Young Voices Newsletter
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. ABN
Peer Support - Does it work?
Margaret Johnstone reports on the keynote address by
Professor Helen Cowie of Roehampton University of Surrey

Professor Helen Cowie
Professor Helen Cowie

Types of Peer Support
Peer education
Peer Tutoring
Listening Service

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 friendship.

The Research
Pupils and teachers in 51 secondary schools where peer support had been in place for at least one year were surveyed.
The Benefits
90% 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:
"He 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.

"Being a Peer Supporter has given me a lot more confidence"

"It looks great on your c.v.!"

The Issues
Some 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.

Working Towards Solutions
There are signs that peer supporters themselves are beginning to challenge some of the stereotypes.
"When 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 work".

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 emotions.

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 are challenged


Click to visit the website for Roehampton University of Surrey!

Further Information!
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

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