Mentoring key to combating underachievement at school in disadvantaged communities

Charity backs calls for character development in schools as results show ‘dramatic’ impact on grades

A mentoring programme has dramatically improved attainment of pupils at Key Stages 2 and 4 in deprived areas of Manchester and London. The charity ReachOut has today revealed that in 2012/13, 84 per cent of pupils involved in its mentoring programme achieved five A*-C GCSEs (including core subjects English and Maths), compared with the national average of 61 per cent. The charity has also seen similar results for Year 6 pupils, with 84 per cent of ReachOut mentees achieving Level 4 in reading, writing and maths, compared with 76 per cent nationwide.

The results come after a week of debate about whether character should be taught in schools, following announcements by both the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Social Mobility and the shadow education secretary Tristram Hunt who have both called for schools to be responsible for more than academic achievement.

Xavier Bosch, Chief Executive of ReachOut, said: “We are really proud that these results show our mentoring programme works. ReachOut doesn’t target high achievers, young people with severe learning difficulties, those involved in antisocial behaviour or a particular ethnic or religious group. Instead we offer long-term preventative intervention to those young people who often get overlooked, the wider population of young people in communities where academic achievement, economic prosperity and aspiration are low.

“There’s a lot of work being done in disadvantaged communities to raise aspirations, which is incredibly important to break the cycle of underachievement.  However we believe that it takes more than aspiration to help someone change their life. Investing in both competence and character development for our young people alongside raising their aspirations means that they don’t just have ambitions, but develop the skills and resilience needed to achieve them. 

“As key leaders seem to be waking up to the value of schools taking responsibility for character development, some might say that they should focus on educational achievement and leave character to families and other influences. In reality, the two cannot be so easily separated. Our results, and an increasing body of academic evidence, consistently show that those young people involved in our mentoring programme do better in exams, and are more likely to go on to further education, training or employment. From that perspective, building character is absolutely central to the job schools are there to do.”

ReachOut was established in 1994 and aims to change the lives of young people from disadvantaged communities in London and Manchester.  Mentoring is offered to young people who are struggling at school, who are assigned a dedicated mentor and receive one-to-one academic and emotional support. The programme focuses on developing numeracy, literacy and communication skills, improving self-control and good judgement, raising aspirations, and helping them to be the best that they can be.