What's my job... lead learning mentor, Westminster

As a learning mentor I try to understand the feelings behind disengagement.

In nearly all the situations I meet in my work, the children are unable to connect with aspects of the national curriculum because it is so removed from their reality. I feel strongly that I have to directly address their reality if children are to find the concentration and motivation they need to learn.

My background is in arts and film and I probably work a little unconventionally, as I tend to use the arts more than most. I was chosen as a lead learning mentor to promote this particular way of working.

Among the children I see are those who might have witnessed extreme violence, whose parents are crack-cocaine addicts or who have arrived from war zones.

As a learning mentor in schools I have worked with groups of up to six children who come out of class. Projects have included a feminist teen mag for girls addressing the delusions behind eating disorders; a black boys'

writing group on violence in Jamaican culture; and a film made by Muslim students about issues facing them post 911. The kids are always given a voice and encouraged to express themselves.

Now I support similar projects across the borough. Nine times out of 10 there is a wonderful understanding between learning mentors and headteachers, but occasionally we have to negotiate a difficult path. There are pressures on teachers to get good results and manage behaviour, and, if a child is behaving very badly, often it is the school policy to reprimand him or her. The learning mentor ethos is to ask what is behind that behaviour, to understand it and work with the child so that he or she might change the behaviour. This can take time and involves patience.

Learning mentors establish a different kind of relationship with pupils; they often keep in touch with children outside school. They can be adult role models and friends to these children, which can be invaluable in demonstrating behaviour and developing trust, empathy and the ability to form satisfying relationships.

Chloe Ruthven was talking to Carolyn O'Grady

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