...And it helps volunteers from the business world, too. Ben Russell on the latest research in a growing area.
SCHEMES to link schoolchildren with people from the world of business are expanding and can offer real benefits, according to new research. Such mentoring schemes help youngsters build self-confidence, raise their knowledge of the world of work and help increase their application to study.
But researchers studying the schemes for the National Foundation for Educational Research warned there was a danger of sidelining them by targeting students with difficulties.
The NFER study, by Sarah Golden and David Sims, said: "In terms of personal development, students can improve their self-confidence, build awareness of the world of work and benefit from someone taking an interest in them.
"In relation to their school achievement, students' attendance and punctuality can be encouraged and their application to study improved as they begin to appreciate itsrelevance to the future.
"Through mentoring, companies can learn about young people and the education system and are able to show students what employers may expect of them, thus influencing potential recruits. Furthermore, companies' human resource development may be enhanced through staff who become mentors augmenting their range of skills."
Of the 94 schemes surveyed, most offered one-to-one sessions with students. Schemes were backed with some public funding but most support was in kind - largely the time devoted by industrial mentors themselves.
They focused on students in Years 10 and 11 in secondary school - 15- and 16-year-olds - although some schools were considering expanding their projects to younger children. Most schemes (84 per cent) also targeted specific groups of students.
But the report pointed to potential problems: "Local concerns - such as under-achievement among girls or boys, or the needs of young black people - were the reasons underlying targeting. However, there is a danger that if only one group of young people is targeted for involvement, students may begin to associate the scheme with 'people who can't read', as onestudent put it.
"While mentoring can be used as part of a broad strategy to raise achievement, it requires careful management to ensure that it is perceived by students as an opportunity which will help them to realise their full potential."
Four out of ten schemes had difficulty recruiting mentors, although most mentors surveyed found their involvement rewarding: "They were largely motivated by a desire to help young people through sharing their experiences and knowledge and, in some cases, commented that they would have appreciated a mentor at the same age.
"Mentors also hoped to gain from the relationship, and saw mentoring as a way of developing their own skills and experiences while helping others."
Students themselves could see benefits from the schemes: "Nearly all the mentees believed that their experience of mentoring had changed them and were able to identify the way in which this had occurred. In their view they were more organised and punctual, calmer and more inclined to work in class and more confident when talking to people.
"Overall, the evidence collected by this research indicated that the strengths which lie at the core of the mentoring process far outweigh any limitations. "
* Review of Industrial Mentoring in Schools by Sarah Golden and David Sims, NFER (01753 574123) Pounds 3.50