Magic of mentoring

22nd June 2007 at 01:00
Motivating young people means keeping them on their toes and also forcing them to be honest with themselves. Mentoring does both of these things.

After the course (Motivating Pupils for Learning), we set up a pilot mentoring programme with 30 underachievers from Year 10. Many of them were getting good grades, but were still deemed to be underachieving - 29 of the 30 pupils were boys.

Our approach is robust rather than softly-softly. If someone misbehaves or produces poor work, the mentor is told and they raise the matter straight away.

Some pupils react badly at first, because they don't like their every move being watched. We have to explain that we're doing it because we care.

Senior staff act as mentors to three or four pupils, and the fortnightly sessions are short and sharp, usually just 10 minutes. Pupils bring along a good piece of work and a poor one. We ask them to pinpoint the difference, and the answer is always the same: it's the effort they have put in.

At the end of the session, we ask them to focus on one specific thing. It might be to do with self-esteem, time management or the way they handle peer pressure.

Once a month, pupils get an honest opinion from their teachers of what grade they could expect if the exam was tomorrow. At any moment they know exactly where they stand, so there's no excuse for drifting. One boy in my group wants to be a marine biologist. I sat him down, we looked at his grades, and I told him that if he didn't improve he could wave goodbye to his dreams. It was a wake-up call.

The programme is still in its infancy, but the potential is already obvious. Next year we plan to expand it to other year groups and we're training more staff to act as mentors. It's a demanding role. You have to be tough without being heavy-handed. Finding that balance is the hardest part of the job.

Ian Humpage is a deputy head at St John Baptist High School in Glandare, Mid Glamorgan

The details

Motivating Pupils for Learning looks at different ways of improving motivation, including mentoring.

Creative Education. Various dates.

Costs pound;270 + vat. www.creativeeducation.co.uk.

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