Mentoring schemes are an approach endorsed by the DCSF, and a number of independent organisations offer direct support to schools. Linda Evans discusses mentoring schemes as well as other forms of peer support

It could be argued that every pupil would benefit from having a mentor, and it is certainly a DCSF aim to make this a reality in the future. But for now, you may be concerned with particular individuals or groups of learners who need ‘something extra’ and may respond well to the approaches listed below:

  • Peer mentoring – useful for children and young people who have low self-esteem or have social, emotional and behavioural difficulties; this is often also appropriate for able learners who are underachieving
  • Peer tutoring – effective for children who need support in lessons, (particularly in practical activities such as science investigations), where a more competent peer can act as a ‘guide’; also good for reading practice, and activities such as learning spelling out of the classroom
  • Circle of friends – provides a support network for a child with a disability or behaviour difficulties, or a child who is just new to the school
  • Buddies – one-to-one support which can work well for children who lack confidence; they can respond well to an ‘older brother or sister’ relationship with a peer who will look out for them
  • Study partners – sharing ideas about how to revise, how to make useful notes, how to plan an essay – these are skills that (older) able pupils can pass on to others in an accessible way
  • Peer-mediation – young people are trained to mediate disagreements between peers, in instances such as name-calling, bullying, fighting and quarrelling. Group support enables children and young people to understand the hurt that they have caused so that each person comes away from the mediation with a positive experience and the sense that the outcome is fair to both sides.

Whichever type of peer support you are going to set up, key issues will be:

  • the choice of pupils (both tutors/mentors and tutees/mentees)
  • ‘formalisation’ of the project
  • appropriate training
  • on-going support for the project
  • careful monitoring and evaluation.

The choice of pupils
You may want to approach particular pupils you know are reliable and sensible, with good interpersonal skills – or advertise throughout the school and be prepared to turn down some pupils. Many schools have found, however, that when pupils who have a history of behaviour difficulties or low self esteem are asked to accept the role of ‘tutor’, they rise to the occasion; their confidence grows; and the tutoring is valuable to both partners. Recent research by the MBF has shown that schemes seemed to be most successful when students were matched according to similar interests and hobbies or similar personality characteristics. Matching of boy to girl was deemed to be less successful than same-gender matching. The child needs to have the approach properly explained in basic terms and be prepared to give it ago. The child’s parent or carer will need to have had the approach explained to them and given their assent and support.

Formalisation of the project
The MBF research findings advocate formalising mentoring schemes so that they have kudos in the school, with appropriate resources allocated to them. This might include:

  • mentor-mentee meetings pre-arranged by the scheme coordinator at a set
  • time and place each week
  • designated mentoring area within the school
  • special badges for mentors
  • scheme coordinator available for sessions.

Appropriate training
This is essential to the success of this type of work. Pupils need to understand how to listen, encourage, explain, and to understand the importance of confidentiality. Use role play, videos and modelling; brainstorm strategies and agree which can be tried. Be clear with the group about responsibilities, disclosures and boundaries. Let them know exactly what is expected of them. (Organisations such as the Samaritans will provide mentoring training

On-going support for the project
The key to success in this approach is a teacher or TA who is committed to using it and who will be able to give sufficient time to supporting the tutors or mentors. Regular meetings can provide mutual support within the group and opportunities to discuss ‘tactics’ and progress, and any issues that arise. This interaction also helps to sustain interest and motivation.

Careful monitoring and evaluation
Peer support schemes will require a degree of resourcing so you need to demonstrate their effectiveness over time. Use quantitative measures such as attendance figures, numbers of ‘reported incidents’ (which hopefully will show a decline in poor behaviour) and test scores and classwork marks. Qualitative evidence can include questionnaires, remarks from teachers and pupils,

This e-bulletin issue was first published in January 2009

About the author: Linda Evans is the author of SENCO Week. She was a teacher/SENCO/adviser/inspector, before joining the publishing world. She now works as a freelance writer, editor and part-time college tutor.