Centre for the Study of Conflict
School of History, Philosophy and Politics,
Faculty of Humanities, University of Ulster
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Peer Mediation in Primary Schools
by Jerry Tyrrell and Seamus Farrell
Out of Print
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Peer Mediation in Primary Schools
by Jerry Tyrrell and Seamus Farrell
Centre for the Study of Conflict
The Centre for the Study of Conflict is a research centre based in the University of Ulster at Coleraine. Its main work is the promotion and encouragement of research on the community conflict and to this end it concentrates on practical issues to do with institutional and community structures and change. It publishes papers and books arising out of this work including: a series of research papers particularly designed to make available research data and reports; a series of Majority-Minority reports and a series of occasional papers by distinguished academics in the field of conflict
This paper is a new publication by Jerry Tyrrell and Seamus Farrell which reports on one of the activities of the Quaker Peace Education Project (QPEP). The project was an innovative and introductory approach to the notion of Peer Mediation in Primary Schools, one aspect of the success of which was indicated by the number of invitations received by the authors to demonstrate and describe their work, including a presentation in the House of Lords. The work begun in this way will be carried further in the project which has succeeded QPEP, the EMU Promoting School.
This paper is one of a set of new publications which the Centre will produce over the next few months, on topics such as Parades, the Role of the Police, Education for Mutual Understanding and Sport and Community Relations in Northem Ireland.
The Ulster Quaker Peace Education Project is an action research project of the Centre for the Study of Conflict at the University of Ulster. It was established in 1988, and its main aim was to foster peace education and education for mutual understanding in the Primary and Secondary School sectors.
In the Summer term of 1988, a team of staff and volunteers trained themselves in exercises that developed skills in communication, affirmation, co-operation and conflict resolution. These exercises were based on the work of the Kingston Friends Workshop Group as described in their Manual "Ways and Means, an Approach to Problem Solving". A sympathetic teacher, aware of the existence of QPEP invited the team in to his maintained (Roman Catholic) school to do a workshop, with a P6 class. This class had a history of behavioural difficulties.
As a result of the success of this workshop, a series of workshops was devised for this school; and for a controlled (State) school, running weekly in parallel. This culminated in a residential workshop for the two schools together at a reconciliation centre in Ballycastle, (Corrymeela). This workshop model, consisting of affirmation, co-operation and communication exercises, became the basis of most of the project's subsequent work with teachers and pupils.
From the outset, QPEP was aware of the existence of peer mediation programmes being used in USA. In 1989 QPEP was involved in drafting a proposal by the Northern Ireland Conflict and Mediation Association, to the Department of Education for the funding of a pilot peer mediation project. It was unsuccessful at that time but, simultaneously, Education for Mutual Understanding was emerging as a cross-curricular theme. This was an educational response to the reality of the division between the communities in N. Ireland. Its objectives include fostering in pupils, confidence in their own worth, respect for others and the ability to build and manage relationships, particularly in diversity. Pupils should also develop an understanding of conflict and an ability to resolve it by non-violent means.
These objectives underlined the relevance of QPEP's conflict resolution skills workshops to the curriculum. These skills of affirmation, co-operation and communication being used by QPEP in its workshops were precisely those skills necessary for peer mediators to be effective. Writing in QPEP's occasional newsletter, "Dummy Bump", in 1990, John Lampen explored the feasibility of a peer mediation scheme in schools.
Two years later he acknowledged that QPEP was "advertising a commitment to promoting mediation in schools", but was inadequately prepared if such an offer was taken up. However there was no such demand, and it was becoming clear that QPEP would need to be pro-active. In November1992, QPEP was beginning to include peer mediation in its draft proposals for a future project when QPEP itself finished. At a residential weekend in February 1993 the staff and volunteers agreed to set up a pilot mediation project in 1993/94.
In the 1970's various agencies in the USA had been set up to run conflict resolution skills programmes in schools, although usually these were not specifically geared to mediation. Broder notes that community mediation services were being established in the USA at the same time, and some of these initiated conflict manager programmes in the education field. One such programme was the Schools Initiative Programme, of the Community Board Center for Policy and Training in San Francisco.
By the summer of 1984 with substantial work being done in the field of mediation in schools in the USA, 50 educators and community mediators came together and formed the National Association for Mediation in Education (NAME).
