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Young Citizens;Interview;Jenny Webb

Jenny Webb, head of key stage 4 at the 633-pupil Sir Graham Balfour School, Stafford, talks to Alan Combes about the place of peer mediation in the school's citizenship programme

WHAT DOES PEER MEDIATION INVOLVE?

Interested pupils from Years 9, 10 and 11 are trained as counsellors in weekend and evening lessons. They pick up problems out on the corridors, through referrals by staff, or at two surgeries a week. It could be "somebody's calling me names" or "so-and-so keeps picking on me". The pupil is told that, where possible, the matter will be dealt with in confidence, but it might prove necessary to pass it on to a member of staff - for example, if abuse is involved.

The counsellor might put the conflicting parties in a room to sort it out between themselves. The counsellor will not tell the client what to do, but will ask them what they would like to see happen and suggest strategies to make a resolution possible.

HOW DO YOU SELECT THE STUDENTS?

We ask pupils to give us a list of names from Year 9 of those students who inspire respect and who they think capable of the work. As well as working in school they give demonstrations to captains of industry, rotary circles and other schools.

WHAT DO THEY DO?

At the moment they are going into our feeder primary schools to do presentations with Year 6. They also work with our own Year 7 in personal, social and moral education. They go to open evenings in other Stafford schools. They run stalls and have done a number of radio interviews. Two years ago, the group's efforts were recognised by the High Sheriff's award for their work in the community.

WHAT ARE THE BENEFITS?

Many young people are finding it easier to talk to their parents and peer group. The emphasis has moved from blasting the perceived cause of a problem to the student asserting his or her own feelings - "I am not making myself happy in this situation" is the outlook. Self-esteem is built up on both sides.

One unexpected bonus has been the recognition of issues such as anorexia or students who are burdened as carers at home.

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