Joe Connolly defends the value of youth mentoring against suggestions it has little impact on academic achievement
Most of us can pinpoint someone who, in our formative years, provided a positive influence, helping us to choose a particular path in life.
Parents, elder siblings, teachers, sports coaches, employers – these and others act as mentors, offering guidance, advice or encouragement which can prove crucial at a time in our lives when we’re confronted with difficult choices.
The benefits mentoring can offer a young person seem self-evident assuming they are fortunate enough to come from a background where positive influencers are readily available.
I was astonished, therefore, to read official guidance on Education Scotland’s website which suggested that ‘mentoring appears to have little or no positive impact on academic outcomes.’
At Ypeople, we operate three mentoring services - Ypeer, intandem and the Calm Project - all of which are community-based, meaning we support young people who are often not engaging in school. That allows our volunteer mentors to offer a service which doesn’t focus solely on academic goals but also addresses social and emotional needs.
While the Education Scotland report is presumably referring primarily to school-based mentoring, which operates differently from our own schemes, it nevertheless seems bizarre to claim this has no positive impact.
We see evidence on a daily basis of the hugely positive result which this support has on the young people we work with.
Frequently, youngsters who have previously had long periods of non-attendance at school or regular truancy, are supported back into attending regularly. Many move from a part-time timetable to full attendance and progress to achieving qualifications.
Mentors also offer assistance with managing stress and anxiety during exam periods, helping youngsters study more effectively and, as a consequence, achieve better results.
For young people who have suffered trauma or adverse childhood experiences, mentoring can significantly improve their mental and emotional wellbeing and build resilience which undoubtedly has a positive impact on their performance at school.
Many of the young people we’ve worked with have progressed to college and university and attribute their academic success to the mentoring support they received during their time at school.
As just one example of the beneficial influence mentoring can have, one young person helped during S3 and S4 via Ypeople’s Calm Project commented: “I have gone on to achieve educational qualifications from a PDA, to an HNC and now a BA in Community Development. Mentoring with the Calm Project was the main reason for going down the educational and career path I did due to my positive experiences, guidance and encouragement from my mentor.”
In short, there is a considerable body of evidence to support the mentoring model and to demonstrate that the presence of one reliable adult in a child’s life can have a significant impact on their social and emotional development.
This ill-informed report does a considerable disservice to hundreds of volunteer mentors who are giving up their time to make a positive difference to a young person’s life and future prospects.
Joe Connolly is CEO at Ypeople