivan is based at the School of Education at Victoria University of Wellington in New Zealand. Over a number of years he has been involved in anti-bullying research in New Zealand, Australia and the UK.

Peer mentoring is a scheme where a more socially skilled pupil offers friendship and support to a child who is being bullied or who is bullying others or is caught in the middle as bystander. More than this the mentor will discuss general life and school issues and also the specific issue of bullying, helping the pupil to find a solution. This scheme, which is carefully monitored (perhaps by a guidance teacher) should be valuable to both parties. The pupil in difficulty should obtain support and feel more positive, while the mentor (who receives training), will be developing his/her social and problem solving skills.
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Article details

K Sullivan (2000) 'The Anti-Bullying Handbook', Oxford and New Zealand: Oxford University Press. For order details go here.
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Author details

Dr Keith Sullivan is based at the School of Education at Victoria University of Wellington in New Zealand. Over a number of years he has been involved in anti-bullying research in New Zealand, Australia and the UK.

An Italian study looked at the effect a befriending scheme had on bullying in 2 schools. In the scheme bullies and bystanders were encouraged to take responsibility for their actions. It was found that the befriending scheme did make a difference. The classes taking part in the scheme reported that there had been no increase in bullying, while classes not taking part reported an increase. The indifference of bystanders is increasingly seen as something which encourages bullying. This scheme was found to make bystanders more responsible and less indifferent. It was also found that children's feelings of sympathy for the victim (which often decrease at this age) stayed the same or increased.
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Article details

E Menesini, E Codecasa, B Benelli and H Cowie (2001)'Enhancing Children's Responsibility to take Action Against Bullying: evaluation of a befriending intervention in Italian middle schools', article in 'Peer Support Networker', Issue 16, Spring. Available from the Peer Support Network.

In 1998, children and teachers from 51 schools in Britain (mainly England but also Scotland and Wales) were asked about using peer support to tackle bullying. The support schemes included: mediation (helping discussion on school problems such as bullying and racism), mentoring (where a pupil, often older, was a positive role model for a more vulnerable pupil), befriending and counselling. When asked about the benefits of peer support, the most frequent answer of children and teachers was that it gave users of the scheme strength to handle their bullying problems. When asked about benefits for peer supporters, the most common answers were acquiring skills and showing that someone cares. Teachers and pupils felt that the most common benefit for the school was showing that it cares. The problems mentioned most often concerned acceptance of the scheme by pupils and teachers and also the negative attitudes of some teachers. However, the responses showed that there was a commitment to solving problems and improving the system.
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Article details

P Naylor and H Cowie (1999) 'The Effectiveness of Peer Support Systems in Challenging School Bullying: the perspectives and experiences of teachers and pupils' in 'Journal of Adolescence', Volume 22, pages 467-479.
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Graph details

'Most Frequently Mentioned Benefits of the System to Users, by Group', figure 3, page 472 in the article above.
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Helen CowieAuthor details

Helen Cowie is research professor in the European Institute of Health and Medical Sciences at the University of Surrey. She is also director of the UK Observatory for the Promotion of Non-Violence and Co-ordinator of Violence in Schools Training Action (VISTA). She has published many books and papers on peer relationships and support, bullying in schools and in the workplace and the mental health of children and young people.

For information about her research interests and her publications please go here. She may be contacted by email.
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