Stroud School Year 8 Mates

1 September 2021

The Stroud School Mates scheme was founded in 2016 as a way to provide leadership experience for our Prefects and help support the Year 3 children with their transition to the prep school. As a school, we try to bring our community together as much as possible and the introduction of the Mates scheme, now in its sixth year, has provided a structured support network between our youngest and oldest prep school children.

One of the challenges we face is helping the youngsters feel that the Year 8s are there to help and someone to approach if they’re in need, rather than a big, scary ogre to be avoided at all costs! Equally, we wanted the older children to take time to notice the Middle School children and recognise the huge impact they have on them, often without realising it. Explaining to them that they’re setting the example and being noticed, whether they intend to or not, is actually quite eye-opening for a 12 year old. Discussions in year groups before the mates meet is really important to set the tone: encouraging Year 3s to be open and receptive to their new friends, and helping Year 8 to overcome their own awkwardness and anxieties with ‘getting it right’, is crucial. Discussions with form tutors about topics of conversation, ways of interacting and how to bring themselves to the other’s level (often literally!) is really effective.

The two groups first meet on transition day and we have found that engaging them in a structured activity really helps to focus the children, and help conversation and interaction to grow organically. Our children enjoy a treasure hunt, for which they earn points. Treasures are all in the form of photos, which range from ‘get a photo of a Lego person in peril’ to ‘get a selfie with a teacher’ and ‘fit your team in the smallest space you can’ (pre-Covid!). Points are given for ingenuity, and teams have managed a selfie with the Head, a Lego person suspended above shark-infested custard and the entire team squeezed into a toilet cubicle!

Having started the programme with Year 8s being paired with two or three children as their mates, we have evolved it into families: a small group of Year 3s and 8s. We found this change meant our prefects could provide peer support to each other, and that groups of children could be chosen to bring different skills to the family. These families meet on a regular basis within school to spend time playing together, and the two year groups also have the chance to mix beyond their smaller groups and get to know everyone involved in the programme.

The mates go on a trip or have a planned event each term, the first of which is a getting-to-know-you opportunity at the local country park. The children spend time in their families enjoying the adventure playgrounds, country walks and obstacle courses. It’s always a joy to see the prefects naturally take on a supportive role: holding hands with children as they traverse logs, helping them clamber over banks and enjoying a picnic lunch in the heart of nature. The Spring Term sees the children go on a trip to a local zoo, and the Summer Term includes a pool and pizza party on-site. By this point, the children happily play games in the pool and it’s a real celebration of their year together.

An unexpected bonus of the scheme has been how it has brought staff together. The scheme unites Middle School and Senior School teachers to plan events, go on trips and work with colleagues they may not usually have the opportunity to spend a lot of time with. Uniting staff across the departments has forged new relationships and encouraged more collaboration. 

The scheme is a real success. The thoughtfulness that develops through caring for others has helped our Year 8s to flourish and grow into leaders who guide by example and consider the needs of others rather than just their own. The Year 3s fall in love with their Year 8 mentors, and it’s not unusual for the older children to receive invitations to 8th birthday parties! Christmas presents are exchanged, parents are introduced to mates, and relationships are forged. The end of the year is always bittersweet; as they say goodbyes with bear hugs and high fives, the Year 8s leave Stroud equipped with the skills to lead with kindness and empathy and the Year 3s are ready to face the rest of Middle School with the confidence to speak to older children and an understanding of the importance of helping others. For everyone involved, it is always a year to remember.