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Empowering students to take a leading role in supporting others
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Written by Andrea Grassby, Director of Marketing and Admissions - Whole School, with contributions from Ray Jennings, Head of Personalised Learning Faculty, The Alice Smith School, Malaysia

The Student Support Programme (SSP) at Alice Smith School is a scheme that develops our older students to support younger students in their academic studies. It was created five years ago to offer support to students across all subjects. During that time it has grown from just eight student volunteers to over 60 each year and has changed the long term approach towards support within our school.

Recent experiences during the pandemic have reminded us that a British school is not the collection of buildings that make up its physical presence but the community that our students, families and staff form.

Our mission reads; “We believe that through the generosity of time and our care and attention to every individual, we find a way to bring out the best in all people and create an enduring sense of belonging to something special.” This desire to be an inclusive community led to the development of the SSP by our Personalised Learning Faculty that sees students supporting students with impressive results.

The SSP involves Year 12 and 13 students putting forward subjects they would like to volunteer support in at KS3-4. We match these preferences to requests made by teachers for assistance in their classes. Training is then provided for these volunteers.

The initiative has shown that our SEN student population is an integral and valued part of our school community by providing support to them in subjects not ordinarily covered by our regular Learning Support Assistants' in-class assistance and by introducing peer support which has strengthened their sense of belonging. Inclusion has become a community endeavour, with students taking the lead on this.

Of the latest cohort, 21% of the Year 12 volunteers are on the SEN register themselves. They have commented that the scheme has given them more confidence in their own abilities. They state that they feel like role models to KS3-4 SEN students in that this programme shows that they, possibly like them, have strengths in other curriculum areas that others aren’t necessarily aware of and that in itself, should be celebrated. Younger SEN students receiving help have commented on how they are more comfortable enquiring in a 'student to student way' than that they would if asking a regular teacher.

India, one of the student volunteers, commented, “Having been supported in the past it was a really interesting experience to be the one supporting in class. I not only felt that it was a valuable experience in growing my confidence but it also helped me understand how valuable the support I had was in helping me become the person that I am.”

The scheme, like many other aspects of school life, pivoted and adapted when the pandemic hit last year but instead of scaling back the SSP took the opportunity to expand the scheme to support even more younger students during virtual learning.

The impact for both student volunteers and the students supported is evident in feedback. Here's how Rishabh, one of our student volunteers, described his experience:

"The objective is to be able to help younger students with subjects we might feel confident with, and support them through assignments etc. The programme takes into account what subjects and what year groups a student would feel at ease teaching, and is very much geared towards the comfort of the student in question.

Despite the natural drawbacks of a virtual learning environment, I think that the SSP has allowed us to connect with younger students, give them advice, and overall ingrain the sense of community that we cherish here at Alice Smith. It has also been a chance to not only further our understanding of our chosen subjects but also to be introduced to the vast field of pedagogy.

The feedback from younger students has been very positive, saying that the volunteers have been “very supportive and always there to help and to answer [their] questions” and that when they “were confused with something, they explained it very well”. Some students also said that they “found it useful as [they] wouldn’t distract the rest of the class by asking questions” and could “ask questions which [they are] not comfortable asking teachers, in a student to student way”.

"This experience has been completely eye-opening and a lot of fun; I can’t wait to take part again next year."

The Alice Smith School was nominated for British International School of the Year at the Independent Schools of the Year Awards 2021 as a result of their Student Support Programme.