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April 28, 2022

Student mentoring shows us the way forward

Written by Sally-Anne Huang, High Master

Before 2020, I would definitely have seen myself as an optimist – and I like to think that I haven’t lost that entirely now. We have passed the two year anniversary of the first Covid lockdown and, as much as that time was shocking in its own right, if you had told me then what the next two years would contain, I’m not sure I would have believed you. We have had months of imposed online learning, significant periods of illness for school staff and pupils alike and the need to test, track and trace for a virus as well as generate GCSE and A level grades. The world of education did cope and I have never been more proud to be working in this sector. Yet, I can’t help but reflect on the impact the pandemic has had on pupils; not only my own, but students across the country. 

With disruptions to teaching, school life and the curriculum still ongoing, the learning gap risks widening into a ravine. It can be hard to stay optimistic with the knowledge that the majority of schools haven’t been able to access funding to catch-up schemes until this year, and that teachers believe it will take 18 months or more for pupils to close the gap. The DfE has reported that the government’s National Tutoring Programme is 92% off-target, with only 8% of qualifying pupils accessing the programme.  As COVID-19 restrictions are lifted nationally and within school, we find ourselves at an important moment in time, where we can plan how to support pupils returning to a normal pattern of study.  And those of us who are in a position to take action should do so.

At St Paul’s we don’t pretend to have all of the answers, but I have been excited to see the growth of our pupils’ engagement in mentoring and supporting fellow students from schools across the country. As well as the live academic support our Y12s  provide via Google meets, the Colet Mentoring app is a support tool developed by St Paul’s and Easy A, an EdTech startup founded by two of our alumni. It allows high-achieving Year 12 and Year 13 students to connect with younger students to motivate and support them in their school work and revision. One-to-one tuition is the most effective form of academic support outside the classroom, and our app provides this as well as enabling older students to get valuable mentoring experience.

Before launching the app early last year, we ran over 700 pilot sessions, starting in the summer of 2020 within the West London Partnership, a group of ten independent and state schools in our area of London, of which we were a founding school. Feedback from our pilots was really promising. Dubravka Todorinovic, Head of Maths at Christ’s School in Richmond, found that ‘Many …  students completed overdue tasks they felt less motivated to do during the school closures’ with one mentee suggesting that ‘students are often easier to ask and answer questions than teachers’. We know from research that peer-to-peer tutoring improves attainment levels equivalent to 5 months of additional progress, and that both mentors and mentees benefit from the practice. A trial by independent educational evaluation charity ImpactEd revealed that, in comparison to the control group, students who actively engaged with Colet Mentoring increased their motivation by 19%, their team-working by 16%, and their well-being improved by 9.5%. I know that fellow school leaders will understand the importance of all of these measures as we emerge from the pandemic.

I do understand that this app is only one of  many innovations developed within the educational space over the last two years. But I am really proud of the staff and pupils here who have worked so that it can continue to help motivate and empower students  so that they in turn  are able to embrace their learning after so many disruptions and such uncertainty.  You may find, as I have, that a service like Colet Mentoring would benefit not only mentees who need support and a sense of community, but also inspire and energise student mentors to engage with their studies with renewed purpose. We have already seen an upward trend in children’s mental health this year, with a clear correlation to school attendance and face-to-face learning. As the world gets lighter and brighter, we owe it to our pupils to provide them with every avenue of support to flourish – and in a time where young people have shouldered more than their fair share of the burden, what better way to restore confidence than by allowing them to provide the solution?

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