Children and young people in St Helens schools have recognised that sometimes it’s better to talk to another pupil if they’re worried and staff have reported a positive impact on the emotional wellbeing of pupils, where peer support programmes exist.
Peer supporters build relationships with pupils and actively seek out those who appear alone or withdrawn. They safely intervene in situations where aggression is building up, using mediation and de-escalation techniques until the situation calms down. They also have access to a staff member who has been trained in the peer support scheme, so they can discuss any concerns in a confidential manner. The staff champion ensures that the programme is sustainable by recruiting and training new peer supporters year-on-year.
In St Helens, over 450 children and young people in 30 schools have been trained as peer supporters and are making a real difference in their schools. Further conversations with pupils have revealed the following benefits:
“There’s now a strong feeling of zero tolerance to bullying behaviour which is well known amongst pupils” Peer Ambassador, Rainford High Technology College
“The playground feels like a better place, less lonely” Y5 Peer Listener, St Aidan’s Primary School
“I feel proud that I’m helping the school and taking part in something that will have a lasting effect on the emotional health of pupils” Peer Ambassador, Rainford High Technology College
Head teachers have also endorsed the importance of creating emotionally healthy schools to support positive outcomes for learners. Nicola Kearney, Executive Head Teacher at Merton Bank Primary School and Eaves Primary School, commented:
"The peer listeners see themselves as being really valuable in our school and they talk about how it is a sign that the school cares for their wellbeing and how it has given them an opportunity to contribute to the school. We see them supporting and nurturing our younger pupils and this in turn gives them a sense of responsibility and empathy towards each other whilst developing their own listening, communication and building trust skills. The scheme has encouraged our younger pupils to unburden themselves to peer listeners and staff have noticed a reduction in problems during lunchtime".
Peer support schemes can be set up to address a range of issues and whilst they do not replace professional services from within the school or external agencies, they provide additional resource for promoting mental wellbeing and identifying problems early.
Dr Liz Gaulton, Director of Public Health, St Helen Council