Mentoring in education involves pairing young people with an older peer or adult volunteer, who acts as a positive role model. In general, mentoring aims to build confidence and relationships, to develop resilience and character, or raise aspirations, rather than to develop specific academic skills or knowledge.
Mentors typically build relationships with young people by meeting with them one to one for about an hour a week over a sustained period, either during school, at the end of the school day, or at weekends. In some approaches mentors may meet with their mentees in small groups.
Activities vary between different mentoring programmes. While some mentoring programmes include academic support with homework or other school tasks, approaches focused primarily on direct academic support (sometimes referred to as “academic mentoring”) are not covered in this strand (see peer tutoring.)
Mentoring has increasingly been offered to young people who are deemed to be hard to reach or at risk of educational failure or exclusion.
1. The impact of mentoring varies but, on average, it is likely to have a small positive impact on attainment.
2. Positive effects on attainment tend not to be sustained once the mentoring stops, so care must be taken to ensure that benefits are not lost. It is important to consider how you can support pupils who have benefitted from mentoring to retain positive changes in their confidence and behaviour.
3. Both community-based and school-based approaches can be successful.
4. Mentor drop-out can have detrimental effects on mentees. It is important to consider how to support mentors.
On average, mentoring appears to have a small positive impact on academic outcomes. The impacts of individual programmes vary. Some studies have found more positive impacts for pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds, and for non-academic outcomes such as attitudes to school, attendance and behaviour.
There are risks associated with unsuccessful mentor pairings, which may have a detrimental effect on the mentee, and some studies report negative overall impacts.
Programmes which have a clear structure and expectations, provide training and support for mentors, and recruit mentors who are volunteers, are associated with more successful outcomes.
There is no evidence that approaches with a single focus on improving academic attainment or performance are more effective, programmes with multiple objectives can be equally or more effective.
In Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA), particularly in the Lake Chad Basin, there is a paucity of research evidence pertaining to the impact of mentoring on educational attainment. However, mentoring is generally considered to have positive effects within the region.
Mentoring has been included as a component of complementary interventions in other educational experiments. The BRIGHT program in Burkina Faso consisted, among others, of the construction of 132 primary schools to increase girls’ enrolment rates. One among the six complementary interventions was Literacy, which had two components; Adult literacy training and mentoring for girls. While the BRIGHT program as a whole was found to significantly improve test scores, enrolment and attendance, the specific impact of mentoring girls was not calculated or reported. Adding mentoring to the program suggests its importance and possible positive impact on attainment, but there is a need for further exploring on the impact of mentoring within the SSA context.
Studies have been undertaken in both primary and secondary school settings with similar impacts.
Overall impact on mathematics and general school subjects tends to be higher than on reading or science outcomes.
Regular meetings of once a week or more frequently appear to be most effective.
Mentoring requires close interaction between an adult or older peer and one or a small group of pupils. Conversations between mentors and mentees may address but would not be limited to: attitudes to school; specific academic skills or knowledge; self-perception and belief, particularly in relation to school-work; aspirations for future studies and career options. It is important to consider what support mentors might require to effectively deliver mentoring.
Mentoring interactions normally occur one to one between mentor and mentee – although mentors can mentor multiple pupils. Some mentoring approaches also include small group interactions.
Mentoring interventions are typically delivered over an extended period of time (often at least the length of a school year) in order to allow mentors and mentees to develop more lasting and trusting relationships. Frequent regular meetings of once a week or more tend to be more beneficial.
With most costs associated with mentor training and support, costs for mentoring per student are likely to be moderate within the Lake Chad Basin context.
Implementing mentoring interventions will also require a moderate and sustained amount of staff time, compared with other approaches.
Alongside time and cost, school leaders should consider how to maximise the recruitment of effective and reliable mentors that are well matched to mentees. Consideration should also be given to how any gains made in pupil confidence, resilience or aspiration are to be maintained after the intended period of mentoring, as studies show these changes can be difficult to sustain.
The security of the evidence around mentoring is rated as moderate. 44 studies were identified that meet the inclusion criteria of the Toolkit.
The lack of robust research on the impact of mentoring on educational attainment in SSA is an evidence gap that needs to be filled. For an intervention many consider relevant, in spite of an evidence gap, makes it even more urgent.
As with any evidence review, the Toolkit summarises the average impact of approaches when researched in academic studies. It is important to consider your context and apply your professional judgement when implementing an approach in your setting.