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PAL Central: Managing Challenges & Setting Boundaries

An online hub of guidance and resources for our PAL Leaders and their Level 4 students.

Improving Attendance

  • We often find that, as students begin to find their feet, they may not rely on PAL sessions quite so much. What they may not realise is how valuable PAL can be when PAL Leaders tailor the sessions to be relevant to whatever students are covering at any point in the year, and they are always worth attending!
  • It is really important that you remain proactive in trying to increase your attendance! If your attendance begins to drop, or you have no attendees to your sessions, this does not mean that you should cease running your PAL sessions. Instead, you need to raise this with both your PAL Academic Course Contact and the Central PAL Team.
  • Along with your PAL Academics, we as a Central PAL Team of course want to support you with any problems you are having, so please also let us know if you are having concerns over attendance and we can arrange a 1-2-1 to discuss this in more detail.

A  Step by Step Guide on Improving Attendance 

Question  Solution
1. Are you making your PAL sessions interactive and engaging?
2. Have you spoken to your students to find out why there are not attending your sessions (asking for feedback)?
  • This should not be confrontational
  • This could be done on  a Facebook (if you have one), an anonymous tool like Padlet or a small survey
  • Remind them that PAL is timetabled and should be treated like a lecture or seminar
  • You take an attendance register so that academics can monitor to see who is attending

3. Have you spoken to your PAL Academic Course Contact (ACC)?

  • Your PAL ACC is there to support you!
  • They can encourage students to attend PAL sessions 
  • They can also liaise with other with other programme academics to highlight the issue of attendance
  • They may allow you into lectures/ seminars/ academic meetings to promote PAL and encourage attendance
  • You can ask them what is being covered om their current lectures/ seminars so you can link your sessions to them
  • Advertise that your students are a continuation 
  • if you are unsure of who your ACC is then you check check via PAL Central on :
4. Have you notified the PAL Team?
  • We are here to support you!
  • You can book a 1-2-1 with the PAL Central Team to talk to us about your attendance and sessions
  • You can drop us an email at and we can have a chat to see how else we can look at addressing attendance
5. Is it a timetabling issue?
  • Ensure your students are telling you what they want covered in their sessions - this creates an incentive for them to come
  • You could do this via a suggestion poll
  • If there is a couple hours gap between a lecture/ seminar and your PAL session you could suggest to your group that your students meet up to study together during the break before your PAL session 
  • Timetablers prefer to be notified as early in the term as possible about rearranging the timing of your sessions, they may be able to help with rescheduling your sessions
  • Make sure to highlight these early in Semester 2 when the timetabling changes 
6. Have you spoken to your fellow PAL Leaders?
  • You can do this within your programme or similar disciplines 
  • You can ask them for ideas / inspiration or even sit in on one of their sessions to see what they are doing 
  • if you do not know who your fellow PAL Leaders are then just let us or your ACC know and we can put you in touch 
7. Send a reminder to your group the day of your session 
  • An email / message can be simple but effective way to promote attendance 
  • Send the message a few ours before your session is due to start, using the student numbers on yo9ur register. Including information like: topic, activities you have planned, resources  you have made and of course that you are looing forward to seeing them!
  • It may also be worth mentioning that 'I'll wait 5 minutes for people to join bore beginning the session' to add some time pressure 
8. Are you making sure you tailor your sessions to the student's needs 
  • You can use anonymous tools such as Padlet to ask for session suggestions so students are more inclined to be honest
  • Make sure this is accessible to the who group and not just the students who attend so the one's who don't can see that you sessions are based around their needs 
9. What do you do if you have tried everything above?
  • Come and speak to the PAL Central Team and we can look into alternative solutions to boost your attendance

Why go to PAL?

Difficult or Reluctant Students

However skillful you are and whatever techniques you use, you may still encounter difficult situations in small group PAL sessions.

Dealing with a difficult students can be challenging when you’re not a teacher and not that different in age. Here are some of the things you should do:

  • Stay cool and calm when talking with a student. Above all be polite.
  • Separate yourself from the situation – observe the student’s behaviour and try not to become personally involved.
  • Remember that many students are still adolescents and still acting out in rebellion against the authority figures in their lives, so you should not behave in a ‘parental’ fashion. Instead adopt the role of a coach or concerned friend.
  • Do not share information of a personal nature that students have confided in you, unless there is potential for them or others to be put in a harmful situation
  • Listen carefully before saying anything  - showing a student that you are willing and interested in hearing what they have to say goes a long way to solving problem


You can find below some scenarios that you may experience within your PAL sessions, along with methods for how to manage these int he downloadable hand out below.

Setting Boundaries - Facilitator not Therapist!

  • As new students, some of your PAL group may find that they are struggling with university work, personal issues, learning or housing. As a facilitator, it is important to know where your place is and where you can refer the students for relevant help.
  • Remember, you are not a counsellor or a therapist, and you should not be dealing with mental health situations or anything else which may cause a strain on you. Correctly signpost and send your students to the help that can be found under BU Support Services.
  • For example, a student comes to you at the end of a session and asks if they can talk about something personal with you. Be respectful and listen to them, and give them advice if you can or send them to more help. 

Setting Boundaries - Outside of Sessions

  • The main boundaries of PAL are in place to ensure you don’t go above and beyond your role – you only get paid for your 1 hour session and half hour of preparation per week. This means meeting up with students outside of PAL sessions is unpaid and off your own back. If you find your students are constantly messaging you for help outside of your sessions, set designated time frames where you would be happy to signpost them or offer advice - equally, ask them to bring their concerns to the next PAL session if you are not happy to discuss outside of sessions.

Setting Boundaries - Remaining Professional

  • Your role as a PAL Leader (a BU employee) requires you to be professional. If an attractive member of your PAL group asked you out on a date, the best course of action would be to politely decline the date and suggest the whole group does something social together! The relationship you have with the students is a working one, and it should stay professional for the year that you are their PAL Leader.
  • Another aspect is not being pulled into issues your PAL group may be having - if it's related to the course, make sure your PAL session doesn't become a place to come and complain. You can refer them to course's SUBU Student Rep, or, set 5 minutes of a session aside for constructive feedback, which you could pass on to your Academic Course Contact if you think it's useful.
  • If the group are experiencing other issues such as arguments between social groups, mix the students up into different groups for an activity, and be sure to support and engage all the students. If you think it's an issue that needs addressing ( it's interfering with your sessions) contact the Central PAL Team or your Academic Course Contact for help.