As they reach the end of their time in the role of Peer Support Leads, our Abingdon sixth form students share their thoughts on the benefits of being part of this important element of school life.

By Aarav, Josh and Tye

The 2023-2024 OX14 Learning partnership Peer Support Lead (PSL) cohort was appointed in May 2023 and consisted of 14 members with a poster and video displaying our faces to make us known around the school. The advertised role was to act as the student voice for the school on all things pastoral, giving our fellow students the opportunity to come to us for advice and support when necessary. This is the 5th year of the programme that has now become well and truly embedded within both the pastoral and partnership elements of Abingdon.

Our skills were transformed and thoroughly developed through a variety of different training sessions, in which we met Peer Support Leads from our OX14 partner schools and an atmosphere of collaboration and engagement was instantly created. Initially, we were taught the skill of ‘creative loitering’ which helped us to break the early awkward barrier with those students who were less confident in sharing their problems. These skills have helped support us throughout the 1 to 1 programme, where students came to us for issues either minor or major. It has certainly been a terrific success, with many of those in the younger years of the school being regularly mentored by different PSLs. In addition, training sessions have been taken alongside local charities including One-Eighty and The Abingdon Bridge who have further helped us to understand the crucial mentoring and support role we can play through charitable intervention within the wider community.

Aside from individual mentoring, the PSLs have been responsible for tackling many of the pertinent issues facing young people today, ranging from anti-bullying and International Men’s Day to racism. Through feedback, it is clear that the impact of our work is starting to be profoundly felt throughout the school.

Additionally, we have often carried out presentations and projects sharing our own experiences within school. This has proved useful for 3rd Year students in settling in and managing workload, as well as 5th Years thinking about revision tips in preparation for their GCSEs.

The PSLs have also played a pivotal part in smoothing the transition process for Abingdon Prep pupils as they join the Senior part of the school. It has often been the case that members of the cohort that previously attended the Prep School paid visits to transfer the listening and conversational skills we’ve learnt, over to them, with the hope of eventually APS establishing their own version of the PSL programme. On those visits, the students learnt about empathetic listening and some safeguarding issues such as confidentiality and escalation measures. The success of this partnership has been reflected by Tye, who recounted that “The PSL partnership programme’s involvement with the Prep School has undoubtedly been successful, significantly due to how responsive the pupils seem to have been to those in Upper Sixth”.

I can wholeheartedly speak for the entire cohort in saying that we have benefited hugely from this unique opportunity and have picked up leadership and mentoring skills that we will carry on using at university and in later life. We are looking forward to our final training session with Peter Whitten of OdiliaClark who is coming in toward the end of April to talk to us about the growing importance of mentoring in commercial settings.

Students have described their time in the role of a PSL as ‘very enlightening and rewarding’ and I would recommend applying for the role to any Lower Sixth, as it gives you a real sense of accomplishment. We recently surveyed our fellow Peer Support Leads and it is heartening to see that:

  • 95 % feel they now have a good or excellent understanding of mental health conditions and how to support them (up from 82% at the start of the programme).
  • 95% feel confident to work in a team
  • 100% would rate themselves as an effective listener
  • 95% feel they are good at communicating with their peers

Our thanks must go to Mrs Preiss-Chapman and Mr Southwell-Sander for their unwavering support and understanding over the year, and, especially, for the doughnuts every other Thursday breaktime!

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