24th June 2005 at 01:00
Main text: Su Clark Illustration: Brett Ryder Additional research: Sarah Jenkins Next week: Speaking and listening

Did you know?

* One London school does brain and personality profiling before assigning mentors to pupils

* About 150 schools now use e-mentoring, linking pupils with mentors by email. One rural school is developing video linking

* A scheme in Hertfordshire focuses on the primary to secondary transition

* A Year 8 child boosted his attendance rate from 67 to 96 per cent after being matched with a peer mentor

* The number of business mentors has failed to keep up with the boom in mentoring. Many schools now struggle to find people who can give up an hour a week

Mentoring has been in schools in one form or another for years. But it's blossomed since the late 1990s when a Department of Education report, "Business and Community Mentoring in Schools" revealed a positive impact on students' experiences and outcomes. Since then millions of pounds have been sunk into developing a nationwide pattern of mentoring that schools can embrace. "Mentoring has a very positive impact on school pupils," says Patricia Hewitt, former Secretary of State for Trade and Industry. "It can inspire children, give them confidence and help them get started in the world of work. The mentors really benefit too. Companies that get involved know that their local school children often go on to become customers and potential employees." Despite the rhetoric, a survey by the East Mentoring Forum, an organisation that covers the east of England, found that while 46 per cent of big employers run a mentoring scheme, only 4 per cent of schools or colleges use business mentors.

Where does the concept of mentoring come from?

The idea is that someone with experience helps someone without that experience, just as Mentor helped Telemachus, son of Odysseus, in the Greek myth. When Odysseus set out with the Greek coalition to win back Helen from the Trojan prince, Paris, and in the process flatten Troy, he left Mentor to act in a fatherly role. At the same time, the goddess Athena took on Mentor's shape to visit Odysseus and guide him.

Are there different sorts of mentors?

Definitely. The list includes learning, peer, training, transitional, business management mentors... and more. Also each school approaches it differently.

Learning mentors came out of the Excellence in Cities (EiC) initiative.

They work with teaching and pastoral staff to identify, assess and work with pupils who need help to overcome barriers to learning, such as behavioural problems, bereavement, difficulties at home, problems transferring from primary to secondary school and poor study or organisational skills (see case study). They are funded in a range of ways.

Some are paid by schools themselves; others from located bid funding, including EiC and the Leadership Incentive Grant (LIG).

The corporate world

Business mentors are typically business people who come into schools to help pupils or teachers. They may link up with just one child, or a group, and can be helpful as an adviser on coursework, careers or just as a listening ear. The Government has also used mentors to cascade enterprise education, such as at Aylsham high school in Norfolk, where eight staff members are working with business mentors to help develop the school's programme. "It is a recognised problem with enterprise that teachers are not very entrepreneurial and few have experience of the corporate world," says Julie Ward, the school's deputy head.

Individual support

Personal mentoring focuses on support for a particular student. Often schools will identify a child who is demotivated, at risk of exclusion, or has low self-esteem. They will be matched with a mentor, whom they will meet regularly, either face to face or by email.

An individual success story at Sandy upper school in Sandy, Bedfordshire, has prompted the introduction of mentoring on a larger scale. "We had one lad who was very bright, but was under-achieving and at risk of dropping out," says Dave Ingram, head of maths. "We linked him up with an engineer at Dutton Engineering in Sandy, who worked with him on a weekly basis.

"He even went into one of the boy's classes once to help him understand how his behaviour was affecting his relationships with the teacher and the other pupils. It worked and he got his GCSEs."

Age counts

Peer mentoring links older children with younger ones. Many primary schools call this buddying, where a child in his or her last year at the school will look after a child who has just started. A more formal programme, which is being piloted in 300 secondary schools, was recently evaluated by the National Mentoring Network, shortly to be renamed the National Mentoring and Befriending Network. It found that peer mentoring can be beneficial for both the pupils involved and the school environment.

The network's report tells of one mentee who received 14 referrals in Year 9 for poor behaviour. This went down to three in Year 10 and none by the end of Year 11. Another child in Year 8 at a different school boosted his attendance rate from 67 to 96 per cent after being matched with a peer mentor. His test scores improved from an average of 20 per cent in the early part of Year 7 to just over 50 per cent in the first term of Year 8.

Time for reflection

Management mentoring, in which a business leader links up with the head or a senior manager within a school, is becoming increasingly popular.

Alan Stevens, head of Sawtry community college in Cambridgeshire, has been working with Robin Hendy, head of human resources at Anglia Cooperative, a large retailer in the area. "We meet every three months, which is just about manageable with congested diaries. Between times we email one another so the lines of communication are open," says Mr Stevens. "We are currently looking at putting together a continuous development programme for staff, and at leadership and management. It is very useful to mentor one another, and cross-fertilise ideas."

Julie Ward was mentored by a senior manager from the mustard producer Colmans of Norwich during her stint as acting head of Sawtry. "It was excellent. He made me sit for an hour and reflect on how I can manage or should have managed certain situations," she recalls. "It was just what I needed."

Cyber contact

Remote mentoring fills the gaps for students, teacher and mentors who are unable to meet face-to-face because of time, distance or other commitments.

