What are they and how do they work? vulnerable children schools pupil premium intervention pastoral care support

What are they and how do they work? vulnerable children schools pupil premium intervention pastoral care support

When you take someone’s hand and guide them over a bridge that you yourself have crossed before that is mentorship.


The power of mentoring

Before the Department for Education rolled out its National Tutoring Programme (NTP), mentoring was not a term widely used in the education space, especially when it comes to supporting pupils’ learning.

However, post-pandemic, the DfE has identified the role of academic mentor as a key part of its recovery plan and the NTP.

Before Covid had even raised its head, I had already experienced the impact that mentoring could have on a young person.

At the age of 10, I experienced my first permanent exclusion from school and by the age of 13 I was completely disengaged in almost all aspects of school life.

That was until I met Mr Guru, a learning mentor employed by my school to support young men (like me) who were in danger of heading off-course.

He supported me on a one-to-one basis using a style that was both unconventional and relational. Although it only lasted a term or two, nothing compared to the feeling of having an advocate who could walk me through the week.

We built such a strong rapport that we kept in touch long after I left school. Today, he’s a deputy headteacher who, through the great mystery of life, has since provided counsel to me for a second time – during my own senior leadership adventure as I moved from being a mentor to become an assistant headteacher.

Life came full circle in 2018 when I was appointed director of a charity called The Reach Out Project – a mentoring programme for young boys who are, like I was, disengaged from education.

Over the course of eight years, the charity has supported more than 100 boys in inner-city London. At the heart of its success is the emphasis on mentoring as a vital tool for social change and future-proofing of our local communities.

My personal experience as a beneficiary of mentoring gave me confidence about the impact mentoring could have in our communities. My professional career, however, gave me the opportunity to translate this into the schools where I worked.

In this article I would like to discuss what teacher mentors are and how this approach can be used effectively.


Teacher mentors

By definition, a teacher mentor is a teacher who takes on the responsibility of supporting either an individual child or sometimes a group of pupils.

The children who could benefit from being mentored in this direct approach are identified and then partnered with their mentor. The type of mentoring provided by the teacher will depend on the needs of the child.

As a starting point for what teacher mentors might look like in your school, the NTP describes its academic mentor role thus: “Your day-to-day responsibilities will include developing bespoke support plans for individual pupils and small groups, helping pupils to grow in confidence and ability, and, ultimately, helping each child to reach their full potential. You’ll have a large degree of autonomy to enable you to focus on delivering effective and engaging sessions tailored to pupils’ specific needs.”

Of course, before we discuss this approach, it is worth mentioning that as educators we are mentoring children to an extent all the time – just by our existence as professional and kind-hearted teachers.

Indeed, a handful of informal interactions with a pupil can be all that is required to help them.


How can teacher mentors be established?

The first step in establishing teachers as effective mentors is working with your teachers to understand the role of a mentor, how to be effective, and its potential impact on both academic performance and pupil wellbeing.

There are, of course, clear CPD implications for those taking on the role. Schools should dedicate time for their staff to:

  • Understand the theoretical foundations of mentoring.
  • Co-create a whole-school description of what the mentor role looks like.
  • Outline the effective approaches that can be used across the age ranges.

The idea is not to create more work or training, but for teachers to genuinely develop professional skills that require them to ask questions of themselves and others as educators and role models.

This can be done through workshop-style professional development days, short-burst activities in whole-school meetings, or bite-size content shared for discussion in team briefings.

Elsewhere, having a school-wide policy in place outlining the teacher mentor approach ensures that all stakeholders are aware of what is expected.


Who will benefit?

Once there is a clear understanding of what a mentor is and this has been outlined within school policy, school leaders should identify who will benefit from this approach.

Questions to consider will include whether this is to be whole-school or whether the selected children be from one particular year group or cohort.

Once the focus group has been identified, teachers should be given the opportunity to apply to be a teacher mentor.

There are different approaches here. Teachers from different key stages can be assigned to children from a particular group, or from across different year groups. Or teachers from within one year group can be assigned to specific children across the same cohort.


Case study

In September, year 6 teachers in conjunction with the senior leadership team identified pupils who would benefit from mentoring.

Given that year 6 can be an intense year with SATs and secondary school looming, we selected children who would require further support with social and emotional aspects of learning. The needs of these children varied from low self-esteem to emotional regulation difficulties.

Teachers who were happy to take on the role of mentor were then partnered with a child. The assignment of teacher to pupil was decided by the impact we felt the adult could have with the child. A key consideration was the relationship that existed or could exist between them.

There were strict expectations set for the teachers that included a minimum number of times they should meet with their mentee, parental communication, a record kept of sessions, and further safeguarding training.

These expectations were in place so they were aware of the commitment they were making and to ensure consistency.

However, teachers were given autonomy about the mentoring approach itself.

Pupil feedback highlighted that the children enjoyed having a trusted adult they could talk to for both educational and sometimes personal matters.

Data showed that the cohort of pupils receiving the mentoring had an attendance of 90% or more. In the case of one child, low-level behaviour incidents dropped considerably with his attendance also improving.


How can mentors build relationships with their mentees?

When children begin school, their experience is largely dependent on the kind of relationships they build with their peers and, more importantly, their teachers.

Teachers should build a relationship with their pupils by getting to know them, understanding who they are and how they learn best. Relationship-building comes mainly from showing an interest and understanding your children through observation, frequent interactions, and conversations.

As a mentor, you have the unique opportunity to devote more time and focus to a child. Consequently, you embark on a journey together.

It can take time, but the key things needed to build a positive relationship include:

  1. Statement of purpose: Make it clear what your intentions are and what you and the mentee both want out of this relationship. This is confirmation that you are both aware of the journey you are about to embark on, together.
  2. Being consistently present: Your mentee needs consistency. They need to know they can rely on you to do what you said you’d do and be available when you said you will.
  3. Be relatable and personal: Your mentee will need to feel comfortable with you. They are interested in What are your hobbies outside of school? Who’s your favourite Harry Potter character? What football team do you support? With the correct boundaries in place, your mentee can relate to you and begin to make connections between their teachers, school and the world they live in.


How schools can instill a culture of role models

Instilling a culture of role models requires both policy and practice to be a tangible entity, experienced and observed every day by everyone. In a school, children are surrounded by role models.

The way teachers communicate with one another and passionately engage in discourse about their subjects is being watched by pupils every second of the school day.

Paul Dix’s book When the Adults Change, Everything Changes (2017) breaks this down perfectly, suggesting that school culture is set by the way adults behave.

Many children will follow people first and then the rules. When you consider the impact one teacher can have on a child, it is important that we remember our role as teachers is working in tandem with our status as role models.

For many children, school staff are up there as the most important people in their lives. They are relied upon as “additional” parent figures and, in some cases, teachers inadvertently fill the void of a significant adult absent in a child’s life.

Many people understand the importance of mentoring but very few have mentors. As educators, we can present this great opportunity today.

Emmanuel Awoyelu is a primary school teacher, SENCO and former assistant headteacher. He is currently working overseas as a specialist inclusion teacher in the UAE and has a wealth of experience supporting children from disadvantaged backgrounds. He was a key member of the mentoring programme used in his previous school and has considerable experience on implementing mentoring models in schools through his charity The Reach Out Project. Visit www.mannyawo.com or follow him on X (Twitter) @MannyAwo. Find his previous Headteacher Update articles and podcasts via www.headteacher-update.com/authors/emmanuel-awoyelu

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