At Reading Blue Coat School (RBCS), we are engaged in developing our peer mentoring programme to meet our pastoral care responsibilities. To put this into a national context, news items have recently drawn attention to young people’s well-being (NHS, 2017; Sellgren, 2018), and the government has prioritised encouraging peer-to-peer support as a method to develop resilience in young people (Department of Health and Department for Education, 2017).
Developing our peer mentoring programme
Aligning our existing peer mentoring programme more closely with our pastoral targets was the main aim of this project. Our targets include:
- Developing an understanding and awareness of wellbeing
- Ensuring a smooth transition into the school and between sections for students
- Promoting emotional intelligence, resilience and self-awareness.
Following a literature review, a number of valuable conclusions were drawn regarding peer mentoring programmes:
- Peer mentoring is commonplace in a range of settings. These programmes associate themselves with beneficial outcomes, but the literature is not yet fully developed (Roach, 2014; Powell, 2016).
- Despite the need for more data concerning outcomes from peer mentoring, it is still possible to suggest that peer mentoring can result in improved attitudes towards school, helping with issues in transition and developing students’ confidence and resilience. Both mentors and mentees can benefit (Nelson, 2003; Karcher, 2007; Roach, 2014; Powell, 2016; Blakemore, 2018).
- Possible recommendations about how peer mentoring can be structured in such a way as to improve pastoral outcomes include the formalisation of the programme, the training of mentors, regular meetings with mentors and initial contact with mentees too (Karcher, 2007; Roach, 2014).
Overall, there seems to be promising evidence that peer mentoring can help to meet my school’s pastoral care development priorities, particularly in relation to helping to ease the difficulties inherent in transition, developing resilience and promoting well-being.
At the end of the academic year 2016–17, a baseline survey was undertaken in order to understand the views of all of the pre-existing peer mentoring programme’s participants: lower school tutors and tutees (Years 7 and 8) and the peer mentors themselves (selected Year 13 students). This shed light on a number of issues regarding the existing peer mentoring programme, wherein peer mentors visited lower school tutor groups on a weekly basis, leading to multiple interventions across action research cycles. Three cycles were implemented across the autumn and spring terms, with all participants involved surveyed. Surveys took the form of questionnaires, inviting both qualitative and quantitative feedback, undertaken at the end of each cycle. This returned a large amount of data, which I attempted to interpret with colleagues, allowing for reflection on the interventions in order to arrive at a new structure for the peer mentoring programme.
The baseline survey and literature review highlighted a number of immediate concerns regarding the structure of the peer mentoring programme: the training of mentors; establishing weekly meetings with mentors; and the formalisation of the programme. Interventions were therefore developed to address these issues.
Mentors received formal training, which they reported was beneficial. This supports the findings from other researchers regarding the benefits of training for peer mentors (Roach, 2014), and also aids in the formalisation of the programme.
There was enthusiasm in the lower school about the introductory assembly and start of the weekly visits with set topics for discussion, though this proved to be unsustainable — peer mentors kept forgetting to attend every available session and they were interrupted by other timetabled events, such as year group assemblies.
New interventions included start-of-year lunches for new Year 12 students with the peer mentors to help them transition into the sixth form, and a middle school (Years 9–11) ‘Q&A’ assembly with the peer mentors in cycle three, before which middle school students had submitted questions to the peer mentors covering such issues as transitioning and exam anxiety. The feedback from students on these interventions was extremely encouraging.
The literature suggested that transition could be a key issue tackled by peer mentoring (Nelson, 2003). I found that the lunches and the middle school assembly were the most well-received events to help with transition. Further, I believe that reasonable evidence was returned to suggest that the lower school weekly visits did help Year 7 with transition before attendance by peer mentors became an issue.
In terms of promoting emotional intelligence, resilience and self-awareness, it seems that the weekly visits to lower school tutor groups initially helped those mentees but that the impact faded over time, largely due to the issues with attendance. The middle school ‘Q&A’ assembly’s positive reception suggests that an assembly explicitly focused on this priority might be a productive way forward. Further, the peer mentors claimed that they benefited from their training and their position of responsibility, therefore the peer mentoring programme has potentially been successful in building emotional intelligence and self-awareness in the peer mentors.
A number of implications for the next academic year’s (2018–19) peer mentoring programme have been reached through discussion with my collaborators.
Due to encouraging feedback, the key areas of continuation are:
- the peer mentors’ formal training
- the formal introduction to peer mentoring for students (lower school assembly)
- the welcome events (lunches)
- an emphasis on pastoral concerns, with room for academic concerns too
- the meetings between the programme leader and peer mentors
- the proliferation of peer mentoring throughout the sections in my school setting
- ongoing data collection to gather feedback from participants.
These echo recommendations in the literature (Knowles and Parsons, 2009; Powell, 2016).
However, changes are also being made, with the key one being the end of ongoing weekly visits to the lower school. Figure 1 shows the plan for next year that is currently in place, divided by each section.
This new structure reflects the findings of this study and is specific to the needs of my school. It was concluded that a ‘quality’ approach focusing on specific activities (e.g. a ‘Q&A’ assembly) rather than a ‘quantity’ approach (e.g. regularly visiting tutor groups) works best, with a set focus for each session and the chance for participation.
Developing the rationale for the peer mentoring programme in my school setting, based on my school’s pastoral care responsibilities and the literature review, was undoubtedly a key first step. It was helpful to focus on engaging with the process of developing a programme, whilst acknowledging that I was unlikely to solve all concerns regarding it (Elliot, 1991). Engaging in participatory action research allowed collaboration with all those who experience the peer mentoring programme, and discussing and reflecting upon my findings with colleagues allowed us to make potentially beneficial changes to the programme for next year. Ultimately, in order for a whole-school approach to well-being to operate successfully, the pupils themselves should be able to contribute, and peer mentoring enables that aim.
Blakemore S-J (2018) Avoiding social risk in adolescence. Current Directions in Psychological Science 27(2): 116–122.
Department of Health and Department for Education (2017) Transforming Children and Young People’s Mental Health Provision: A Green Paper. APS Group.
Elliott J (1991) Action Research for Educational Change. Milton Keynes: Open University Press.
Karcher MJ (2007) Cross-age peer mentoring. Youth Mentoring: Research in Action 1: 3–17.
Knowles C and Parsons C (2009) Evaluating a formalised peer mentoring programme: A student voice and impact audit. Pastoral Care in Education 27(3): 205–218.
Nelson A (2003) Peer mentoring: A citizenship entitlement at Tanfield School. Pastoral Care in Education 21(4): 34–41.
NHS (2017) Many teenagers reporting symptoms of depression. Available at: nhs.uk/news/mental-health/many-teenagers-reporting-symptoms-depression/ (accessed 6 April 2018).
Powell JE (2016) What works? A grounded theory of effective peer mentoring in secondary schools. PhD Thesis, University of Essex & Tavistock and Portman NHS Trust, UK.
Roach G (2014) A helping hand? A study into an England-wide peer mentoring program to address bullying behaviour. Mentoring & Tutoring: Partnership in Learning 22(3): 210–223.
Sellgren K (2018) Schools struggle to get mental health help, says survey. BBC News, 9 February, 18. Available at: bbc.co.uk/news/education-42962273 (accessed 20 February 2018).