The Anti-Bullying Ambassadors Programme is run by the Diana Award and it aims to equip students and staff with a holistic and peer-led approach to address bullying. The programme provides young people, parents, and their teachers with information about bullying to empower them to become advocates for change in relation to bullying behaviour within their schools.

The rationale behind the Anti-Bullying Ambassadors Programme is grounded in empirical research and evidence.

why peer support?

Peer support is:

A model of social support by individuals who are similar in age and/or social conditions to the person receiving support
(Toda, 2005: 59)

This approach is valuable in addressing bullying in schools for a number of reasons:

Actors in bullying episodes 

Increasing attention is shifting away from perpetrators of bullying episodes, in order to focus on wider group dynamics. Cowie (2014) highlights that bullying is “experienced within a group of peers who adopt different participant roles and who experience a range of emotion”. For example, the perpetrators of bullying are generally supported by the immediate peer groups – the ‘assistants’ and ‘reinforcers’ and bullying escalates due to the responses of ‘bystanders’ who do not do anything when witnessing bullying (Salmivalli et al, 1996). Cowie (2014) highlights that only a small proportion of bystanders act as ‘defenders’ offering support to the targets of bullying and peer support systems can empower bystanders to act as defenders during bullying episodes.

power of the peer 

Peers communicate with each other in the ‘vernacular’, absent of the authoritarian tone which teachers may exude (Topping, 1996). Some students don’t confide in teachers because they didn’t feel confident about approaching them about their bullying issues. Studies show that young people are more likely to confide in their friends rather than parents or educators (Patchin and Hinduja, 2006; Bhat, 2008), research from Cassidy et al (2009) revealed that 74% of peers said they would tell their friends, 57% would tell their parents and only 47% would tell a school official. Furthermore, Rigby and Bagshaw’s (2003) research revealed that students reported they did not confide in teachers because they didn’t feel confident about approaching them and they perceived their teachers did not care about their problem. 

peer group dynamics

As peers have direct knowledge of complex networks of relationships in the peer group and bullying issues often originate from peer groups, students are thus ‘well placed’ to help other students solve their problems (Cowie and Wallace, 2000). The peer support anti-bullying models like Anti-Bullying Campaign can give young people a voice and agency to take action, building on their knowledge of peer groups to actively create emotionally healthy relationships. Through running campaigns, schools can promote healthy relationships in the whole school & responsible concern for values of school and students ‘extend protectiveness friendship group and help to develop a school community founded on concern for others and empathy for others’ feelings’.

role of bystanders

The bullying escalates further as a result of the responses of the bystanders as outsiders, whether they react with indifference or condone what is happening. Only a small proportion of bystanders will act in the role of defenders (Cowie, 2014). But research shows that bystanders are “trapped in a social dilemma” as they feel shamed about taking the role of a bystander but are at the same time acutely aware of their own needs for security and acceptance within the peer group (Salmivalli, 2010; Jennifer and Cowie, 2014). Using this to foster empathy-based socialisation and enhancing prosocial behaviour, leads to high quality relationships, building tolerance of stigmatized groups, and create opportunities for bystanders to be proactive in challenging bullying when they encounter it (Cowie, 2014).

benefits of peer support 

Research has revealed numerous advantages of student-led anti-bullying programmes (Cowie, 2014). See below for more information. 

Whole school benefits

There are numerous positive effects of peer-to-peer anti-bullying programmes in a school community (Cowie and Wallace, 2000) as they can foster a supportive schooling system. Cowie and Smith (2010) reveal that peer support is “a form of lived morality and encompasses a range of activities and systems within which people’s potential to be helpful to one another can be fostered through appropriate training”. Furthermore successful student-led initiatives have the benefit of revealing to students that school is a caring place (Naylor and Cowie, 1999).

Benefits for student body

For students using one particular programme, 94% of primary and 88% of secondary students said that peer support had helped them and they would use it again (Naylor and Cowie, 1999). Batson et al (2002) emphasise that peer support systems can encourage students to consider others perspectives and tolerate stigmatised groups. 

Benefits for students leading the schemes

Benefits of peer support cited in evaluations are typically learning new skills, empathy and ‘being there for others’ (Naylor and Cowie, 1999; Cowie et al, 2002). Furthermore, these skills have their value beyond the school grounds – the communication and conflict resolution skills help to prepare young people to become good citizens (Baginsky, 2004).

Impact on school bullying and safety

James (2011) highlights that indirectly bullying levels could be reduced due to improvements in the school’s ethos, better quality friendships, and awareness raised by the students. Furthermore, Cowie (2014) highlights that peer support systems can help to foster a positive school ethos:

“In general both staff and students report that the school changes for the better. It would appear too that peer support systems work best in schools where there is an active whole-school approach to school bullying so that the work of the peer supporters is reinforced by other interventions that target both individual bullies and victims and that implement anti-bullying policies at class and whole-school levels. The degree to which the peer support strategy has been integrated into the whole school policy or “ethos” is often a contributing factor to its success”


Baginsky, W. (2004). Peer mediation in the UK: a guide for schools. NSPCC Inform. Retrieved from http://www.nspcc.org.uk/inform/resourcesforteachers/classroomresources/peermediationintheuk_wda48928.html

Batson, C. D., Ahmad, N., Lishner, D. A. & Tsang, J-A. (2002). Empathy and Altruism. In C. R. Snyder & S. L. Lopez (Eds.), Handbook of Positive Psychology (pp. 485-498). Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Cowie, H. (2014). "Understanding the Role of Bystanders and Peer Support in School Bullying" International Journal of Emotional Education" 6:1.   

Cowie, H. & Smith, P. K. (2012). La Ayuda entre Iguales como Instrument para la Mejora de la Seguridad en los Centros Educativos y para le Reduccion del Bullying y la Violencia. In A. Ovejero, P. K. Smith & S. Yubero (Eds.), El Acoso Escolar y Su Prevencion.Madrid: Biblioteca Nueva ( pp. 263-285).

Cowie, H. & Wallace, P. (2000). Peer Support in Action. London: Sage.

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.

Jennifer, D. & Cowie, H. (2012). Listening to Children’s Voices: Moral Emotional Attributions in Relation to Primary School Bullying. Emotional and Behavioural Difficulties, 17(3-4): 229-241.

Salmivalli, C. (2010). Bullying and the Peer Group: A Review. Aggression and Violent Behavior, 15(2), 112- 120.

Salmivalli, C., Lagerspetz, K., Björkqvist, K., Österman, K. & Kaukiainen, A. (1996). Bullying as a Group Process: Participant Roles and their Relations to Social Status within the Group. Aggressive Behavior, 22(1), 1–5.

Naylor, P., & Cowie, H. (1999). “The effectiveness of peer support systems in challenging school bullying: the perspectives and experiences of teachers and pupils.” Journal of Adolescence, 22, 467-479.

Topping, K. J. (1996). “Reaching where adults cannot: Peer education and counselling”. Educational Psychology in Practice, 11(4), 23–29.