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Jerry Tyrrell, 'Peer Mediation: a process for primary schools'

Souvenir Press 2002. ISBN 0 28563601 4; 224pp; £12.99

I've never reviewed a book before after reading just the introduction. However, I fully recommend this book on the basis of its impact on the person who now has my copy, my partner Yolanda. She teaches 12-14-year-olds in one of those schools that everybody knows is simply not coping - failing its pupils educationally, but also not coping with all the social problems dumped on it in its massified urban environment.

The day after I showed her the book, Yolanda suggested that she do a Spanish translation. (“But it's 200+ pages,” I said.) The next week she went to her union to propose a weekend workshop on peer mediation to be included in their training programmes for next year. (They have agreed.) And now she has pulled together a group inside the school to discuss how to initiate peer meditation in their context.

That, I think, is testament enough to the inspiring quality of book that takes a very practical approach based on Jerry's experience in Derry, Northern Ireland. What is inspiring, says Yolanda, is not that the ideas are new, but the confidence given by the description of them being put into practice.

Adults are loath to cede children the authority to manage their own conflicts. However, Jerry, who died before completing the book, argued that peer mediation works because children understand more about each other's behaviour, values, reactions and sense of justice than do their teachers or even more those who presume to impose a “national curriculum” on them.

Introducing structures for peer mediation then facilitates the development and spread of values of conflict resolution and of group norms that are grounded in the pupils' own sense of fairness.

Jerry went to Derry in 1972, one of three English pacifists in a self-initiated peace team. As a team, they stayed together a couple of years, but two of those three - Jerry himself and Robin Percival - remained in Derry, involving themselves in a variety of activities. For Jerry, this was mainly youth work, culminating in the 1990s in his work to introduce peer mediation.

This book contains workshop agendas, case studies, and nuts and bolts discussions of the types of dynamics used and problems encountered. I'm looking forward to reading it myself.