Developing contextual responses to the abuse and exploitation of young people


Piloting bystander interventions in a school



A year ago, the Contextual Safeguarding team in Hackney conducted a school assessment with a local secondary school. As part of the intervention plan for this assessment, the Mentors in Violence Prevention Programme (MVP) will be rolled out in the school. MVP is a bystander intervention to tackle bullying and abusive and violent behaviours in schools in which staff are trained to support senior students to become mentors. The mentors deliver sessions to other students in the school and encourage them to look out for each other and positively influence the attitudes and behaviours of their peers. You can read more about the MVP approach in this blog.

Schools, as we know, can be protective and nurturing environments for many young people; a place where they grow, learn and make friends. But we also know from research that schools can be settings in which young people experience bullying, harassment and abuse (Haywood and Mac an Ghaill 2012; Ringrose 2013; Conroy 2013). In the Girlguiding survey of 2017, for instance, 62% of young women reported encountering sexual harassment in school. In Scotland, where the MVP has already been rolled out across a number of schools, the programme proved successful in reducing violence and promoting positive relationships. This innovating approach can help schools tackle issues linked to harmful norms and behaviours that are not necessarily addressed via the school curriculum.

In Hackney, staff from the Contextual Safeguarding team trained year 10 students from the school to become mentors. These year 10 students will then deliver sessions to younger peers. The school selected the year 10 students that would be offered bystander training through conversations with the head of year. It was ensured that a large mix of students took part in the training to bring in a range of perspectives and this was reflected in the variety of issues raised by the students during the initial training session. Thirty students in year 10 were trained over one day. Two school staff members had also previously received two days of training.

Feedback from the year 10 students who received the training was really positive. Some however did not feel ready to deliver the training to their peers and said they needed more support with preparing for this. Additional train the trainer sessions are planned with those who expressed this concern to ensure they are comfortable with the content. It’s important that students are fully supported to take on their role as mentors.

In the initial training session students discussed how boys and young men are viewed generally and the negative image of men that many young girls have. They also talked about harmful use of language about sexuality and race. The Hackney Practice Development Manager who led on delivering the training felt these issues needed to be explored further. This is another key point for schools to think about when considering rolling out MVP training: if issues are raised that are not explicitly covered in the training – in this case the use of sexualised and racist language – how can they address these issues with students? In this instance Hackney’s youth service provision will deliver assemblies addressing the concerns raised by students.

Schools considering piloting this programme should also think about how to inform parents about this initiative. In Hackney, parents were informed that their child had been chosen to take part in the training programme by letter. How schools decide to approach parents may vary – in some establishments it may be more appropriate to ask parents for their consent and giving them the option to op-out.

This initial training session is a very encouraging start and we look forward to sharing learning and feedback from this initiative as the programme is rolled out to younger students.


Conroy, N. E. (2013). Rethinking adolescent peer sexual harassment: Contributions of feminist theory. Journal of school violence, 12(4), 340-356.

Haywood, C., & Mac an Ghaill, M. (2012). ‘What's next for masculinity?’ Reflexive directions for theory and research on masculinity and education. Gender and Education, 24(6), 577-592.

Girlguiding (2017) Girls’ Attitudes Survey.Available at:

Ringrose, J. (2012). Postfeminist education?: Girls and the sexual politics of schooling. Routledge.

Posted: 21 Mar 2019

Author: Delphine Peace

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