Peer lifeline for pupil stress

An innovative peer support project at Drumchapel High that focused on drugs has shown bullying is the number one concern of first and second-year pupils.

Almost half the cases dealt with by a team of around 10 senior pupils involved complaints about bullying. Only six of 23 pupils who sought help or information asked about drugs.

The project, run between October and March last session, aimed to offer easy contact and informal advice to pupils in the first three years, particularly about drugs. About a third of Scottish teenagers admit to having tried drugs.

Peer support is now viewed as an effective means of winning over young people to a positive lifestyle, according to Alistair Ramsay, health education adviser in Glasgow and an adviser to the Home Office on drugs. It is hoped to apply the positive results from the Drumchapel project at eight other secondaries in the city's regeneration areas.

Greater Glasgow Health Board is joining the education department in offering training and support to schools and groups of volunteer senior pupils.

An analysis of the Drumchapel initiative by consultant Stewart Green reveals the support team dealt with 23 cases in five months, 17 involving girls. Twelve were first-year pupils, nine from second year and two from third year.

One pupil asked about the risks of taking acid, another what the family reaction would be to taking drugs and another wanted help to stop taking speed. Another was worried about being pressured into taking cannabis, a second-year girl was reported as a drugs overdose and a first-year girl wanted to know: "If I keep taking speed will I become thin?" When the team did not know the answers, they said so. But they did offer information and advice. The boy worried about being pressured into cannabis was told the risks and side-effects and given a leaflet. The first-year girl on speed was told she would become thinner and "advised to think before she tries it again".

In all 11 cases involving bullying, pupils were advised to see their teacher or guidance staff, and two were urged to talk to their parents. Two personal problems were reported in other enquiries and another serious case was referred to the headteacher.

Mr Green states in his report: "The project has been used by a significant number of the first and second-year group at which it was targeted and was favourably reported by those pupils who knew about it. The teachers were particularly impressed by the value and achievement of the approach and expressed a wish to see its extension to other problem areas, notably bullying. "

Mr Green says the low number of drugs-related queries is probably because younger pupils' prefer to obtain information from adults. Pupils from fourth year upwards prefer information from peers.

Bill Kirk, assistant head, said: "The kids distinguished themselves and they did not get labelled drugs experts which was my initial concern. It went pretty well, partly because of the nature of the kids and because of the training they got."

Senior pupils were selected for their credibility in the school and given a week's residential course at Blairvadach outdoor centre. They say it was vital in building the team ethos and providing the drive to press ahead.

John Mirlees, now in sixth year, said most pupils approached him at lunchtime. "Some were very scared at first and their friends would tell me they had problems. We had a classroom where they could speak to us," he said. "I think it's easier to approach us because we have experienced things in the school. People would not ask a teacher because they think they do not know what they are talking about."

Jacqui Connolly, also in sixth year, says most pupils who raised bullying problems were "too embarrassed or too shy" to talk to guidance teachers. She says: "It's given me a lot of responsibility and get up and go. To get on in the world, you need to take responsibility and this is the beginning. You cannot always be a carefree teenager," she said.

* A report on the project, Heroes not Zeros, is available from Alistair Ramsay, at Glasgow education department.

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