Case study: The Success Squad


A project that trains support staff to take on a mentoring role has helped to boost the performance of borderline students in both English and mathematics. Jennifer Kenwright explains.

The “Year 11 Success Squad” is a support staff mentoring programme that I implemented as part of my Impact Initiative for the Teaching Leaders Fellows programme.

The aim was twofold – to increase pupil achievement in maths and English and also to nurture support staff within school as a previously untapped resource.

When formulating my Impact Initiative, I knew that the target for five A* to C grades including maths and English for 2012 was 58 per cent, and that for 2013 it would be 60 per cent. In order to provide increased life chances for pupils and for them to achieve their academic potential, it was imperative that these targets were met or exceeded.

In order to identify a pupil cohort, I conducted statistical analysis of year 10 results. All selected mentees were below target in maths, English or both subjects. The cohort was amended throughout year 11 as modular tests were sat and C grades were secured. This meant that even students targeted a D grade in one of the subjects could be mentored to aim for the magic two grade Cs.

Once mentoring was devised as an approach, I knew I wanted to utilise support staff in a way that hadn’t been previously explored, and from liaising with them I knew they too were keen to engage with pupils on a closer and supportive level. It was from these talks that I decided to train and develop them as pastoral mentors.

The challenges

Getting buy-in from support staff was an initial challenge as they all had busy roles within school and I was asking them to volunteer their time.

However, I wanted to provide a worthwhile experience which would aid their professional development and to provide in-depth training to enable them to successfully mentor the pupils.

It was important that I recognised my team’s contributions, so I held termly “celebration assemblies” with certificates and prizes for the most successful mentoring group.

Gaining parental support also proved to be a challenge, as many parents do not speak English and could not understand what the mentoring scheme was about or what its purpose was. In order to address this, I organised a parents’ information evening so that I could explain the concept and answer questions. I also sent letters to gain consent and ask for parents’ contact details so mentors could contact them directly with progress updates.

Sustaining the initial enthusiasm from both my team and the pupils proved to be a challenge so I organised termly events so we could all celebrate the pupils’ progress. These included meetings with mentors, feedback questionnaires from mentees and celebrations such as “star of the term” for each group, postcards home and celebration assemblies with cupcakes and motivational speakers.

Bridging the achievement gap between maths and English was another key challenge throughout the duration of the initiative, as more than half of pupils were achieving a grade C or above in English, but only a fifth were achieving similar results in maths. In order to address this, I asked maths teachers to provide maths resources for mentees, training mentors to use the MyMaths website, and the English faculty to work with the maths department to share good practice.

The strategies

In order to ensure the “Success Squad” was itself a success, we implemented some further key strategies.

First, we trained and developed support staff to become proficient mentors using the support of maths and English staff, the data manager and the child protection officer. In conjunction with practical training, I also created and distributed training booklets.

To maintain enthusiasm, I devised scorecards which I used to monitor each mentee’s progress and also provided resources for their weekly sessions to guide the skills being developed, such as revision skills, confidence, target-setting and difficult conversations with subject teachers.

To further monitor effectiveness and impact, I regularly collected feedback from mentors, mentees and maths and English subject staff. This was in the form of checking termly data from subject staff regarding pupil progress and attitude to learning, plus questionnaire responses from mentors and mentees as to what was going well with the Success Squad and what could be improved. 

The impact

The Success Squad transpired to have a significant, tangible impact. The C/D borderline students fed back that they felt the scheme had helped them to have a more positive attitude towards learning. Maths and English teachers also noticed a positive impact on behaviour as attitudes to learning improved from only 25 per cent “excellent” to 95 per cent by the end of the academic year.

The five A* to C including maths and English whole-school target of 58 per cent was exceeded in 2012, with the final results placed at 66 per cent, and again in 2013 when 63 per cent was achieved instead of the target 60 per cent. Results continue to improve.

The mentor group growing in size was testament to its success. In the first year I trained 15 mentors, in the second year 21, and in the third year I had more than 30 support staff mentoring. 

Twenty gifted and talented 6th form students now take on a similar role but with a focus on mentored pupils achieving A and A*s. The programme is now a firm feature of the School Improvement Plan and I regularly feedback to governors about progress and successes.

All mentors involved in the programme have been retained as support staff in school. All continue to volunteer and are helping to train new mentors. Numerous mentors have been successful in being promoted to more senior levels too.

On a personal level, as a result of this initiative I have been designated as a pastoral specialist leader of education with the Manchester Teaching School Alliance. I have also had the pleasure of coaching some of the mentors and have been successful in gaining a CMI accredited professional coaching award in conjunction with Teaching Leaders. I am also leading on an in-house leadership and management course for colleagues wanting to progress further.

My advice for anyone embarking on a similar initiative would be to research your context and devise a clear vision when looking for a way to make a difference to pupil outcomes. It is also important to ensure you have buy-in from your senior leadership team and colleagues, and to measure the impact as you go along.

Finally, always find the time to reflect on your approach and effectiveness so that you are fully equipped to achieve maximum impact.

  • Jennifer Kenwright is pastoral lead at Whalley Range High School, an all-girls’ academy in Manchester. She is a Teaching Leaders alumnus, having graduated from the Fellows programme in 2013. 

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