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 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.
Activities vary between different mentoring programs. While some mentoring programs include some direct academic support with homework or other school tasks, approaches focused primarily on direct academic support are not covered in this strand. 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 programs vary. Some studies have found positive impacts for students 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 programs 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.
The majority of mentoring programs studied in Australia and New Zealand involve mentees from an underserved, often Indigenous, background. There remains a limited amount of Australasian-based research on the topic. Some Australasian-based studies have suggested positive effects of mentoring programs on students, particularly in terms of future education and career pathways, a strengthened sense of identity, and communication and interpersonal relationships. These studies also suggest that mentoring has more of an effect if it occurs over a long period of time, involves mentors and mentees from a similar background, is gender paired, uses mentors who are university students, and is one on one, and that, in some cultural contexts, group mentoring may be preferable.
How secure is the evidence?
The evidence is extensive. Five meta-analyses have been published in the last ten years, and estimates of average impact have been fairly consistent over the last decade. The quality of individual studies has improved in recent years with more experimental — rather than correlational — studies available for inclusion in reviews.
Most of the studies come from the USA and focus on secondary school students, with a few studies from the UK and other European countries such as Portugal. A recent rigorous study of mentoring for reading with eight-to-nine-year-olds in Northern Ireland found small improvements of about two months’ progress in fluency, but not in reading comprehension. Further rigorous evaluation in the UK is needed to assess 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 program. Community-based programs tend to be more expensive than school-based programs 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 achievement.
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?