`They feel that someone has really listened to them'

10th April 2015 at 01:00
Resolving disputes boosts pupils' confidence in East Kilbride

At St Leonard's Primary School in East Kilbride, teachers felt they were spending too much time dealing with minor playground disputes between their pupils.

Along with two neighbouring schools, teachers decided the answer was to offer training in conflict resolution to their P6s. Before the scheme was introduced, 40 per cent of pupils said they required adult assistance to resolve their differences; six months later, this had dropped to 12.6 per cent.

Now, a Scotland-wide network is being set up in a bid to keep initiatives like this alive after the trainers leave. The Scottish Mediation Network has received pound;50,000 from Young Start at the Big Lottery Fund so it can continue to support schools like St Leonard's.

The new peer mediation network will offer CPD to teachers and encourage students to share their experiences so both can develop their skills. It will also help to build sustainable peer mediation programmes and offer access to resources.

Roxan Nazifishirayi, the scheme's coordinator, said: "Peer mediation often falls by the wayside because it's not supported enough by the adults and teachers in the schools. That's not because of a lack of enthusiasm or belief that it works, but rather because of time and financial constraints."

At St Leonard's and the other two schools - St Hilary's and St Vincent's - 20 P6 pupils received two days' training in peer mediation from specialists at the Scottish Mediation Network. The programme was then adopted for six months.

Rachel Friel, a P1 teacher at St Leonard's, was behind the introduction of the initiative and carried out research into its impact. She said: "Personal experience as a teacher and professional dialogue with colleagues highlighted that much time was spent sorting out minor disputes in the classroom after the children had been out playing. The general feeling was that many children were not equipped with the skills needed to resolve conflict on their own.

"A peer mediation programme was introduced as a means of teaching children the necessary skills of conflict resolution. These skills are not just important in school, but also in life after school."

Negotiating self-esteem

Peer mediation programmes have been shown to help children control their anger, develop appropriate assertiveness and learn problem-solving, communication and other interpersonal skills. They can also be helpful in increasing empathy, trust, tolerance, respect and fairness.

Learning mediation demonstrably boosts self-esteem among students, and can even improve academic achievement. The training also helps pupils to resolve conflicts outside school.

The East Kilbride schools found that their pupils were less likely to seek out adults for help after the intervention than before. They were also more confident, and their communication skills improved alongside their ability to solve problems.

Ms Friel said: "After a playtime you felt like you were losing 10 or 15 minutes sorting out silly things but now we've got that teaching time back. It's also fairer on the children. A teacher can brush aside these things, but if the children feel someone has left them out or taken away their friends that's very important to them. This scheme makes them happier because they feel that someone has really listened to them."

As the scheme continued in the East Kilbride primaries, the peer mediators in all three schools reported that fewer children were coming to them with their problems. Ms Friel said: "Because of their experience working with the mentors, the children now know what to do if it happens again."

How it works

The mediator welcomes the person to the session and lays down the ground rules, such as no shouting or interrupting.

Mediators also make a commitment not to tell anyone else in the playground about what has been discussed, to take sides or to tell the participants what to do.

They ask each child what has happened and repeat it back.

The mediators always end the session with the question: "What do you want to do about it?"

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