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The new life peers

Everyone wants to feel needed and valued. Mentoring helps turn problem pupils around, reports Jan Trebilcock

Peer mentoring is transforming pupils at Baverstock Sports College in Birmingham. It turned around Jason Prince's life. When he had problems at school and was on the brink of suspension, mentoring helped him enormously - becoming a mentor himself helped even more. Today he is teacher training at the school.

"I felt some teachers didn't understand me and it was easy for me to give them some attitude," says Jason (pictured). "But I found a mentor who helped me see where I was going wrong and I realised I had to find a way of relating to those teachers, despite how I felt.

"That changed everything. I saw younger kids going through the same thing and became a role model for them. Then I realised I could make a difference - and that's what made me want to be a teacher."

Marian Cole, senior learning mentor at Baverstock, says mentoring is integral to the school day. She says: "An important focus for us is teaching children how to be emotionally literate and enabling them to talk about feelings.

"We use anger management techniques, offer relaxation sessions and provide a drop-in mentoring room where pupils know they can come to chat, unwind and put the world to rights."

Mentors are recruited in Year 9. They are recommended by two teachers, write an application and undergo an interview. Training then takes place, one hour a week after school, for 20 weeks. They start working alongside Year 7 form tutors helping with register, homework and checking pupils'

diaries. Later they are matched with a child for one-to-one mentoring.

"A lot of children aspire to be mentors," says Marian. "It gives them a position of trust, and they feel needed, valued and part of the family ethos of the school. It improves lateness, attendance and behaviour."

A peer mentor can often get through to a child where an adult can't. Marion says: "We can put a mentor in class with a child who shouts out and constantly interrupts their teacher. The mentor will work with them, pointing out the pitfalls of the behaviour, and suggesting that the only way to change the situation is to change their own behaviour. They work on how to do that together."

Baverstock is one of 180 schools taking part in the National Peer Mentoring Pilot, a two-year project run by the Mentoring and Befriending Foundation to evaluate peer mentoring and its impact on pupils. It was launched last September and more than 7,000 pupils are already involved, working together to tackle issues such as bullying, behaviour, transition, attainment and attendance

The Mentoring and Befriending Foundation offers peer mentoring resource packs for practitioners and one-day co-ordinator training courses, which contain all you need to know to set up a peer mentoring programme. For more information, visit www.peermentoring.org.uk or www.mandbf.org.uk or email Paul Wainhouse at paul.wainhouse@mandbf.org.uk

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