‘Business mentoring in schools: does it raise attainment?’

Andrew Miller

In Education and Training, 41 (2), pp.73-78. 1999.

Find the article here.

This article summarises the findings of a longer report published by the Department for Education and Employment (Miller, 1998). Find the full report here.

Written at a time when a high number of mentoring schemes were aimed at increasing the academic performance of students, Miller investigates the extent to which business mentoring truly improves student attainment levels. Lack of prior research equates to limited evidence regarding the efficacy of such mentoring schemes.

The study was conducted over the 1996/7 school year, collecting data from 7 schools. In total, 103 Year 11 (aged 15-16) students and 59 of their mentors were questioned on their opinions. A further 25 schools involved in mentoring in the area contributed to the study by completing surveys. The small sample size within the study is recognised and further research is recommended for a more robust analysis on whether business mentoring raises academic achievement levels.

Feedback from the postal survey indicated that three-quarters of the schools involved had 4 or more objectives for their mentoring schemes. The most popularly cited objectives were as follows:

      • Increasing self-esteem and self-confidence
      • Improving motivation to learn
      • Improving personal and social skills
      • Improving employability skills

While the ultimate goal of mentoring may have been to improve academic performance for students completing their GCSE examinations, school co-ordinators believed that this would occur as a result of attitudinal shifts; increased motivation to achieve higher grades. Mentors saw direct curriculum and skills learning to be less important.  Two-thirds of students hoped that improvements in GCSE results would be the main outcome of the mentoring schemes. However, half of students recognised benefits to be drawn from developing social skills and increasing personal confidence. These individual aims and objectives suggest that raising academic attainment is often not the priority, and the development of ‘softer’ skills is a more generally preferred outcome of mentoring schemes.

After completion of mentoring sessions the business mentors reported that they assisted students with their coursework tasks and homework activities. However, many believed their help was more general in nature, rather than relating to specific subjects, for example advising on how best to revise for exams. Students found such guidance to be helpful in enhancing their performance, specifically in the following subjects: English (38%), Mathematics (28%), Science (18%), Geography (14%) and Business Studies (12%).

The extent to which mentors had improved academic attainment was tested for 176 students – 90 of whom were mentored and the remaining 93 within a control group. All students undertook the Year Eleven Learning Information System (YELLIS), which predicts academic performance in the same scoring system as GCSEs (A* grade relates to 8 points and G grade relates to 1 point). These predictions were then directly compared against the students GCSE results.

The results found that girls generally are more academically able than boys. Mentored girls, specifically, outperformed their control group counterparts by 0.39 points. For mentored boys, they improved their grades by 0.41 points more than the controlled group of boys. Thus, on average mentoring can be seen to improve GCSE results by nearly half of a grade (0.4 points). These results should be treated with caution, as the average masks marked differences between schools. While certain students of schools within the study outperformed their YELLIS predictions, others under-performed – highlighting that the impact of business mentoring schemes on academic attainment is not universal.

Miller suggests that for impact of mentoring to be effectively harnessed then it must occur within a wider approach to raise attainment in schools. Selection of students for mentoring schemes should also be considered; where attainment is lacking across all abilities then the highest achieving pupils should be selected, yet where able students are performing well primarily then C/D borderline students are likely to benefit most from mentoring. In order to monitor the success of mentoring schemes then the attainment of students must be tracked regularly. Furthermore, mentors from the business community should be effectively trained and provide well-planned sessions, ensuring that there is a good relationship between teachers and mentors to ensure successful programmes.