Mentoring and Young People: A Literature Review

19 June 2003

A report by the Scottish Council for Research in Education (SCRE) based at the University of Glasgow (John C. Hall), commissioned by the Scottish Executive Enterprise and Lifelong Learning Department (SEELLD)

This literature review aims to answer several key questions about mentoring: what it is, which aspects of it are or are not successful, what evidence is available to show positive outcomes for young people and the views and experiences of stakeholders. It states that “mentoring is not one thing: it is a range of possibilities”, that much of the literature deals with a wide variety of forms and, partly owing to definitional ambiguities, the field is “under-researched”. As such, this study also covers peer and team mentoring, as well as the effects of adult mentors and employee volunteers.

High-quality evidence from Dubois et al (2002) shows that mentoring programmes have a positive, “significant and measurable effect on the young people who take part in them, but that the size of this effect is quite modest for the average youth”. They also find that “mentoring programmes offer the greatest potential benefits to youth who can be considered to be ‘at-risk'”. Miller et al (1998) found “that mentoring had a positive impact on attainment for both boys and girls”. Mentoring co-ordinators viewed this improvement as “operating through increased motivation”.

Broadly positive effects such as reduced drug and alcohol use, fewer incidents of violent behaviour, improved peer and family relationships, improved attendance, school performance and attitudes to school work were found in many papers. Researchers were divided about impact on attainment, Brawer (1996) finding that the mentoring scheme they studied raised students’ one-half a grade and Novotny (2000) and Jekielek (2002) concluding that mentoring had no effect on performance. Favourable effects are seen across student demographic boundaries. In cases where the mentoring relationship was not successful, class barriers, time constraints, a lack of training, externally-imposed goal-setting and poor recruitment practices were listed as causes. Success factors were many and varied, including: “a holistic approach”; partnership; integration with other services; ongoing training of mentors; structured activities; setting expectations for frequency of contact and length of the relationship.

Some of the benefits cited by employers and the mentors themselves were: “building up a set of psycho-social skills as ‘exceptional adults'”; a “more rapid integration of new employees”; “better management of stress”; “improved performance”‘ and “improved communication between layers and across the organisation”.

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