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Friendship First Aid

Our new pastoral programme prepares pupils, post-lockdowns, for a smooth transition to Senior School life.

The step from primary to secondary school is a significant one under normal circumstances, as pupils adjust to new lessons, new teachers, new buildings and new friends. This September, after many pupils spending much of the summer term at home, the journey towards independence will inevitably feel a little bumpier for some.

Each year, for 11+ entry, pupils from over 180 different primary schools apply to South Hampstead. This year, incoming Year 7 girls will have had a range of experiences – both personal and academic – in the preceding months.

Due to the pandemic, the school’s typical ‘settling in’ routines have adjusted: welcome events for parents and pupils have shifted online; usual school visits to meet every new starter have been replaced by pastoral phone calls; and government restrictions have required the postponement of the normal autumn term residential adventure trip.

However, despite the challenges of the past few months, all South Hampstead’s Year 7 starters – whether moving up from the Junior School or joining for the first time – have a solid, consistent framework of support when they begin this September. Each form group has not one but two tutors, a Head of Year and a Deputy Head of Year. Headmistress Vicky Bingham teaches Philosophy or Latin to every Year 7 pupil, helping to ensure she gets to know every girl and understand what makes her tick. Every girl also has access to the school’s counselling team whenever she needs. Critically, all Year 7 pupils at South Hampstead also undertake a special course when they start, to help them to adjust to the new dynamics and grow to become well-rounded, well-grounded individuals.

The ‘Friendship First Aid course’ forms part of South Hampstead’s enrichment programme, Mehr Licht (named after the school motto, ‘more light’). The programme offers an enlightening array of options, with girls choosing from architecture and first aid to coding and Japanese. A compulsory new element of the programme in Year 7 is the Friendship First Aid module. The course aims to empower girls to deal with the very normal friendship challenges that often appear during the transition between primary and secondary school; this year, there will be enhanced focus on helping the girls cope with the additional changes in environment in the wake of the pandemic. The key aim is to ensure everyone feels part of a safe, warm, welcoming community.

The Friendship First Aid lessons were developed by our pastoral team. During the course, teachers lead class discussions and plenary sessions, using a range of activities and video clips. Weekly lessons explore the impact of friendships on self-esteem, how to identify unkind behaviours, as well as tips for dealing with clingy friends and understanding when banter crosses the line. Once girls have completed the course, they become ‘friendship champions’, working with the peer mentors assigned to their form to help promote positive behaviour.

South Hampstead’s Senior Deputy Head, Ms Zoë Brass, who oversees the school’s overarching pastoral programme, comments:

“Whatever the circumstances, girls’ friendships can be all-consuming at this stage. As they readjust to their newfound independence in Senior School – especially after prolonged periods at home – they can worry that their friendships are not secure. Through our series of Friendship First Aid lessons, we aim to empower girls to deal with issues themselves… to make new friends, to deal tactfully with shifting friendship groups, to reassure them that minor fall-outs are not the end of the world. Ultimately, we want to ensure they have the skills, emotional resilience and motivations to become architects of their own happiness. Our ethos is very much about creating a warm, tolerant and kind community, where girls can be themselves and forge positive friendships for life.”

We want to ensure they become architects of their own happiness.


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