On this page you can find information about:
- types of peer support and peer-based initiatives
- core principles that can help in co-developing a peer support programme
Peer support schemes can have a range of positive outcomes for children. We also know that some children and young people find it easier to talk to their peers than to adults.
Adopting a whole-school approach to mental health and wellbeing means ensuring that making sure that all members of the school community can play a part in promoting mental health, and there is growing interest in developing peer-based initiatives – particularly programmes that focus on accessing help and mental health support earlier.
Schools and colleges are ideally placed to facilitate a peer support group. ‘Peer support’ is an umbrella term that encompasses range of interventions and approaches, including peer tutoring, coaching, listening, mentoring, mediation and counselling, befriending and buddying. Approaches to peer support can be quite distinctive and varied, but they offer three common features:
- Children and young people helping and supporting each other
- Support being offered in a planned and structured way
- Supporters that are trained to fulfil their role
Five core principles for co-developing a peer support programme
Establishing a peer support programme can be an effective way to support pupils with mental health concerns and can give students who provide peer support an opportunity to raise some of the issues that they are presented with.
Peer support programmes can look very different depending on your setting. But the following core principles will help schools and colleges to co-design, co-produce and co-deliver a peer support programme that works for them:
- Work where young people are:be creative in how you engage young people – for example through sport clubs.
- Involve the right people: think carefully about mentor and mentee recruitment. Have you involved young people who will appeal to children across your school and college community?
- Focus on relationships:build trust with mentors so that you can support them to develop the skills they need to build trusting relationships with others.
- Encourage young people’s ownership:collaborate, co-design and co-produce the programme to make sure that pupils have a sense of agency and ownership of the programme.
- Be safe and have boundaries:make sure mentors are adequately trained and supervised so that they feel safe and supported.
See our Working Together step for more suggestions on how to involve pupils and the wider school or college community.
The Anna Freud Centre delivered a DfE-funded programme that trained 89 schools, colleges and community organisations in refining or developing a peer mentoring programme aimed at supporting children and young people’s mental health and emotional wellbeing.
The programme developed and piloted a freely available toolkit to support schools and colleges in setting up their own mental health and emotional wellbeing peer support programmes. It is accompanied by online training modules and presentation slides, resources for mentors aged 10–13, resources for mentors aged 14 plus, and an independent evaluation report on the pilot.
Introduction to Peer Support
Different Types of Peer Support