Very low or no impact for moderate cost, based on extensive evidence.

What is it?

Mentoring in education involves pairing young people with an older peer or volunteer, who acts as a positive role model. In general, mentoring aims to build confidence, develop resilience and character, or raise aspirations, rather than to deliver specific academic skills or knowledge. 

Activities vary from programme to programme, sometimes including direct academic support with homework or other school tasks. Mentoring has increasingly been offered to young people who are hard to reach or deemed to be at risk of educational failure or exclusion.

Activities vary between different mentoring programmes, sometimes including direct academic support with homework or other school tasks. For programmes focused primarily on direct academic support see One to one tuition and 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.

How effective is it?

On average, mentoring appears to have little or no positive impact on academic outcomes. The impacts of individual programmes vary. Some studies have found positive impacts for pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds, and for non-academic outcomes such as attitudes to school, attendance and behaviour. However, there are risks associated with unsuccessful mentor pairings, which may have a detrimental effect on the mentee, and some studies report negative overall impacts.

School-based mentoring programmes appear to be less effective than community-based approaches, possibly because school-based mentoring can result in fewer opportunities for young people to develop more lasting and trusting relationships with adult role models.

Programmes which have a clear structure and expectations, provide training and support for mentors, and use mentors from a professional background, are associated with more successful outcomes. 

How secure is the evidence?

The evidence is moderately secure. The quality of evaluations has improved in recent years with more rigorous designs compared with earlier studies, which often relied on correlational designs. Impact estimates have been fairly consistent over the last decade.

Most of the studies come from the USA and focus on secondary school pupils, with a few studies from the UK and other European countries such as Portugal. A recent rigorous study of mentoring for reading in Northern Ireland with eight to nine year olds found small improvements of about two months’ progress in fluency, but not in reading comprehension. 

Further rigorous evaluation in the UK is needed of varying approaches to mentoring across different age groups.

What are the costs?

Overall, costs are estimated as moderate. They mainly cover mentor training and support, and the organisation and administration of the programme. Community-based programmes tend to be more expensive than school-based programmes as schools tend to absorb some of the costs, such as space costs or general administration. Estimates in the USA are between $1000–$1500 per student per year or about £700–£1050.

What should I consider?

The impact of mentoring varies but, on average, it is likely to have very little impact on attainment.

Positive effects tend not to be sustained once the mentoring stops, so care must be taken to ensure that benefits are not lost.

Community-based approaches tend to be more successful than school-based approaches.

Mentor drop-out can have detrimental effects on mentees. What steps have you taken to assess the reliability of mentors?

What training and support have you provided for mentors?

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