Circle of Friends

Circle of Friends Evaluations

If you are interested in research on Circles of Friends you might wish to look at:

James, A. & Leyden, G. (2010)
Putting the circle back into circle of friends. a grounded theory of the potential contribution of the group to positive outcomes for socially isolated children
Educational and Child Psychology – this showed extremely positive outcomes following the implementation of Circles of Friends for isolated children.

‘In effective Circle interventions the group influence extends beyond the actual meet- ings, particularly in the context of a supportive school ethos. These influences may operate in a variety of ways, illustrated in the following codes and categories.

  • Watchfulness
    e.g. ‘But equally noticing that he was being picked on by others, that he was being purposely wound up and so they would kind of notice when to intervene.’ (15)
  • Verbal prompts
    e.g. ‘then one of them (Circle group) would say ‘yeah that is because I had a quiet word with him and I said keep calm or remember to do this.’ (4)
  • Non-verbal prompts
    e.g. ‘they had some sort of signal in order to say we’re here and do you think it’s about time you got back on track again.’ (14)
  • Praise
    e.g. ‘They would praise him up and say ‘ you need to tell (classteacher) about that, that was excellent.’ (2)
  • Signalling problems to adults
    e.g. ‘if there was a problem one of them would come and find me.’ (13)
  • Social intervention with peers
    e.g. ‘The boy was being horrid and leaving a large space (in the line) and encouraging others to follow his example. She said that one of the group stood in the space that had been left and stood up for this child when this boy was being horrid and they did this all the time…’ (24).

Such positive activities fit well with the role of ‘active bystanders’ (or ‘defenders’) that feature in research into incidents of bullying amongst children (Salmivalli, 1995, 1999). Rigby and Johnson (2004) also found that bystanders are more likely to help a child for whom they show empathy, where there is a recognition they are a friend, or have previ- ously helped the child. Our current theory predicts that being a Circle member enhances such capacity to intervene positively.

60 Educational & Child Psychology Vol. 27 No. 1

Putting the Circle back into Circle of Friends

Groups may also formally agree on ways to support the focus pupil outside the Circle. Examples from our coding included play- time rotas, shared reading or simply sitting together in class or in the lunch hall. This often developed into spontaneous helping or sharing activities, in or out of school, including play and social pastimes, choosing to work as a partner in lessons or helping the focus child back into the class if they ran off. In many cases this form of help may be no different from that which one friend may offer to another (Cottrell, 1996).

Positive social feedback within the Circle and increased pro-social support outside facil- itate the child’s inclusion, with consequent benefits to their personal, social and emotional well-being. Writers, such as Kahn and Antonucci (1980), hypothesise that this works by peer support moderating any emotional challenges or personal disappoint- ments encountered during the school day.

Leyden (1996), in a review of peer supports in school, concluded ‘Inclusive and collaborative techniques write the peer back into the special needs script and the child with special needs back into the peer group.’ (p.54)

Circle members’ influence on the rest of the class.

From our analysis, the Circle group, through its evolving attitudes, words and deeds, may influence class perceptions of the child, increasing levels of acceptance towards the focus child and ways in which they can contribute. Miller (2003) uses the concept of a ‘ripple effect’ to describe such processes. Examples from our coding include the following:

‘So even the children who didn’t come forward knew something was going on … They see this Group as looking out for her but they were not blind to her faults. They were giving her a chance, gradually their friends were pulled in and thought she must be OK. I think it did have a little ripple effect in the classroom.’ (9)

This idea was elaborated in the following:

‘they kind of modelled more appropriate responses and ways of dealing with him and other children have come and copied that, so whereas before somebody would probably join in to provoke him, now that there was eight children responding in a certain way more appropriate, other children seemed to tag onto that.’ (22)

Further, the influence of the Circle on the classroom permeated the conversations, interactions and in some cases interventions with peers. An example of data coded in this category included:

‘Because the children in the group were part of other groups in the classroom it meant … they could turn round and say ‘yes but you know actually he is trying really hard and he has managed to achieve that’ … that meant it was kind of spread out towards the rest of the class, so in that respect it had a big impact.’ (4)

The role of the facilitator and group in emphasising the contribution of the class as a wider support circle, and having a rolling group membership also minimised potential in-group/out-group effects which may occur as a consequence of creating any group (Nesdale et al., 2003; Taylor & Burden 2000).’

Utilising the Classroom Peer Group to Address Children’s Social Needs.
Norah Frederickson and Jane Turner (2001)
(University College London and Buckinghamshire Local Education Authority)


Educational Psychology in Practice (December 2000) Volume: 16

Both these recent articles have effectively used Circle of Friends processes to bring about effective change in peer understandings and behaviour change, drawing from the source article displayed on our web page (Newton, Taylor and Wilson, 1996).

Carol Greenway researched interventions, which had been most successful for pupils on the autistic spectrum concluding that Social Stories and Circle of Friends held the most promise.

These article can be found in the above journals or purchased on line

Title: Autism and Asperger Syndrome: strategies to promote prosocial behaviours
Author(s): Carol Greenway
Source: Educational Psychology in Practice
Volume: 16 Number: 4 Page: 469 — 486
DOI: 10.1080/02667360020006363
Publisher: Carfax Publishing, part of the Taylor & Francis Group
Active Reference Links: 11

Title: Autism: promoting peer understanding
Author(s): Licette Gus
Source: Educational Psychology in Practice
Volume: 16 Number: 4 Page: 461 — 468
DOI: 10.1080/02667360020006345
Publisher: Carfax Publishing, part of the Taylor & Francis Group
Active Reference Links: 1

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