The ASCENTS 121 support for science programme trained STEM undergraduates to provide 23 weekly one-to-one academic mentoring sessions to Year 11 science pupils with the aim of improving GCSE science attainment. Mentees were all eligible for free school meals and predicted to achieve a level 3 – 5 in GCSE science. Sessions were delivered outside of school hours (before or after school) in classrooms or laboratories under the supervision of a teacher. The topic of each session was chosen by pupils. The University of Lincoln led the programme, supported by the University of Leeds, the University of Liverpool, UCL’s Institute of Education and the University of York.
This trial of ASCENTS 121Support for Science was funded by the EEF and the Wellcome Trust as part of our joint Improving Science Education funding round. Evidence suggests that one-to-one academic mentoring is an effective way to improve attainment and may also increase subject enjoyment and interest. The EEF’s Teaching and Learning Toolkit estimates that one-to-one tuition can boost learning by +5 months’ additional progress for all pupils, and that it can be particularly beneficial for disadvantaged pupils and for those with low attainment.
While almost all the programme was delivered, the trial was disrupted by the Covid-19 pandemic. Specifically, it was not possible to complete the impact assessment as planned owing to the cancellation of GCSE exams in summer 2020.This meant the independent evaluation was unable to reliably estimate the impact of the programme. However, the implementation and process evaluation (IPE) was able to be completed. This reported several perceived benefits for mentees, mentors, and teachers
For mentees these included a perceived increase in understanding, enjoyment, interest, and confidence in science, in addition to perceived enhanced social skills and maturity in interacting with adults.
Mentors perceived the main benefits to themselves to be an improved CV and feeling good about helping others. There was some evidence of increased interest amongst mentors in a teaching career or supporting disadvantaged young people. Mentees were generally highly engaged in the programme, and their engagement was supported by the one-to-one format and the onus on them to lead the session content. A good relationship between mentors and mentees, and a positive experience of mentoring, were seen to be important to achieving the intended outcomes of the programme.
In addition, teachers reported feeling that mentoring sessions improved teacher-pupil relationships, and that pupils developed confidence in seeking extra support from teachers.
While the evaluation was unable to ascertain the impact of ASCENTS on GCSE outcomes, it does demonstrate that the intervention was well-received by teachers, mentors and mentees, and was implemented as intended.
The EEF has no plans, at this stage, for a further trial of the ASCENTS 121 support for science programme. However, we continue to be interested in similar approaches
- The intervention was very well-received by school leads, mentees, and mentors and was implemented as intended with little variation across settings.
- Key perceived benefits for mentees, as reported by mentees and school leads, included increased understanding of science, enjoyment and interest in science, confidence (for example, asking questions in class), social skills, and maturity in interacting with adults. Unfortunately, due to the cancellation of GCSE exams in 2020, we are not able to estimate the impact of ASCENTS on mentees’ academic attainment.
- Key perceived benefits for mentors included feeling good about helping their mentee and valuable work experience that improved their CV. More than half (53.9%) said it had increased their interest in teaching ‘somewhat’ or ‘a lot’ and 64.4% said the same about careers supporting disadvantaged young people.
- A good relationship between mentors and mentees and a positive experience of mentoring were seen to be important to achieving the intended outcomes. Mentor preparation and mentee engagement appeared to facilitate a positive experience of mentoring. Mentees were generally highly engaged in the programme and during mentoring sessions. Their engagement was supported by the one-to-one format and the onus on the mentee to lead the session content. Mentees generally liked the opportunity to decide which topics to cover in the sessions.
- Some school leads thought there were limits to the mentee-led learning approach and would have liked more involvement, working with mentors to direct the content of sessions. School leads agreed that the main drawback for teachers was the time it took to supervise the sessions and the administrative tasks of organising the sessions, including ensuring mentees were in school and attended sessions. Mentors showed a commitment to their role and wanted more guidance (as part of the mentor training and overall programme) on the GCSE science syllabus, resources, and pedagogical approaches to optimise the sessions.