'It is too easy for the importance of friendships in schools to be lost because of other pressures' 

25th May 2017 at 15:01
Schools need to take a closer look at student friendships, argues Jon Severs

Last night I watched a friend perform a song on the West End stage that I last saw him perform in our school hall 20 years ago. Our friend Gemma was in the final stages of cancer and we had organised a concert in her honour. Adam sang Stars from Les Misérables and watching him sing it again last night reminded me of an often undervalued part of school: the making of friends. 

In a couple of weeks' time, we will run an interview with Professor Toon Cillessen who has researched teen relationships extensively (9 June issue of Tes). He explains how the friendships we make in school have a major role to play in how we behave and form relationships as adults.

And at this time of the year you can see how valuable friendships can be, be it in the Sats a few weeks ago or in the GCSE and A-level exams happening at the moment. 

The value of friendship

So here's some questions: how much time as a school should you dedicate to friendships? Is it something you track, something for which you can plan an intervention, something you can quantify in terms of impact? 

In the pile of things schools have to watch for, assess, ensure and record, it is easy for friendships to sink down the priority list. And you could argue that facilitating friendships is ineffective and even not a school's job: teens have to work it out for themselves, you can't make people be friends. 

But on a visit to Magna Carta school in Surrey recently, director of mental health and wellbeing Clare Erasmus introduced me to the fantastic work she is doing to build friendships between students: safe spaces and nurture spaces at lunchtime; anti-bullying patrols staffed by a fantastic bunch of Year 11 girls; some really careful observations of students to see who is alone, who needs help, who needs a friend. 

More discussion needed

We need to think about this more in education. 

Don't get me wrong, I know you can't force friendships on to people. But teachers can only do so much to create a supportive environment for students and to make school a happy experience where solid foundations for life are built. As Toon explains in his interview, it is friendships that can be so much more crucial. We need more discussion about the best ways we can help students find support from each other. 

After the performance last night, I posted on Facebook about seeing Adam perform and about how the last time I had seen him sing that song was at Gemma's concert. One by one, the likes from school friends arrived – an acknowledgement of a shared and very difficult experience through which we were very glad to have had each other. 

Jon Severs is commissioning editor at Tes


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