Developing a mentoring programme

Written by: Stephanie George | Published:
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Great information and advice om mentor role.

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Mentoring is a popular intervention in schools. Stephanie George looks at mentoring as an intervention and asks what we mean by effective mentoring practice

Interventions are used across many schools to promote achievement at key points in the student’s learning journey. These interventions take many forms, including one-to-one tuition, small group work, online tutoring programmes or revision and extended school programmes.

Mentoring is one type of intervention that is used to support individual students to maximise their potential. Mentoring can take many forms and might involve middle or senior leadership team members, business professionals or undergraduates mentoring a student or groups of students. There may also be a dedicated learning mentor or pastoral mentor team in the school.

Mentoring might be defined as a “process in which one person (mentor) is responsible for overseeing the career and development of another person (protégé) outside the normal manager-subordinate relationship” (Everyone Needs a Mentor: Fostering talent in your organisation, David Clutterbuck, 2004).

Mentors will essentially do the same outside of the normal teacher-student relationship but with one main difference. The difference is that the role of the mentor is a formal one within an educational setting. The school is investing considerable time and resources and is essentially looking for a return upon their investment. The return can be quantified as an improvement in grades, increased motivation, improved learning relationships and hopefully overall achievement.

The student may well be referred essentially through scrutiny gained via the assessment, reporting and recording systems. The process of formal referral compromises the voluntary nature of the natural mentor and gives a very precise focus within the school environment.

The mentor’s approach must be one of facilitator, guide, supporter, enabler and perhaps even professional advocate. The role is not one of a friend or of a manager. Work that a mentor may find themselves engaged in includes:

  • Working with young people to identify any barriers to learning.
  • SMART target-setting to develop an action plan for moving forward around issues.
  • Making provision for students to work on coursework, homework, revision and study skills.
  • Offering guidance and support with personal and domestic issues.
  • Providing opportunities for students to develop self-esteem and confidence.
  • Working collaboratively with other professionals to support children, young people and their parents and carers.
  • Monitoring review and re-assessment with the young person.

Effective mentoring practice

So what do we know about the impact of mentoring in a formal sense? We know that Ofsted has critically evaluated the impact of learning mentor practice and its findings answer the question quite emphatically.

Its 2003 report into the Excellence in Cities and Education Action Zones programmes states: “Learning mentors are making a significant effect on the attendance, behaviour, self-esteem and progress of the pupils they support. In 95 per cent of the survey schools, inspectors judged that the mentoring programme made a positive contribution to the mainstream provision of the school as a whole and had a beneficial effect on the behaviour of individual pupils and on their ability to learn and make progress.”

However, we still have yet to evaluate nationally the work of mentors up and down the country who are engaged in these roles albeit with a variety of monikers.

Having trained more than 1,000 mentors across England I have heard them called behaviour mentors, Pupil Premium mentors, welfare assistants, student support officers, student and behaviour liaison workers, and of course learning mentors.

Clearly evidence suggests that learning mentors are effective and having an impact. But what of the breadth of mentoring interventions that are in some cases “add-on” interventions for the staff charged with working one-to-one with the young person? How can we ensure that the mentoring intervention has the impact we intend or are aiming for?

Do, indeed, we know what we mean by mentoring? Is it counselling? Is it advisory work? Is it instruction or is it a “short quiet chat” – or is it none of these things? These are questions that we need to ask to understand what we want mentoring to achieve.

Absolutely key to effective mentoring intervention is to recognise that the needs of the student are paramount. It is the role of the mentor to “walk alongside” the learner, not in front or behind, but alongside.

It is the role of the mentor to assist the learner to discover what is needed in order to overcome the hurdles that they are facing. It is the role of the mentor to bring questions to the discussion but not necessarily to provide answers. The answers lie always with the student. Quality mentoring draws this out. Quality mentoring finds the answer to the issues where they lie. The answers lie with the student.

Many of us in teaching give advice to students. Our advice is limited. It is limited to the breadth or depth of our experience, which may be very wide indeed when we consider our curriculum content, subject knowledge, syllabus and exam board requirements. We know what we need from the students and we know what advice to give to achieve the outcomes we want. Schools are by their very nature full of advice.

The student would not require mentoring however, if it is advice they needed. Mentoring is a very different skill. Advice has its limitations, particularly with the breadth of issues that come with the students that are often referred for mentoring and we need to be mindful that at times very specialist intervention from other agencies are needed.

Mentoring has no limits – in each mentoring relationship, the answer, resolution or actions we seek are seated squarely with the student. Quality mentoring brings this to the fore and as staff we are brokers and advocates for the intervention that the student may need.