Increasingly, schools are linking up via email, using such systems as E-mentoring, set up by David Horne and Ian McGowan, where supervised contact is managed between mentor and mentee.

E-mentoring is currently being used in 150 schools across 15 areas and has contact with 300 businesses. The Youth Action Network has been developing its mentoring programme using E-mentoring so that youth workers can mentor their peers in other areas of the country. Videoconferencing gets round the problem of time wasted in travel or getting a child to a meeting off campus.

The rural Sawtry community college, which has problems recruiting mentors willing to travel 20 miles to the school, has been working with e-learning consultant Adrian Winckles to develop video linking.

"We had to be creative in how we could realistically link mentors with students, as we are so rural. We couldn't have followed a traditional route," says Alan Stevens. The school has developed a system that uses video conferencing and emailing to bring the two parties together. "This way we hope to get around 25 per cent of our students at key stage 4 mentored," he says.

But it has proved expensive. Research suggested it could cost as much as Pounds 35,000, but Mr Winckles says they've saved money by using free systems available for teacher training via video conferencing. "We are looking at around pound;10,000 now."

On the job

Teacher-trainer mentoring brings together experienced teachers with new teachers, especially NQTs. But it can also be used for continuous development among experienced teachers. A growing number of schools are now installing observation suites. Aylsham high school, in Norfolk will have one by the next academic year, allowing teacher mentors to watch other experienced staff so that they can give feedback. In some situations, the mentee will wear an earpiece to allow on-the-spot advice. "We will also be able to video sessions so that they can be replayed and discussed with the participants," says Julie Ward. "It is an education tool we can use for all teachers."

Altruism or business sense?

The more altruistic employers recognise that encouraging staff to be involved in good causes out of work can engender a more positive attitude to their job and can have a beneficial effect on output. It's also a good public relations exercise to link up with customers' children, as well as future customers and employees.

And the business world is realising that it needs to do something more than simply complain about the quality of school leavers.

"There is a terrible shortage of entrepreneurial leaders in this country," says Ken Lewis, founder of Dutton Engineering in Sandy and chairman of the East Mentoring Network. "We took the decision that if we wanted young entrepreneurs for the future we had to play an active part in nurturing and training the next generation."

Is it difficult to find a mentor?

While many employers agree it is a lovely idea to take the commercial world into schools, not so many are willing to release staff to do it, which means more and more schools are chasing after the tiny percentage of people who can give an hour a week to mentoring children. "It's a real struggle to find people now," says Mr Stevens.

One of the problems, says mentoring consultant Elaine Godley, is that schools and businesses don't talk the same language. "They often don't understand one another," she says. "Schools can easily lose the goodwill of mentors if they don't ensure everything is in place, such as rooms ready, mentees present and welcoming receptions. I know of situations where the mentor has turned up and the individuals in reception have said 'I don't know why you are bothering with this lot'. It doesn't do the schools any favours."

It is also a hugely time consuming process. Dave Ingram at Sandy upper school wrote to local businesses, following up non-responses with phone calls. Other options are to go to the local Chamber of Commerce, contact the National Mentor and Befriending Network, or approach the local Education Business Partnerships.

How can you make the most of it?

Clearly defined goals are vital. One scheme, provided by the outreach department of Woolgrove school in Letchworth Garden City, focuses on the transition from primary to secondary. It covers the northern section of Hertfordshire and potentially 96 primary schools. "Through the schools, we identify children who may find the move more difficult than others - perhaps because of confidence or minor behavioural problems - or who are struggling to reach their full potential," says Brenda Davies, senior manager at Woolgrove. "Mentors meet each child once a fortnight during the summer term to discuss any concerns. They talk about anything; the agenda belongs to the child. Then we meet them again after they have started their new school."

The feedback Mrs Davies received has been excellent. "The children we've mentored have all settled into their new schools much quicker than expected," she says. "And some of the schools have requested training for staff so the mentoring can continue." Matching the mentor and the mentee is crucial: for example, putting IT specialists with student IT enthusiasts.

King Harold School in Waltham Abbey, Essex, goes even further with brain and personality profiling. "Brain profiling allows us to link together people who use the right hand side of their brains more than the left," says Malcolm Burnett, the school's business development manager. "We also do personality profiling so that when the mentor and mentee are put together there is a much greater chance that they get on, and have similar interests. It's much more likely to succeed that way, and it takes less time for their relationship to develop."

Training for both sides, advice and reassurance for mentors, parental support and frequent contact are also vital.

What should you avoid?

Research has shown that mentoring is most likely to fail where the student or pupil is forced into the arrangement. Other problems arise when mentors or mentees have been thrown together without any training on how to develop their relationship or understanding of how crucial it is to attend meetings. There is also often a conflict of roles: is the mentor a friend of the mentee or a figure of authority? This should be clarified for the mentoring to be successful.


* National Education Business Partnership Network ( is the umbrella organisation and national voice for 126 education business partnerships. 188 Main Street, New Greenham Park, Thatcham, Berkshire RG19 6HW. Tel: 01635 279914.

* Mentoring consultant Elaine Godley (

* East Mentoring Forum (

* E-mentoring (

* Learning Mentors in Schools by Leora Cruddas, includes 35 case studies,coming soon from Trentham Books.

* National Mentor and Befriending Network

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