Beware Mentoring Providers Bearing Gifts! The challenges of recruiting schools!

You are so proud of your shiny mentoring programme! You are in awe of the amazing mentors you have signed up. You have a great team all geared up and ready to deliver the best programmes ever. You even have the funding in place thanks to your hard-earned Careers & Enterprise Company Mentoring Fund grant. All you need now is the schools to sign up. Well, that will be a walk in the park won't it? Because we all know how much schools will benefit from our mentoring programmes, right?

Schools, though, often do not bite off the hands of external organisations offering their services to them. Like the Trojan priest in the Aeneid, schools are wary of those from outside their community offering them their services, even when they are free. And this is very understandable. The elephant in this room (or perhaps the wooden horse?), is that there are a huge number of providers offering their programmes to schools and the quality of these is often, however well-meaning, of variable quality. Schools are under enormous pressure to deliver results for their students and coping with significant structural and other changes to the education system. So, we shouldn’t be surprised if offers of help are met with a strong whiff of scepticism and healthy challenge. Schools are far more business-like in their approach than before — as they should be — so as mentoring providers, we need to be very clear of our arguments as to why our programmes can make a solid difference to a school’s priorities.

So why should schools welcome an employer mentoring programme as a key vehicle by which to support their students’ attainment and progression?

Academic research makes clear that well-organised and executed mentoring makes a difference to young people. Indeed, Careers & Enterprise Company research on ‘what works’ in careers guidance identified that mentoring was one of the two most promising activities in terms of impact out of 20 different activities. Specific impacts of mentoring highlighted in academic research include:

  • positive impact on academic attainment
  • positive impact on educational and career progression
  • improved insights in to work and better capability to manage their careers
  • more positive attitudes about work
  • improved self-confidence and self-esteem
  • positive orientation towards and engagement in education

Evidence also shows that providing mentor support to young people at risk of disengagement from school can help to ‘level the playing field’. Increasingly, mentoring is recognised as providing a powerful vehicle by which to promote social mobility and improve life chances and in tackling disengagement. In addition, mentoring has an important role to play in promoting cohesion, bringing adults and young people from different communities together in meaningful relationships.

And there is a powerful case for mentoring in helping to equip young people with the skills they will need in the workplace. The 2015 British Chambers of Commerce survey revealed that 69% of businesses did not believe that secondary schools were properly prepared children for the world of work. Two out of the top five entry-levels skills sought by businesses — communications skills and teamwork skills — can be directly improved through effective employer mentoring.

If evidence isn’t enough to persuade a school to sign up, perhaps an appeal to their statutory duties might work? Section 45 of the Education Act 1997 places a statutory duty on schools to provide high-quality careers advice and guidance. Statutory Guidance to schools to supplement s45 was issued by the Department for Education in March 2015, alongside non-statutory advice. The statutory guidance and non-statutory advice makes clear that high-quality employer mentoring is an excellent way in which schools can deliver their statutory duty. The guidance and advice highlights several organisations delivering excellent mentoring programmes, all of which are now funded through the Careers & Enterprise Company’s Mentoring Fund to expand their reach.

The National Careers Council’s report An Aspirational Nation highlighted several key factors by which schools can provide effective careers support in line with the statutory duty and employer mentoring can meet a number of these key factors, particularly the exhortations to “Make available face-to-face guidance to all pupils from Year 8 onwards” and “Have strong links with employers who are able to contribute to pupils’ education by raising their awareness and giving insights about the range of careers open to them.”

Many academies and free schools are also subject to the duties relating to careers guidance through their funding agreements, including those which opened from September 2012 onwards and those which have moved to an updated funding agreement.

The Government also recommends that all schools should aim to achieve a quality award for their careers education, information, advice and guidance as an effective means of carrying out a self-review and evaluation of the school’s programme. The national validation, the Quality in Careers Standard, helps schools to determine an appropriate quality award to pursue and engaging in a Careers and Enterprise Company-funded employer mentoring programme will provide a useful vehicle by which to help secure such an award.

And have you met a school that didn’t fret about its next Ofsted inspection? Ofsted’s most recent school inspection framework, published in August 2016, makes clear that ‘Outstanding’ schools should provide “high quality, impartial careers guidance helps pupils to make informed choices about which courses suit their academic needs and aspirations. They are prepared for the next stage of their education, employment, self-employment or training.” Many school inspections have highlighted successful employer mentoring programmes in reports of outstanding schools. For example, in Dixon King’s Academy’s Outstanding Ofsted report, inspectors referred to The Prince’s Trust’s Mosaic employer mentoring programmes stating “The Mosaic initiative this year and last gives a large number of pupils in Years 9 and 10 access to support from a range of professional mentors, builds confidence and helps them develop leadership skills. Pupils have opportunities to engage in ‘young apprentice’ activities and in enterprise challenges; some pupils came second in a national enterprise competition and another group of pupils is entering again this year.”

All of the above evidence demonstrates the compelling case for mentoring in helping schools to deliver the best possible results for their students. For individual providers, however, these general arguments will be useful but will probably not seal the deal. Over and above this, good providers ask themselves the following questions to ensure that they have the best possible chance of success in signing schools up for their programme:

  • How well do we know the school? What are its priorities? Do they already have a mentoring programme? What are the characteristics of its pupils? What are its results like? What did its last Ofsted inspection reveal? What does the Head Teacher care about most? What other programmes with external organisations does the school host?
  • Can we prove the impact of our programme? As powerful as the general evidence is for mentoring, this is no substitute for hard evidence of the impact that a specific programme has delivered.
  • How well do we know the community in which the school operates?Do we know what local employers want from school leavers? Do we even know any local employers?! What challenges is the wider community facing? Are our mentors reflective of the local community?
  • What do other local schools say about us? The most effective recruitment method is very often word of mouth. In a crowded market, school leaders put huge store by what their colleagues in other local schools tell them. A positive referral from a neighbouring school, can work wonders. If you have, on the other hand, had difficulties in another local school, be prepared to acknowledge this and explain how you have learned from this experience.
  • Are we sure we can deliver well? Be very sure that if a programme signs up that you can deliver a great programme. If you don’t, you can be sure that the school won’t sign up again — and they will tell others not to sign up too.

As schools start settling down after the first few weeks of the new school year, those organisations who have used the Summer months to hone their school recruitment strategy will find that this was time very well spent. And, hopefully, schools will welcome you with open arms so that their students can benefit from the tremendous positive impacts that great mentoring schemes can offer.

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