Mediation was beginning to feature in the peace and reconciliation field in N. Ireland by 1985. The Fellowship of Reconciliation in Ireland, organised a day conference on mediation in Belfast in November 1985, to follow up a visit by Ron Kraybill of the Mennonite Community. The concept of mediation was largely unknown, - for example one night class at Queen's University had people arriving thinking they were coming to meditation.
In 1986 the Northern Ireland Conflict and Mediation Association (NICMA) was formed, later to become the Conflict Mediation Network, and finally Mediation Network Northern Ireland.
Individuals from NICMA were trained in Peer Mediation at the Community Boards in San Francisco. In 1987 they endeavoured to bring conflict management to schools in Ireland. In September 1987 initiatives were taken to establish a whole school conflict management programme in Loreto Secondary School, Dublin. Later that year Joan Broder and Sr Christina O'Neill from NICMA led an introductory workshop on conflict with teachers at St Brigids High School in Derry. "Peer mediation would have been mentioned, but the concept was so alien, that we ourselves weren't convinced that it would work in that form in our schools." The Loreto college experience was written up as an action research project. It focused on the concept of conflict management that holds "that people have the capacity to resolve their own conflicts provided that a safe environment can be created and that they work together through a conciliation process". It was becoming clear that mediation had relevance as such a conciliation process.
In 1987/88 NICMA brought US exponents of peer mediation, Ray Shonholtz and Barry Hart, to raise awareness of its potential. Very early on it established an education subcommittee made up of teachers, peace education workers, teachers centres organisers, and organisations like EXTERN.
This subcommittee put together a detailed proposal entitled "Handling Conflict in Schools", and sought funding from the Department of Education (Northern Ireland) for a pilot peer mediation project. Although it stressed the links with Education for Mutual Understanding (EMU) as a cross-curricular theme, and received a sympathetic hearing, funding was not forthcoming. This effectively brought the initiative to an end for three years until Mary de Largys major work in 1991-92. She demonstrated the effectiveness of mediation in an inner city school, in a socially deprived area of conflict in Belfast.
In the late 1980's and the early 1990's, individual mediation initiatives in schools were taking place in Britain. Kingston Friends Workshop Group had branched into mediation in schools by the late 1980's as had other agencies such as the West Midlands Quaker Peace Education Project.
In 1992, the NAME publication "The Fourth R" was carrying reports of peer mediation projects in schools in South Africa and New Zealand, in addition to the USA.
In 1993, Yvonne Duncan led workshops in Ireland, demonstrating the validity of the "Cool Schools" Peer Mediation Programme of New Zealand; at the time of writing, the Mediator's Institute Ireland, is considering adopting this programme, for use in the Irish Republic.
1994 Mediation UK, celebrating ten years since it started out life as the Forum for Initiatives in Reparation and Mediation (EIRM), had a growing nucleus amongst its members who were actively involved in peer mediation in schools, at its annual conference.
The development of QPEP from an agency providing conflict resolution skills workshops in schools, to an agency promoting a peer mediation process as part of a whole school approach, was influenced by these developments.
The Project has also identified many positive ripple-effects emanating from the establishment of a peer mediation programme and indicated that, apart from what if offers to children as preparation for life, it can be of real and immediate benefit to everyone who is part of the life of the school.
Education for Living
Education for living ought to include training in alternatives to the conventional 'fight or flight' strategies for handling conflict. Given that conflict is a recurrent reality in human encounters, whether between individuals or groups and between friends as well as foes, this Project argues for the recognition of 'conflict literacy' as an important component of education. It seeks to develop an approach to training in conflict resolution skills which incorporates immediate opportunity to practise the skills in the school setting, for the benefit of the school in terms of its whole-school ethos as well as of the children who are learning through practise.
When seen in this wider context it may be necessary in future to guard against mediation coming to be seen as a specialist skill, as the preserve of experts. It will be important to offer the training to all the children in a class, even though only some may have the chance to function in the school's formal mediation service. This will hopefully foster the idea of mediation as a skill which everyone has and which people of all ages already practise with great success. A key aim in the service is the validation of the idea of mediation and the enhancement of existing skills.
It will also be important to locate the programme more clearly in the context of all relationships within a school. The programme is concerned specifically with only one of these - peer relationships - but of at least equal concern must be teacher-pupil relationships. There is a much greater power imbalance in these than is likely in peer relationships; and teacher-pupil conflict (especially in secondary schools) may often be a much greater area of tension than inter-pupil conflict. There is the risk in establishing a peer mediation programme without also putting in place a programme for the mediation of teacher-pupil conflict, that mediation might come to be seen as not applicable to "real" conflict, and therefore of limited value in daily living.
