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Buddy club puts kids in good books

Pairing older primary pupils with younger ones is raising achievement, boosting self-esteem and forging friendships, Karen Shead reports

The children at Woodside Primary in Hamilton, South Lanarkshire, love to see their names written in the Golden Book and their work on Star Spot.

They can reel off the four rules of the school and know that the voice you use in the playground is not appropriate in the classroom.

Over the years, staff have introduced various strategies at the primary school to ensure good behaviour among the 421 pupils and create a positive ethos. Headteacher Jan McKeran feels the strategies have positive effects and is very enthusiastic about one in particular, the buddy system initiated a year ago.

"It came from looking at aspects of the Scottish Executive's Better Behaviour - Better Learning document," she explains. "The number of pupils we have in P1 and in P7 is very similar and so we thought pairing pupils up would be a good idea.

"It allows the younger ones to familiarise themselves with someone and gives them someone to go to if they have a problem. Also, it gives the P7s extra responsibilities and provides them with necessary skills to move on.

It fits in extremely well with transition programmes."

To start the buddy system, the school held a training away day for the P7s, who are called big buddies. At the end of September, 57 big buddies visited nearby council premises to learn about the skills required to fulfil their new role.

"There were a variety of activities, workshops and teamwork games, which all gave them an opportunity to think about their skills and look at what they were good at," says Mrs McKeran. "It was about giving them confidence to work together, promoting their self-esteem and also identifying skills they would need to work on to be a good buddy."

The trainers included school staff, support staff, parents and the associated secondary school's depute head, who has responsibility for the first and second years.

After their training day, the big buddies were paired up with a wee buddy by Woodside Primary's depute head, Kelvin Kelman.

"We look at the knowledge we have of the P1s and P7s, the types of personalities and skills they display and we know who would make good partners," says Mrs McKeran. "When the big buddy is paired up with their wee buddy they are delighted.

"It really raises achievement, which is the whole point of it. This fits in with local and national priorities and it makes sense.

"Big buddies take their responsibility very seriously; they love the role.

Last year was our pilot year and it was superb. It had so much impact that at Christmas and Easter buddies were swapping presents.

"It's really not just something that happens in schools; it affects their lives and friendship.

"Our buddy club is high profile in the school. Parents are informed and we've had positive responses from them. Many parents feel that their children are safer and happier when they have an older buddy to identify with. Sometimes the playground can be a scary place."

As well as the buddy system, the school employs a rewards and sanction system as highlighted in the recommendations of Better Behaviour - Better Learning.

Every fortnight two children from each class, who have been identified by their teacher as doing something positive - this could be, for example, that they are happy children or have been kind to others - have their names written in the Golden Book. Their names are read out in assembly, written in the book and they get to take a reward from the golden box, such as a pencil or rubber.

If a good piece of work is brought to the teacher's attention, the child is given a certificate in assembly and the piece of work goes on Star Spot, a highlighted wall area. "It raises the profile and encourages other children to work hard," says Mrs McKeran.

Each child has a booklet called Ready to Learn. The school has employed a "traffic light" system with green spots for good behaviour or as a reward for doing something well. "This gives a good indication of the child's behaviour," explains Mrs McKeran.

If pupils achieve a good level they can enjoy Golden Time at the end of the week, when they can play games or go on the computer, but if someone has lots of orange lights, for example, some time will be deducted from their Golden Time accumulation. This gives them something to make up for by the end of the next week.

Mrs McKeran says that on the whole she is happy with the way things are in the school. "There are children who do need a bit of support and who require strategies to deal with their behaviour. But we try to be pro-active with parents and we do pride ourselves in having good relations with outside agencies.

"The approach we are using is having very positive effects. This programme suits us at the moment but we would like to extend it in the future," she says.

"We can recommend the buddy system, which is something many schools do have in place. But every school has different ways of working things out."

Jan McKeran and Kevin Kelman talk about their experience of Creating a Positive Ethos in Primary Schools at 12pm on November 14

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