Education Today September Feature

Anne was asked by Education Today to comment on how formal peer mentoring can present a fantastic solution for schools requiring alternative provision. Read the full comment here.


Peer-to-peer learning - the emerging answer to effective alternative provision.

With the ever-changing goals for head teachers, as well as their staff and pupils, schools are (rightly) judged for the improvements in students’ attainment, and one field where this is particularly pertinent is alternative provision.

The introduction of alternative provision for students who have been ~ or are at risk of being - excluded has, however, always been a contentious issue for schools, despite being something that virtually all of them face. With traditional techniques having the potential to backfire, one solution is the concept of formal peer-to-peer learning.

Difficulties in implementing alternative provision often arise from the complexities of the underlying issues affecting the children in question, who are typically excluded due to having behavioural issues or long-term medical conditions, or being school refusers or low-level disrupters. As such, an alternative provision model must be carefully considered.

One option is to place the child in isolation, with a teacher or teaching assistant providing one-to-one provision. However, as well as stretching existing staff resources, such an intense situation has the potential to be overwhelming to a child who may already exhibited resistanxe to authority figures.

Another option is to give the student work to do on their own without support, but this has the potential to destroy motivation altogether and lead the student to fall out of the education system altogether.

This is where peer-to-peer learning comes in.

Interacting with people other than teachers on a one-to-one or small group basis, away from a conventional classroom environment, often feels more like a joint effort towards attaining educational goals. If the person delivering the provision is in just a slightly higher age bracket and remains approachable and 'down with the kids’, even better. One feasible option, then, is to utilise tutors of school-leaving age, who are likely to inspire and connect with those they tutor.

Understandably, there may be concerns surrounding such a unique and non-traditional concept. Perceived lack of experience in the tutors can leave decision-makers with reservations, as can the belief that they won’t be able to manage challenging children’s behaviour. However, as long as the pupil has no history of violence - where this sort of tutorage would not be appropriate - then there’s no denying that the supportive and more relaxed dynamic is likely to motivate otherwise disengaged students.

This increased receptiveness and willingness to learn has a clear impact on students' results, and tutors quickly develop a connection which extends beyond the subjects they're teaching to become more of a mentoring role. As a result, pupils start to recognise the benefits to be enjoyed from engaging in work and passing exams, which ultimately shapes their future.

Now is the perfect time for schools to consider options available to help every pupil - each with varying needs ~ to maximise their achievement, and formal peer-to-peer learning is a promising key to unlocking hidden potential.