The views of the principals and teachers in schools which have been involved, as regards the programme's relevance in the N.Ireland context, are significant. As persons and schools with a strong commitment to the promotion of EMU and in the fore-front of the search for authentic ways of delivering it, they consider that the peer-mediation programme is a very practical and authentic way of doing so, and this in the context of considerable confusion as regards how to deliver on the EMU theme. But quite part from their statutory obligations in respect of EMU, it is clear that the principals and teachers see the programme as having a potentially significant contribution to make to the development of a mediation-friendly culture in N.Ireland. In doing so it accords with the fundamental objectives of EMU.
As a pilot, peer mediation project, in two primary schools, the project is small but it could contribute significantly to the process of developing mediation practise throughout the education system, embracing all in-school relationships, and feeding into the promotion of a conflict resolution culture in society.
1: That a peer mediation service be established in schools in N. Ireland.
A: Schools where the pilot project is located constitute a valuable resource. Children who have trained and practised as mediators are a special resource in 'selling' the peer-mediation idea. They have impressively demonstrated the process and competently fielded the questions of adults and other children.
B: It is recommended that the experience of other relevant agencies, local and from elsewhere, be more fully accessed.
C: The development of an equivalent service for secondary schools should be initiated.
2: That interested schools be made aware of what would be required of them and a negotiated contract signed by the school and any outside agency involved, before the programme is launched.
A: A prerequisite of any programme would be that the school ethos be open to the possibility that children can resolve their own conflicts; also that in general there be an atmosphere of mutual respect within the whole school community, together with the recognition of there being always scope and need for the further enhancement of same.
B: The contract should envisage a long-term commitment towards enabling the programme to become part of the culture of the school, eventually sustained by the school itself without external agency assistance. The ultimate goal is that mediation be seen as an integral part of the way conflicts in the school are dealt with, not just between children but between adults, and between children and adults.
C: Contractual arrangements should include the following:
D: Dialogue is necessary among teaching staff and between class teacher(s) and lunchtime supervisor(s) to ensure all-round support for the provision of the service.
E: Dialogue between participating schools is considered very important.
3: That as many children as possible be trained in each school; that appropriate procedures be developed for the selection of those who will function as mediators, and for those not selected to have complementary functions in the service's provision.
A: Where classes are being trained in parallel in different schools, they should be brought together for joint training opportunities from time to time if possible.
B: In addition to considerations of competence, selection criteria ought to be weighted in favour of the inclusion as mediators of children with a history of conflict.
C: In the context of selection/non-selection being a pervasive factor in the education system, with inadequate recognition of the possible long-term consequences, in terms of self-esteem, for children consistently not selected, it is strongly recommended that schools would explore ways in which this pattern might be contradicted within it's peer mediation service. There is considerable scope for the development of complementary functions including active participation of all children in the process of selection of mediators, publicising and promoting, and record keeping and general administration of the service.
4: That Northern Ireland based resources be developed.
A: The project has obvious links with the cross-curricular themes of EMU and Personal Social Development and with Key Stages 14. On it's own account it has clear potential for 'overspill' into other subjects such as English, Maths and Art. All such links should be developed.
B: An agency offering its support to schools should commit itself to systematic triailing and development of it's services for a period of at least three years.
C: The service should be widely disseminated, with a co-ordinated INSET programme throughout N.Ireland, in the fourth and fifth year of the project.
5: The service's development crucially requires an action/research process. Interested schools should be made aware of the research requirements of the agency and necessary contractual arrangements in respect of these should be negotiated at the beginning.
A: Research instruments must respect the confidentiality of all parties in all mediation cases. There must be clear and agreed guidelines about the confidential nature of all records.
B: Research instruments must be teacher and pupil "friendly" and be developed in consultation with the teachers.
C: It is necessary that the agency have a person specifically assigned to research co-ordination so that a proper balance between action and research is maintained.
6: That an external agency or agencies be established to assist schools in the development of recommendations 1-5 over the next five years (1995 - 1999).
A: Any team of people from an external agency should include trained teachers.
B: Adequate time should be spent in team-building activities to build up co-operation and communication within the team.
C: Adequate time should be allowed to the team to develop its confidence and experience in and practise of the mediation process, before starting to train children.
D: There should be a commitment from all team members to utilising mediation in resolving intra-team conflicts.
E: Clear procedures for leadership within the team are necessary.
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