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Impetus-PEF: Making the best of mentoring

Our founders at Impetus-PEF have published an insightful article highlighting the value of mentoring in light of the Prime Minister’s new national campaign, led by the Careers and Enterprise Company to recruit more mentors to work with young people. ThinkForward’s Managing Director, Kevin Munday attended the Prime Minister’s speech on life chances last week and amongst other things the PM emphasised the importance of character education and work experience for young people. Please find an edited version of the article below.

At Impetus-PEF we know, from our work supporting charities working with disadvantaged young people to improve their educational and employment outcomes, that mentoring can be a valuable tool. Acting as a trusted and reliable adult in the life of a young person who does not have this support can help break damaging behaviours and encourage positive new ones.

There is also hard evidence that mentoring can be impactful. Meta-analyses of published programme evaluations show improvements across many areas including behavioural and social-emotional outcomes, such as involvement in crime and anti-social behaviour.

However the links to academic attainment are not as strong. The Educational Endowment Foundation/Sutton Trust Toolkit which evaluates the most effective methods for boosting attainment rates mentoring as low impact. Using their benchmarks, they judge that mentoring leads to, on average, only one or two months’ additional academic progress for children, compared to their peers who do not receive mentoring. Disadvantaged children appear to make the most progress.

For a target population at risk of failing their GCSEs, it is our experience that mentoring needs to be part of a larger support package. In addition, they are likely to need targeted support on their academic attainment, as well as careers advice and work experience. Mentors are then very well-placed to reinforce this by offering motivation and inspiration which keep young people focussed. Some of our partner charities, including ThinkForward, use mentoring as one element of their programmes in this way.

When we are looking at potential partner charities at Impetus-PEF we ask ourselves ‘Is it credible that *this* programme will get *these* young people to *those* outcomes?’ – is it fit to meet the need? Using the evidence base can help make the programme as credible as it can be, by revealing the things you should and should not do to increase your chances of having a positive impact.

When it comes to mentoring the evidence base shows that a clear, codified structure for the intervention, and expectations of both the mentors and mentees is important, as is initial training and ongoing supervision and support for mentors. Screening of mentors to assess their commitment and reliability over the long-term will not be a wasted effort, as mentoring relationships that end sooner are less likely to have an impact. Equally, effective mentoring programmes invest time in getting the match right between mentor and mentee – where they share interests, the impacts are greater.

There is also some evidence that mentors from a ‘professional background’ improve outcomes, and that community-based mentoring programmes are more effective than school-based programmes. As the EEF/Sutton Trust Toolkit makes clear, there have been mentoring programmes that have had a detrimental effect on young people. The impact, or lack of it, is in the detail of how the programmes are designed, implemented, and managed.

Mentoring is a less expensive intervention compared to some others – but any intervention is expensive which does not achieve its aims. It will be crucial that the ‘credibility test’ is applied as this mentoring programme is designed and rolled out, that the evidence base is used, and that the young mentees’ academic progress is tracked, and used to manage the programme. After all, the stakes are highest for them.

This article first appeared on the Impetus-PEF website on 26th Jan 2015