Low impact for moderate cost, based on moderate evidence.

Cost Per Pupil Cost estimate: Up to £720 per pupil per year. cost per pupil
Evidence Rating Evidence estimate: Two or more rigorous meta-analyses. evidence rating Average impact: + 1 additional month. Impact +1 month

What is it?

Mentoring in education aims to develop young people’s strengths by pairing them with an older volunteer, sometimes from a similar background, who can act as a positive role model. It is often characterised as aiming to build confidence and competence, or to develop resilience and character. Mentors typically build relationships with young people by meeting with them one-to-one for about an hour a week either at school, or at the end of the school day or weekends. Activities will 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. Community and school-based mentoring schemes have expanded rapidly, particularly in the USA. It can be distinguished from coaching or volunteer tutoring where the focus is very much on improving performance in academic subjects, though mentoring is sometimes referred to as ‘life-coaching’. 

How effective is it?

The impact of mentoring is variable, but on average it has tended to be low in terms of direct effect on academic outcomes. There is some evidence that pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds are likely to benefit more (nearly double the impact). Other positive benefits have been reported in terms of attitudes to school, attendance and behaviour. However, there are also risks associated with unsuccessful mentor pairings which may have a detrimental effect on the mentee, and the negative overall impacts seen in some studies should prompt caution. School-based mentoring programs have on average been 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 expectation, 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 has been fairly consistent over the last decade or so, and the quality of more recent evaluations from the USA has been higher than in the past. The most recent randomised controlled trials have not been combined in a meta-analysis, but show similar impact to earlier meta-analyses and systematic reviews. Rigorous evaluation of mentoring programmes and approaches in the UK is needed.

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What are the costs?

Compared with other professionally delivered interventions and approaches, mentoring is relatively inexpensive. Costs are mainly for mentor training and support and for 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 for space of general support. Estimates in the USA are between $1000-$1500 per student per year or about £600-£850 per pupil per year, some of which appears to pay for the costs of voluntary organisation providing the mentors. Costs are therefore estimated as moderate.

What should I consider?

  • The impact of mentoring varies, but overall, it is likely to have only a small impact on attainment.

  • Positive effects tend not to be sustained once the mentoring stops, and often end abruptly, 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?