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Research corner

Each week, we highlight education research conducted by teachers. Here, Terry Portch from All Saints Catholic School in Dagenham, Essex, explains why he turned a critical eye on mentoring and what the impact of his study has been


Terry Portch, inset, set out to see if he could develop CPD for mentors of trainee teachers on school-led initial teacher training programmes.


Increasing numbers of trainee teachers are completing their training through school-led programmes, owing to the success of initiatives such as Teach First and School Direct.

Portch realised that if schools were to support and develop trainee teachers, they needed great mentors. The way to guarantee this, he believed, was to identify what was positive and negative about the existing mentor programme and to provide CPD to ensure that all mentors had the skills to do the job effectively.


Portch conducted two qualitative surveys in his school: one was given to trainee teachers, newly qualified teachers (NQTs) and those in their second year of teaching, and the other was given to mentors.

The surveys asked the trainees and new teachers to describe what went into a valuable mentoring experience. The experienced teachers were asked to identify how they organised their mentoring sessions and what they felt made them effective.

The results

By analysing the survey results, Portch was able to distil the characteristics of the ideal mentor. Good mentors were "supportive" but also "challenging". They gave regular Smart (specific, measurable, assignable, realistic and time-related) targets and offered feedback from lesson observations.

Overall, four main aspects of mentoring were identified by trainee teachers as essential to progress: feedback; observations; allowing trainees to learn from mistakes; and not expecting too much, too soon.

Mentors, on the other hand, wanted to be able to opt in or out of mentoring duties depending on their workloads. They said trainee teachers and mentors needed time set aside to conduct their sessions, and called for a "mentor forum" where colleagues could meet to discuss strategies.

The impact

Although Portch's research was primarily aimed at supporting and developing mentors in his own school, other schools have taken an interest in his results. According to Nigel Gardener, associate deputy headteacher at All Saints, Dagenham, more than 40 teachers have now been trained using Portch's findings.

Portch's initial foray into research has given him the confidence to dive into another study; he is now investigating Year 12 students' views on what helped them to achieve A and A* grades at GCSE.

To find out more about the project, email Terry Portch at or find him on Twitter at @Portchy79

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