CHUMS to be there when going gets rough

PUBLISHED: 20:28 28 November 2001 | UPDATED: 10:56 03 March 2010

BULLYING is a reality at every school in the land.

But now determined efforts are being made to beat the problem – and Chantry High School in Ipswich is launching a new initiative which could show the way forward to others.

BULLYING is a reality at every school in the land.

But now determined efforts are being made to beat the problem – and Chantry High School in Ipswich is launching a new initiative which could show the way forward to others.

They are giving the venture the friendly name CHUMS – Chantry High Upper School Mediator Scheme.

The aim is to train a group of 41 older students, aged from 14 upwards, to act as peer group counsellors to younger pupils.

"The main reason I wanted to do it is that we all had past experiences of bullying," said Suzanne Brankin, 16.

"We have been there, and now we want to help to get other people through it. Bullying tends to happen when you are starting out at high school, and as you get older and more mature it is not so much of a problem."

Charlene Bradshaw, 15, stressed that it wasn't just Chantry which had incidents of bullying. "Bullying is not just at any particular school. It happens everywhere," she pointed out.

Deputy headteacher Steve Wooldridge also felt that Chantry did not have a particular bullying problem compared to other schools, but said it was an issue they wanted to tackle.

"We have been wanting to set up a peer group counselling service for a while and we have been looking into it for about a year now," he said.

"It seems to be that this is the way forward, because there is a lot of research to say that getting young people to talk to other young people can be extremely successful."

As well as helping victims of bullying, the youngsters are also being trained to offer support with other issues such as stress, bereavement, exams and friendship problems.

He said Ipswich Town Football Club had been very supportive of the initiative and loaned the use of their education suite for a two-day initial training session.

"Chantry High tries hard to be a caring school, and we want to thank Sacha Frost, education projects manager at the football club, for her support and help with the initiative."

The initial training session involved professional counsellors from Relate, members of the health service and teachers from the school. Young people were given expert information and also took part in role-playing games on the theme of bullying.

The youngsters learned that verbal bullying – name-calling and hurtful comments – can be just as damaging as physical attacks.

There will also be follow-up sessions, again with Relate counsellors, which will take place at the school.

Mr Wooldridge attended the Childline Anti Bullying Conference in London, and said he learned that schools using peer support schemes are more likely to succeed in developing a true anti-bullying culture.

Seventeen-year-old Oli Watts from Hadleigh, who has set up a nationally acclaimed anti-bullying website, chaired the conference alongside Cherie Blair and Esther Rantzen.

Oli also went along to the training session for Chantry youngsters, and gave them a talk about how to combat bullying – something he found quite nerve-racking, though it didn't show.

"I haven't often got up and talked in front of a group of people my own age," he admitted.

Oli was only 15 when he set up the pupiline website, because he wanted to create a forum where young people could share their experiences of bullying and offer support to one another.

"I think awareness of bullying is much better than it used to be, but it can be difficult to know what is the difference between bullying and just fooling around," he said.

He felt it helped young people to talk to others who would recognise what was happening from their own experiences, and who could work together with staff to tackle the problem.

Oli said the idea was not for older pupils to tell the younger ones what to do, but for them to be there to listen and provide support where needed. "It is more about giving support than advice."

Chantry students will be using some of the interactive content on the pupiline website as part of their training in the coming weeks and months.

The young people who attended the training session were clearly enthusiastic about the idea.

"We have been practising how we can support younger children and try to reassure them," said Ami Good, 16. "Every school has bullying and it is a problem everywhere."

Gemma Ling, 16, said: "I think this is a good idea because people may not feel confident about talking to adults when they are having problems. We really do hope it will have an effect because a lot of time and effort has been put into this."

And Emma Bixby, also 16, hoped the idea would spread. "I have learned a lot," she said. "I think it's really good and I think hopefully it will be followed up by other schools too."

The vast majority of pupils who have volunteered to launch the counselling scheme are girls, with only a few boys taking part, but it is hoped more will come forward as the initiative grows.

"I wanted to do this because I had been bullied myself when I was a lot younger," said Adam Webster, 16.

"At another school, I was once dragged across the playground and my eye was injured – I could have been blinded."

Matthew Last, 15, said: "I haven't been bullied myself, but everyone has been aware of bullying."

Both thought it was important for more boys to become counsellors. "I think boys could be embarrassed to talk about it if they are being bullied," said Matthew.

"But if they speak to another boy who has gone through the same thing, then it will help."


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