A newsletter about pupil participation from the annual conference of the
Scottish Schools Ethos Network and the Anti-Bullying Network held in Glasgow, 1 June 2001.
Support - Does it work?
Margaret Johnstone reports on the keynote
Professor Helen Cowie of Roehampton University of Surrey
Professor Helen Cowie
In the UK today, around 30% of children who are the
victims of bullying are suffering in silence. Is Peer Support a solution?
Not completely - no certain cure for bullying exists - but it
can provide a buffer against the worst effects and it could even provide a guideline into
and teachers in 51 secondary schools where peer support had been in place for at least one
year were surveyed.
of bulllied pupils who had used a peer support service said that it was 'quite useful' or
'very useful'. Pupils liked having someone to talk to. Many felt that bringing a problem
out into the open gave them the strength to overcome it. Both teachers and peer supporters
reported that school felt safer as a result of the service:
poured hot chocolate over me. Usually I would have just gone to school and washed it off
and told no-one...But peer supporters, they're trying to help you".
The pupils who had volunteered to act as peer
supporters enjoyed being part of the scheme. The majority said that they had gained in
self-confidence, self-esteem and in interpersonal skill. Their skill and experience had
been appreciated at interviews for employment or university places.
a Peer Supporter has given me a lot more confidence"
"It looks great on your c.v.!"
adults are reluctant to share power with young people and may even sabotage the efforts of
their more active colleagues. Some school environments can be so aggressive that the work
of peer supporters is ineffective. Some pupils were hostile to the idea. They saw
befriending as 'weak', 'wimpy' and 'queer'. There were four girl supporters to every boy -
and four women teachers for every man who participated.
When a peer support system existed but was not used, it tended to have a room
set aside for counselling with formal systems set up for pupils rather
than informal systems set up by pupils.
are signs that peer supporters themselves are beginning to challenge some of the
I became a peer supporter...we all like thought it unmanly but now all my friends think it
is brilliant. There are none of my friends that call me names because they know that you
are there and you can help them, and I have helped a lot of my friends - so it does
Teachers in charge of the systems are devising new ways
of overcoming the gender divide. Some have put a greater emphasis on skills and less
emphasis on emotion and feeling. There has also been a shift away from formal counselling
systems to a more informal, befriending approach. Counselling can be viewed with some
suspicion. Boys in particular are wary of approaches that place too much emphasis on the
Peer support can succeed if:
there is strong
commitment from senior management
resources of time and
money are made available and they are publicised throughout the school
apathy and sabotage
A good source of information
on Professor Cowie's work can be found here.
The following book is an excellent resource for teachers:
H Cowie and P Wallace (2000) Peer Support in Action - From Bystanding to Standing By
SAGE Publications, London