Risks and Benefits

It is in nobody's interests that inadequately trained students are "let loose" on the lower years to take on complex problems as if they were trained and experienced counsellors. So let's look at the risks and fears that might be around squarely, whilst acknowledging that nothing worth doing is entirely risk-free and that new ventures, in their nature, have "bugs" and pitfalls as part and parcel of the development process.


  • The helpers will get out of their depth, giving wrong or potentially damaging advice.
  • Helpers will get overinvolved at a personal level. Their status as helpers could even be a disguised attempt to resolve some of their own problems.
  • Gossip about sensitive personal issues will get around the school.
  • Students will talk about problems at home and irate parents will complain to the Head.
  • Students will misunderstand the nature of confidentiality, or will feel under pressure to keep serious, even life-threatening, issues to themselves.
  • Experienced teachers, especially those with some pastoral responsibilities, will feel their role has been marginalised.
  • Some students will make up problems as a means of getting out of class, or of getting attention.
  • Taking part in training as well as offering time for planning and to run (e.g.) "drop-in" sessions will mean that the volunteer's work and exam results will suffer, creating tensions for subject teachers.

I feel that stating potential risks gets us thinking immediately about what we need to do or to have in place to minimize or counteract them. Have you any comments on this list? Would you add anything to it from your own experience. Please e-mail me if so.


  • Students will learn a good deal about themselves, their own values, ideals and relationships. They will develop their ability to distinguish their own material from that of the other person through a process of active, empathic listening.
  • Students will achieve personal growth through the activity of learning about others, and how to listen and be helpful.
  • The learning will link with many curricular themes, not just PSHE and Citizenship, but English, Psychology, Media Studies, Sociology and Art and Design, (to name but a few!).
  • The initiative will fit in well with government objectives, for example, "promoting good behaviour". As such, successful, well-managed Peer Support Projects tend to attract favourable comments from Inspectors. It will also prove a solid commitment to Department of Health (see pages 38 and 39) objectives in promoting positive mental health in young people.
  • Volunteers will experience a different context for learning, and gain in confidence through active participation, role-plays and feedback.
  • Students will acquire useful knowledge from psychology and related fields which is often transferable and is more likely to enhance their work and exam performance than to damage it.
  • Students will be able to utilize skills they have learned in their own lives and relationships.
  • The training will stimulate thinking about alternative future study and careers. In fact, the responsibility, plus improved organisation, leadership and presentation skills is likely to look good on the c.v., and that's fine!
  • Students will feel a strong sense of partnership with staff in a worthwhile and, hopefully, lasting endeavour.
  • Participants will become more aware of local and national services for young people, via discussion and possibly sessions run by invited professional "visitors".

    Again any comments, using the link above, are welcome.

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