Measuring the difference mentoring makes

The students identified as in need of mentoring often fall into several categories as defined by the school – for example looked-after children, Pupil Premium, C/D borderline, A/A* borderline – all of which are likely to have at their heart the scrutiny of data.

However, best practice shows us that data alone does not give us the fullest picture of the individuals we teach and where there is the greatest impact of mentoring a number of identifiers are used.

Before mentoring can begin we need to establish a baseline from which to measure using identifiers, so that once quality mentoring intervention takes place we can be clear about the difference mentoring is making. Essential identifiers include attendance statistics, behaviour concerns/exclusions, the student’s approach to learning, reports, core data, observations, parental and staff feedback, and student self-assessment.

Assessment will need to measure the skills, knowledge, beliefs of the student. Initial assessment, formative and summative assessment should be an intrinsic part of mentoring. Successful outcomes enable the young person to move forward.

When it comes to the self-assessment, a simple form can be used with students. This could list a number of identifiers and potential issues and ask students to score each from 1 to 10 (low to high). Identifiers could include their self-assessment of: attendance, punctuality, happiness, anger, their presentation of work, friendship issues, attitude to learning, homework completion, cooperation, and behaviour.

A structured mentoring intervention

A structured intervention should follow a process. An example of one is given in the chart (below). Key features for embedding an academic and pastorally robust mentoring team include:

  • Learning mentor intervention is part of whole-school pastoral support.
  • All referrals are completed on a referral form, having agreed criteria for referral after full consultation with year leader/senior leader.
  • The referral is countersigned by the year or senior leader and parental consideration is sought.
  • After an initial rapport-building appointment, students are baseline-assessed.
  • A shared and student-focused mentoring action plan is devised with the student. All action plans are SMART with subject progress, teacher input, curriculum, personal and social information.
  • Monitoring meetings take place with a possible review of targets and action plan. Reassessment follows with a scrutiny of progress academically, socially and personally.
  • There is a termly review of the learning mentor’s caseload by the head of department. The head of department and learning mentor make a decision about when the mentoring should end.
  • There is evaluation of the impact (reporting to the pastoral team) on a termly basis. At the end of the mentoring (which may take six, 12 weeks or more), the student also evaluates the intervention.
  • The mentoring team contributes to the school newsletters, internal bulletins, participate and leads a variety of events. Learning mentors attend parents’ evenings and year group events.
  • Learning mentors are involved in pastoral plans, SEN, EAL, attendance and education welfare officer meetings. Learning mentors support the year leader and senior leader with student matters.


Criteria for identification of students

Students are identified by the senior leaders, year leaders and/or pastoral teams for intervention. The criteria for referral should be developed and agreed with year leaders and shared with all year teams and across the school. The year leader/senior leader or nominated staff should be responsible for making referrals as the one with the year team overview.

The criteria are transparent and include: poor academic progress, homework concerns, attendance issues, literacy or numeracy concerns, unresolved friendship issues, social isolation, bereavement, family or domestic concerns, attendance, assertiveness and confidence issues, self-esteem, and emotional literacy concerns.

Termly monitoring

Each term the head of the mentoring team should conduct a review with each learning mentor examining the progress of each student and make a decision to close, continue or monitor the mentoring. At this meeting the action plan is reviewed, amended or continued if it is having the desired impact. At the end of each term the case should be evaluated by the student and the learning mentor. So that there is clear evidence with regard to the student’s view of the intervention.

Resources

A range of resources can be used to support mentoring intervention. A baseline assessment should always be conducted. The assessment should be completed at the start and end of each mentoring case.

Learning mentors may use a formalised process with key documentation to ensure consistency of approach, for example a referral form, a baseline assessment, an introduction to mentoring protocol and confidentiality statement, a curriculum assessment, a target-setting sheet and action plan. These resources can be differentiated for different key stages.

Curriculum data and attendance data should be scrutinised too.

The initial mentoring assessments will need to cover aspects of the student’s approaches to learning which include self-confidence, attendance at school, punctuality, peer relationships, relationships with teachers and preparedness for learning, organisation skills and participation in extra-curricular activities.

The assessment should aim to build a full picture of the student to enable the learning mentor to focus on the issues that impede learning, participation and achievement.

Conclusion

Mentoring is not a quick-fix – you may have to walk alongside the student for sometime. Issues are complex, contexts can be difficult and relationships may be strained. A mentor’s intervention may have to be lengthy, however with compassion, many many hurdles can be overcome and the returns can be phenomenal in terms of student success, progress, life chances and opportunities available to them.

  • Stephanie George is a teacher, trainer and author of The Learning Mentor Manual (Sage 2010), as well as a number resource books including Activities for Mentoring Young People (2013) and The Mentoring Toolkit (2016).


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