Under the peer-mentoring and anti-bullying programme, 68 students in Years 12 and 13 have been trained to support pupils in Years 7, 8 and 9 with personal, academic or mental health issues by sharing their own, similar personal experiences.
During the summer holidays, 36 of the older students took part in a day-long training course designed by Sue Watkins, educational needs co-ordinator, Jacky Bryan, head of wellbeing and Matthew Donoghue, school counsellor, to enable them to advise the younger pupils
Mrs Watkins said that the course gave the students a ‘solid grounding’ in how to deal with ‘typical problems’ faced by adolescents such as mental health issues and ‘problematic relationships with parents stemming from overly high [academic] expectations’ – a dominant recurring issue, according to the school.
Although the school has now created an official programme this year, Mrs Watkins said that a few years ago a small number of ‘enthusiastic students’ had started an informal programme focusing on students with low self-esteem.
The official programme, while still focusing on mental health issues such as anxiety and depression, will now also give pupils practical advice on organisational skills.
Headteacher Alun Watkins said a key theme was to let struggling students know that they were not alone and that it would allow younger students to approach mentors and say, ‘Look, I have an issue that I would like you to help me to solve’.
‘We all know boys don’t always share personal problems,’ he added. ‘Bullying happens everywhere – there wouldn’t be an anti-bullying programme if there wasn’t an issue.’
He added they have ‘a lot of boys who are not well organised’ and that others had difficulty managing the academic ambitions of their parents.
Jack Scambler, a Year 13 peer mentor, said he had already helped support a younger student who was having problems with ‘sensitive parental issues’ similar to ones he himself had experienced.
Nathan Le Blancq, a Year 13 peer mentor and early advocate for the programme, said a key part of being a mentor was supporting and advising younger students on issues that they themselves may have struggled with themselves.
‘I used to really struggle with organisation and had to develop strategies to overcome that – forgetting my lab coat, stuff like that,’ Nathan said.
He added: ‘We are not there to be a friend but as added support.’
Meanwhile, students in Years 12 and 13 in need of support have the option of speaking with teachers or, if they choose to, the Victoria College alumni ‘The Old Victorians’. A programme is currently being looked at for students in Years 10 and 11.