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Children and young people, Community Safety

Speak out to stop bullying

Children and young people who are victims of bullying at school are often told they ‘shouldn’t suffer in silence’ – and their first response should be to tell someone. But what happens if children are too scared or embarrassed to talk to their teachers, or even their parents?

Zara McNicholas is an 11-year-old primary school pupil at Granton School in Lambeth who doubles as a ‘Peer Mediator’ – known to the children as ‘buddies’. Zara is a friendly face who provides a kind ear. She doesn’t take sides, she doesn’t go and tell everyone what has just been said – in other words she has been taught to keep her services private. Zara is that ‘someone else’ who children can turn to instead of their teachers or parents. And she is exceptional at it.

As part of Anti-Bullying Week 2011 Zara has been crowned Best Overall Peer Mediator’ in Lambeth. She was voted the overall winner by her fellow peer mediators from primary schools across the borough.

The ground-breaking service, which was commissioned by Lambeth Council through the organisation ‘Healthy Minds’ and based at the Hurley Clinic in Kennington, is a method of involving young people in managing conflict using non-threatening and co-operative methods that promote inclusiveness, respect, and self-esteem.

Lambeth was the first South London Borough to deliver the pioneering service two years ago. Now most schools across the borough have between 12-20 peer mediators and other local authorities south of the river have registered their interest in introducing the service.

The peer mediator does not decide on the solution for those in conflict but through a series of steps they help children come to an agreement on how to sort out their problem through discussion. Peer mediators are available during lunch and break time to mediate fellow pupils who have had a disagreement.

Discussions take place in a quiet and private area in the playground or in the school building. However, there are limits and a peer mediator has to be able to refer to a teacher when the situation becomes too complex for them to handle. It is a voluntary process and children refer themselves – they are not sent there by teachers.

There is a rota for the mediators – on average they will mediate about once a fortnight. Peer mediators generally run the service with some adult support organising the rotas, publicising the peer mediation service and organising regular meetings to discuss how the service is running.

Zara said: “Mediation has made me feel more confident to help, talk and play with other children that I would not have normally communicated with. When I mediate other children I feel that I have done a good deed and they’re going to be happy.

What I have learnt from mediating is that you don’t just have to have a small group of friends.What you do need to be is a good listener and patient. It works because you are allowed to sort things out without teachers getting involved.

“We talk in private, away from other children and the classroom so we can open up without others listening. Peer mediation is something that has brought us all together. The school is a happy, calm, place since peer mediation was introduced. I really believe that bullies are the way the are for a reason and that they have suffered sadness and bullying themselves in one way or another. It is up to children, teachers, and parents to stop this from happening.”

Cllr Pete Robbins, Lambeth Council Cabinet Member for Children and Young People’s Service, said:

“I am delighted to say that on the whole I meet happy children who are clearly very happy in their school and have lots of friends. However some children in Lambeth sadly suffer from bullying – and we all have a responsibility to tackle that. The Peer Mediation service is a hugely innovative way of reaching out to these children, who may otherwise have felt marginalised or unable to discuss their problems with a teacher, parent, adult, or friend. I can’t speak highly enough of Zara and all the other Peer Mediators in Lambeth for their hard work and urge them to keep it up!”

Zara will collect her Peer Mediator of the Year award at the The Healthy Minds award at a ceremony which will be held at City Hall on Thursday, November 17.

The award will be presented by Dr. Hilary Emery, the Chief Executive of the National Children’s Bureau, in front of peer mediators from across the borough. Other award categories include: ‘School with the most enthusiastic, responsible and committed mediator’, ‘Funniest mediator in School’, ‘Best Coordinator in Lambeth’, ‘Best Peer Mediator Uniform’, ‘Smartest Mediator in Lambeth’, and ‘The school with the most mediators’. The Princess Diana Trust will also present anti-bullying awards at the ceremony.

For further information on Peer Mediation, contact Anita Gee at Healthy Minds on 07983 422818. Alternatively email anitagee@nhs.net

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