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 that focus on mental health and wellbeing can have a range of positive outcomes for children and young people. We also know that some children and young people find it easier to talk to their peers than to adults.
By adopting a whole school or college approach to mental health and wellbeing such as the 5 Steps Framework, all members of the school community can play a part in promoting mental health.
‘Peer support’ is an umbrella term that encompasses a range of interventions and approaches, including peer tutoring, coaching, listening, mentoring, mediation and counselling, befriending and buddying.
Schools and colleges are ideally placed to facilitate a peer support group. Approaches to peer support can be quite distinctive and varied, depending on your individual setting and needs, but they offer three common features:
- children and young people helping and supporting each other
- support being offered in a planned and structured way
- training for those supporting others 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. It 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 will work for them:
- work where young people are: be creative in how you engage young people – for example through after school clubs
- involve the right people: think carefully about mentor and mentee recruitment
- 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.
For more information on these core principles, take a look at the Facilitators Toolkit. The Working Together step of the 5 Steps Framework also offers further suggestions on how to involve pupils and the wider school or college community.
It is worth noting that peer support programmes require a considerable amount of staff time to initially set up, train the pupils involved, and to provide support to mentors with safeguarding concerns.
It is beneficial to have an identified lead with capacity for running the peer support programme, as this will contribute to the success of the programme overall.
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
Create an account and login to access and update your personalised 5 Steps action plan
More information about 5 Steps and easy to follow instructions
Find out more about our trainings for Schools and FE Colleges
Schools that successfully implemented the 5 Steps Framework
Access videos and materials from our 5 Steps seminars