Student police patrol the playground to protect their peers from bullies. William Stewart reports
A junior school has enrolled 20 of its best-behaved pupils in a Guardian Angel-style playground patrol force as part of an anti-bullying drive.
The nine, 10 and 11-year-olds wear US police-style silver badges and bright orange belts or capes and are armed with notebooks, as they roam the grounds of Alumwell junior school, Walsall, looking out for the safety of fellow pupils.
Members of the school-safety patrol are trained in mediation techniques, in road safety awareness and in stranger danger. They also help children to remember the school's rules.
They have been selected by staff for their leadership qualities, punctuality and attendance records.
In US schools similar schemes are run by the American Automobile Association, which provided the Alumwell patrol's uniforms, with the emphasis on road safety. Meg Gallahan, a learning mentor, brought the idea to Alumwell when she arrived at the school from Florida earlier this year and adapted it to take more account of bullying and pupil behaviour.
She said staff had been concerned that a gang of bullies was making other pupils' lives miserable. The school had wanted to help all "the good kids who do the right thing" to protect themselves and younger children. "I can't describe how much this has changed the atmosphere in the playground," she said. "I think it has made it a safer place."
A patrol captain and another five "best of the best" pupils have been designated as "officers" who supervise the work of 14 "patrolmen".
Many of the characteristics of the US scheme have been retained, with patrol members expected to swear oaths of obedience. Lateness or breaking strict rules, such as always telling staff the truth, can lead to "demerits" and eventual loss of the badge.
Jessica Boot, the school safety patrol's 10-year-old captain, said: "All the other pupils want to be in the safety patrol. They think it is a good thing. People are being a lot nicer to each other and they are being more polite to us. Some of them even call us 'Miss'. I think it is just about respect."
Headteacher Mike Bentley said there had been one or two cases where other pupils had been rude to the patrol members, but the scheme had not proved divisive.
"These kids are not there to tell other pupils what to do," he said. "They are there to help them."