Preet Gill: We can harness the power of mentoring to change lives

Posted On: 
1st July 2019

I have seen first-hand the transformative effect that mentoring can have on young people. Let’s harness its potential to intervene and support those at risk of disengaging from education, says Preet Gill 

"The prevalence of exclusions amongst society’s most disadvantaged groups is an urgent moral problem we must solve," writes Preet Gill MP

Two months on from the Timpson review of school exclusion, many questions remain for policymakers regarding the challenges facing our young people at school.

Exclusions frequently place society’s most vulnerable young people on a destructive path, increasing their chances of going on to be NEET (not in education, employment or training), carrying a knife or becoming a young offender. A 2012 Ministry of Justice study found that 42% of prisoners reported having been permanently excluded from school.

The prevalence of exclusions amongst society’s most disadvantaged groups is an urgent moral problem we must solve. Excluded students are 10 times more likely to suffer from mental health problems, and the Timpson review noted that more than three-quarters of permanent exclusions are among pupils who have special needs or are eligible for free school meals. The evidence is clear that these students need more help – yet the cumulative impact of cuts to social care and education budgets means many with complex issues are not getting the support they need.

In his recent article for The House, Education Committee chair, Robert Halfon, emphasised that “schools aren’t just places to learn but are communities for our young people”. In my constituency, community workers tell me how exclusions alienate troubled young people even further, pushing them into the hands of gangs.

Earlier this year, I helped to set up a community-led programme in a local school in my constituency to tackle poor attendance and attainment. We brought together volunteers from a variety of backgrounds – from retired teachers to police officers and nurses – and paired them with pupils at Lordswood Boys’ School for weekly meetings to improve the boys’ confidence, literacy and soft skills.

I have seen first-hand the impact programmes like these make and, as chair of the APPG for Mentoring, I want to harness the unique potential of mentoring to intervene and support young people at risk of disengaging from education. We recently hosted a session to hear from organisations specialising in this kind of work.

ThinkForward facilitates mentoring projects with hard-to-reach and vulnerable young people. Beginning with year 9 students, they employ one-to-one coaching and group sessions to foster seven key attributes: self-assurance, self-awareness, drive, receptivity, resilience, organisational skills and communication skills. Cost-benefit analysis of the programme indicates the scale of its achievement, with every £1 spent producing cost savings of £2.48 for the likes of the DWP, local authorities and the criminal justice system.

Moreover, the programme highlights the value of mentoring to the community as a whole. Practitioners explained that their success had encouraged local primary schools to reach out to children in years 5 and 6 displaying intimidating and gang-like behaviours. ThinkForward asked its students to talk to younger peers, facilitating role-play sessions and conversations to help them make better choices.

The impact of this is immeasurable. As Timpson points out, although exclusions in primary school are rare, the statistics suggest we are missing early intervention opportunities. Furthermore, he singles out mentoring as a valuable intervention for children from certain minority backgrounds, who are statistically more likely to be excluded than their white British peers. The argument follows that mentoring allows “children to develop positive role models among members of their own community”. Both mentors and mentees gain from each other with this approach. We heard how teenagers would open up about things they hadn’t revealed to adults before.

Some of the stories are truly moving – young people can flourish when taken out of negative environments and placed somewhere they are needed.

The UK is in desperate need of more mentoring initiatives, but these require training, safeguarding and sharing of best practice, which requires research and funding. The APPG is currently working with researchers at the University of Sussex to develop this thinking.

On 2 July, we are co-hosting the UK’s first National Youth Mentoring Summit in London alongside the Diana Award, bringing together politicians, business leaders, young people and activists to explore how we can harness the power of mentoring to change trajectories and improve lives. I encourage anyone with an interest in mentoring to attend and support this vision.  

Preet Gill is MP for Birmingham, Edgbaston and chair of the APPG on Mentoring. To learn more about the Summit, visit www.diana-award.org.uk