Challenges in implementing a youth-led approach to anti-bullying


Research about peer-led anti-bullying programmes reveal numerous advantages for the school environment, peer users, and peer providers. However, empirical research also reveals the limitations in successfully embedding peer-to-peer approaches. In an evaluation of a peer-led scheme on bullying the researchers highlighted the lack of success of some schools as they failed to address difficulties (Smith and Watson, 2004). This blog post aims to raise awareness of shared challenges highlighted by empirical research, as this can play an important role in informing practice.

Raising Awareness of Support Available

It is vital that students are aware of the support provided by the young people running the campaigns and initiatives. James (2011) reminds us that there are multiple ways of doing this, for example through registration time, assemblies, posters, school newspapers, and emails.

Students who offer support to victims of bullying should also aim to distinguish themselves through their attire. For example, they could wear different ties, badges, or jackets. Cowie and Wallace (2000) emphasise the importance of publicity – which should happen continuously otherwise pupil awareness and interest in participating may drop.

Staff Support

Although peer-to-peer approaches to addressing bullying are concerned with empowering young people to make a difference within their contexts, various members of staff should be involved in managing and supporting the scheme. Most importantly, involvement from the Senior Leadership Team is ‘crucial’. According to one evaluation of a peer-led anti-bullying programme; Smith and Watson (2004) claimed that this should take the form of both vocal support and active involvement with the project. It shows to the peers supporting and the peers receiving support that the school genuinely cares about addressing bullying. Houlston and Smith (2009) revealed that active involvement from Senior Leaders contributed to the success of peer-counselling services in their school.

Lead Teacher

Lead Teachers should manage the peer-to-peer anti-bullying initiatives and support peer supporters. There are issues that students cannot address alone, so the Lead Teacher should be aware of these concerns when they arise (Baginsky, 2004). As bullying involves the imbalance of power between students (Olweus, 1993) the Lead Teacher should check that peer mediation methods are only used when both students are able to participate fully (James, 2011).


The students leading on anti-bullying initiatives require access to resources in order to make their campaigns successful. For example, a designated space in terms of a classroom or a meeting room is important for students to provide support to their peers (Baginsky, 2004). Sometimes schools may struggle to find space for these initiatives. Smith and Watson (2004) encountered this challenge in some secondary schools, as teachers were unable to provide a space and a quiet area for students to be supported. Similarly one of the characteristics of a successful programme as noted by the Mentoring and Befriending Foundation (2011) was the use of designated spaces in school as it provided students with a safe area they could go to.

Selection Process

It’s important for schools and Lead Teachers to introduce an inclusive, empowering, and fair selection process when recruiting students (Cowie and Wallace, 2000). As participation in anti-bullying initiatives requires dedication and commitment from students, it is important that the selection process reflects this in order to select students. Age and gender are also important considerations. For example, Boulton’s (2005) study of two schools found that around half of students preferred to see a peer supporter older than them and 10% preferred to see someone their own age.

Long-Term Flexibility

Prior evaluations have identified various factors which inform long term success of peer-led approaches to bullying. One such factor is making use of students who have been trained in primary school in their transition to secondary school. These peer supporters can help to train future supporters (Smith and Watson, 2004). Researchers have also emphasised the importance of anti-bullying initiatives evolving and adapting as time moves on as this will enable the service to ‘grow, expand or change direction' as this 'is important in ensuring its continuation’ (James, 2011).

Finally, it is important to have some patience with peer-led initiatives. It can take a long time for the programmes to embed into the school’s ethos and as such, benefits may not be visible immediately. This is where the Lead Teacher comes in. They need to remain motivated and not be discouraged by a lack of immediate success. Cowie and Wallace (2000) also highlight that the Lead Teacher needs to be able to supply unlimited energy and passion into the process to avoid this discouraging other students.


  1. BAGINSKY, W. (2004). Peer mediation in the UK: a guide for schools. NSPCC Inform. Retrieved from

  2. BOULTON, M. J. (2005) “School peer counselling for bullying services as a source of social support: a study with secondary school pupils” British Journal of Guidance & Counselling, 33 (4), 485-494.

  3. COWIE, H., & WALLACE, P. (2000). Peer Support in Action. London: Sage

  4. JAMES, A. (2011) "The use and impact of peer support schemes in schools in the UK, and a comparison with use in Japan and South Korea" Doctoral thesis, Goldsmiths, University of London. [Thesis]: Goldsmiths Research Online.

  5. HOULSTON, C., & SMITH, P.K. (2009) “The impact of a peer counselling scheme in an all-girl secondary school”. British Journal of Educational Psychology, 79, 69-86.

  6. MBF. (2011). National Peer Mentoring Anti-Bullying Pilot 2008-10: a report setting out the main findings from the national peer mentoring anti-bullying pilot 2008-10. Mentoring and Befriending Foundation, Suite 1, 4th Floor, Building 3, Universal Square, Devonshire Street North, Ardwick, Manchester, M12 6JH:  

  7. SMITH, P.K. & WATSON, D. (2004). Evaluation of the CHIPS (ChildLine in Partnership with Schools) programme. Research report RR570, DfES.