A PIONEERING scheme has been launched to provide trained mentors for students at a Taunton school.

The County Gazette reported earlier this year on Taunton Academy's plans to introduce “school pastors” - volunteers from churches who work under the guidance of head teachers and governors to provide support and mentoring for students.

Thirteen school pastors have now been commissioned. They have been trained in areas including mental health, youth culture, listening skills, conflict resolution and first aid, and will wear School Pastor-emblazoned shirts and caps to ensure they are highly visible.

Rev Mike Haslam, chaplain at Taunton Academy, has worked for more than two years to bring the scheme to fruition.

He said: “The school pastors will provide a whole new level of support for our students and community.

“School pastors will listen to and support students at the academy and we are incredibly grateful for their time and contribution.”

The scheme is the first of its kind in Avon and Somerset and is an extension to the successful nationwide Street Pastors initiative.

Adrian Prior-Sankey of the Ascension Trust, a charity that established the Street Pastors movement in 2002, is overseeing the initiative.

He commissioned the new school pastors at a ceremony at Taunton Academy attended by governors, church representatives, the Mayor of Taunton Deane Libby Lisgo, county councillors and police.

He also explained how the support offered by school pastors has knock-on benefits for the community.

He said: “In many places this support has also provided reassurance for local residents and shopkeepers near schools who are sometimes apprehensive about noise levels and rowdy behaviour in the area.”

Sue Mountstevens, Police and Crime Commissioner for Avon and Somerset, said: “I am delighted to know of the first school pastor scheme to cover the Avon and Somerset area. In a world where our young people are bombarded by many and varied influences, good and bad, some may need a helping hand while learning to tell the difference.

“I am pleased that we are now able to offer this invaluable support at Taunton Academy.”

The scheme will be coordinated by Marcus Paul, who recently retired as deputy headmaster of Queen's College.

He said: “We are grateful to the police and local county councillors for their support, as well as the encouragement by churches of many different traditions in this exciting new project.”