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The role of peer mentoring in special schools 

Peer mentoring is traditionally a one-to-one non-judgmental relationship in which participants are of a similar age or have shared a similar experience. The term “peer mentoring” can also be an umbrella term to encompass a range of peer support activities including:

  • buddying
  • peer mediation
  • group mentoring
  • cyber-mentoring.

The positive effects of peer mentoring are wide-ranging and numerous, and they provide benefit to both the mentor and mentee. Peer mentoring can be used to improve attainment levels, behaviour, attendance and wellbeing, or to help reduce bullying, as the following examples illustrate.

Case study: Greenacre School, Barnsley

Special school for pupils with severe and complex needs.

Aims of the project
Greenacre’s scheme aims to prevent bullying and provide pupils with someone to turn to if they need advice on any issue.

How is peer mentoring conducted?
Peer mentors are on duty in the school’s three playgrounds on a rota basis and provide support to the younger pupils by talking to them or playing games with them. Each playground has an allocated grey bag which contains activity materials that the mentors can use to engage and interact with other pupils. These might include colouring paper and pencils, chalks, bats and balls and a small parachute.

The school also runs a drop in session where peer mentors are available in classrooms to answer any questions that pupils may have.

Mentors are issued with badges which they wear at all times in school. The badges have a star rating system based on mentoring achievements. Each mentor starts on one star and is able to work his/her way up to five stars. The co-ordinator provides mentors with questionnaires so that they can feedback on their progress.

Peer mentors at Greenacre school.Outcomes of the project
The pupils have become better motivated at school since the scheme started, which, in turn, has led to improved relationships between staff and students. Mentors and mentees’ confidence and self- esteem have increased too, and mentors, in particular, really seem to enjoy their roles. Pupils now spend time and get on with other pupils they had not previously mixed with due to age.

Case study: Brook Green Centre for Learning, Plymouth

Community special school.

Aims of the project
Brook Green established its peer mentoring scheme to help develop pupils’ break time skills and reduce bullying.

How is peer mentoring conducted?
Peer support is carried out on a one-to-one basis as many pupils have verbal and social skills problems. The mentors meet up and undertake specific activities with their mentees, such as playing games, reading or eating lunch together. When the mentors and mentees meet, there is always a teacher and teaching assistant around to supervise and provide extra support, if required.

The co-ordinator meets with the mentors once a term to review and discuss their work and to conduct training sessions with them. There are incentives for the mentors, such as achievement certificates or gaining recognition during assemblies. The mentees progress is monitored through target ladders.

Outcomes of the project
The scheme has helped to raise students’ confidence and self-esteem which has led to an improvement in general behavior around school. Students and staff alike have been supportive of the scheme, with younger pupils now knowing they have a person they can establish a relationship with whom they can trust.

The scheme has been quite hard to manage, with some of the pupils lacking self-management and literacy skills. This has resulted in the co-ordinator having to spend a lot of time to ensure paperwork is up to date. The co-ordinator has, therefore, recommended that peer mentoring be embedded into the curriculum to do it justice and to ensure that paperwork is timetabled in.

Case study: Bettridge School, Cheltenham

Community SEN school for pupils with severe learning difficulties.

Aims of the project
The scheme was established to promote positive and supportive relationships within the school’s secondary aged pupils, and to aid the transition of year six primary pupils to the secondary school.

How is peer mentoring conducted?
Five Year 11 pupils were identified as possible mentors for specific Year 6 primary pupils. Each had to complete a training course over a ten week period, which included areas such as listening and questioning skills and signing.

Potential mentors complete an application form and are formally interviewed. Primary school staff choose the children to be mentees. The interests and skills of the individual mentors and mentees are carefully considered prior to them being matched. The mentoring takes place in groups rather than on a one-to-one basis.

Mentors organise a weekly group activity and are responsible for their mentees during these activities. They review them each week and adapt them accordingly. The mentors also perform a primary playtime duty each week. This consists of joining in games or talking to primary pupils under the guidance of the primary staff. On playground duty they wear a high visibility waistcoat.

Outcomes of the project
The mentors have been excellent role models; they have said they feel more confident and their self- esteem has risen noticeably. The primary pupils look forward to their sessions and are pleased to have a “special friend” in the secondary department.

Case study: Milestone School, Gloucester

Special school

Aims of the project
The scheme was set up to help pupils with self-esteem, behaviour and self-advocacy issues.

How is peer mentoring conducted?
The scheme is necessarily limited to reflect the pupils’ cognitive, emotional and behavioural needs. Group work was seen as the most effective way to carry out mentoring, and mentors work in pairs supporting or playing games with small groups of students in the playground.

The co-ordinator recruits and trains the peer mentors and identifies the areas where their skills can be used most effectively. While mentors have a significant degree of autonomy when they are working, adult support and advice is always on hand. The co-ordinator meets regularly with the mentors to discuss their work and to refresh and review their training. The mentors’ roles are further enhanced through the award of certificates on completion of training or through recognition in assembly for specific achievements.

Outcomes of the project
Pupils’ self-esteem, confidence and behaviour have shown marked improvements as a result of the scheme and pupils are now more able to cope with life at school. Some of the mentors were chosen specifically to help address the perception of them as bullies in school. Most have responded well to the challenge of mentoring, and they are now viewed positively as role models by their peers and staff alike.

Further information

Joe Mulvihill is Communications Officer at the Mentoring and Befriending Foundation (MBF). The MBF provides guidance and support to over 3000 organisations and promotes voluntary regulation of mentoring and befriending projects through the Approved Provider Standard, the national benchmark for safe and effective practice. The MBF also runs training courses and networking events and produces a range of publications and resources:
www.mandbf.org.uk

Article first published in SEN Magazine issue 46: May/June 2010.

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