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Cathedrals Mission Group - Peer Learning Project 2017: BEd Primary Education year 2/3 peer mentoring scheme University of St Mark and St John

A Compendium of Case Studies has been produced as part of the joint Higher Education Academy / The Cathedrals Group / Leeds Trinity University project ‘Learning from Best Practice in Peer Learning and Mentoring across the Cathedrals Group’. It is intended to showcase and illuminate the rich range of practice within the group.

You can download the compendium on this page.

Each institutional participant within the project was invited to select one of the schemes / programmes in current operation that best illustrates their current practice. Although several institutions operate more than one scheme only one case study per institution was permitted. This is one such case study.

Nature and focus of scheme

This scheme offers year two undergraduate BEd Primary Education students an opportunity to be supported and mentored during their second year teaching placements by year three students on the same programme. Mentors will have completed both their second and third year teaching placements and have a lot to offer in terms of experience and maturity to second year students. Participation in the scheme is optional both for mentors and mentees. Mentoring is via e-mail to enable those that are geographically distant to be able to participate.

Scheme overview

The initial pilot for the scheme ran in 2013 and following an evaluation of that pilot the scheme has been offered in subsequent years. The role of the third year mentor is to provide second year students with e-mentoring support and guidance during their teaching placements. This complements the support and guidance provided by programme tutors and school-based mentors offering a different perspective from a peer. Although this is an e-mentoring scheme mentors may also offer to meet up with their mentees if required. Each pairing also has a linked tutor from the programme team who is copied into emails for monitoring purposes. The tutor does not comment or provide any information or guidance but is there to ensure that the mentor is signposting the mentee to appropriate support and not providing too much or inappropriate guidance. The tutors must not be the trainees’ supervising tutor or personal tutor to ensure a distance is kept. Although initially there were concerns that this may inhibit mentees or mentors this does not appear to have been the case and at no point seems to have caused any difficulties.

Participation in the scheme is voluntary both for mentors and mentees. There is no academic credit attached to the scheme but mentoring is positioned as having two-way benefit: mentees are provided with an additional and valuable form of support during their placements; mentors acquire an understanding of mentoring and the associated skills which they will also be expected to demonstrate in their future teaching careers.

The number of participants varies from year to year and has ranged from six to 31 mentees in any one academic year and six to 27 mentors in any one academic year.

Key terminology – e-mentoring refers to mentoring provided via email exchange.

Key resource implications 

There are few resource implications for this scheme currently as training is carried out by a member of the student support/employability team in conjunction with the programme leader and programme tutors monitor and support the mentors as required. The programme leader and placements administrator manage the scheme and there are no payments. Tutors involved provide feedback to the programme leader.

Training and development of mentors/mentees

Mentors and mentees are required to complete an application form giving details of their past placements degree specialism subject and other interests as well as reasons for wishing to participate in the scheme. These are reviewed by the programme leader and pairings are made based on the type or location of the school specialist subject age group being taught personal circumstances (mature student with children etc.). It is important to ensure the mentor has not been on placement at the same school and if possible not had the same supervising tutor. This helps to avoid issues discussed becoming linked to personalities either in school or on the tutor team.

Training has been provided by a member of the student support/employability team who was involved in leading the University’s peer-mentoring scheme in the past. This training provides guidance on the role signposting to different services and support and identifying key issues.

Scenarios are used to develop understanding and a short guide accompanies the training. The programme leader also discusses the role with the mentors and provides additional support if needed. As mentioned above a linked tutor is assigned to each pair to fulfil a monitoring role and to provide any support required to the mentors.

How the scheme engages and supports students 

Initial mention of the e-mentoring scheme is made to students by the programme leader during a teaching session to enable students to ask questions. This is followed up by an email providing information on the application and training process to which those that are interested are expected to respond within a given time frame. Many of those that were supported with a mentor during their second year go on to become mentors during their third year. Feedback on the scheme from past mentors and mentees is shared with second year students as part of the initial briefing. The scheme has proved popular although interestingly take up varies from year to year despite the same input. One of the main benefits is summed up here from a student last year:

I found it very helpful – it was so reassuring to speak to someone who had been in my position and who could also answer questions from the student side of things rather than speaking to your class teacher/mentor/UT about a problem.

Evidence of value effectiveness and impact

The project has been informally evaluated with trainees giving positive feedback and often then wanting to become a mentor themselves. The opportunity to communicate with a student from the year above has also enabled the mentees to explore other aspects of the programme and this gives them a sense of what is to come. When mentoring the second year trainees in the spring term the third years are working on their dissertation and so conversations often lead onto this and then onto other issues relating to coursework etc. The mentors provide some insightful and useful advice so although the scheme is mainly linked to placement support there have been very beneficial ‘spin offs’ in terms of the academic elements of the programme. Ideas for dissertations are often discussed and third years often encourage second years to work hard with their assignments having already completed them! Sharing experiences about the specialism modules has also been useful.

The experience of third year mentors on placements has also encouraged some of the mentees to opt for other experiences that they may not otherwise have done. For example last year a student wrote:

I found the peer mentoring scheme really helpful last year as it was another person to speak to about what was going on at university and at placement. It was nice to be able to get support from my mentor about lectures assignments placement and also this year. I spoke to her about her placement and it helped me to decide to go to Cyprus (one of our placements abroad in a British Forces school).

When students have been placed away from home or their usual term-time address this extra support has proved really helpful and reassuring. When trainees have opted for one of our London placements the support from third year students who have already experienced this has been very helpful as teaching approaches for EAL pupils and the range of different ethnic backgrounds is often unfamiliar and can at first be quite daunting.

Critical reflections 

In some years the pairings have met up in person before the e-mentoring starts and this is beneficial and something that is being developed during 2016-17. Students seem to value this opportunity to connect in person before the placement starts as it enables a closer bond to be established and then perhaps a greater commitment to the process over time. Mentors also feel that a face-to-face meeting might help them to establish how best to support the mentee from the start.

Usually the pairing of the students has not been a difficult process – there has usually been something in common which links them and as the tutors know the students personally this helps ensure an appropriate pairing. The success of the process does depend on regular communication and the onus is on the mentor to keep this going and to email once a week as a minimum. Sometimes there is an imbalance in the numbers of mentees and mentors so on occasions a mentor may take on more than one mentee.

Some students have requested that mentoring continues for the whole year and this is something to explore this year. As a programme team we are keen to develop peer mentoring approaches across the three years of the programme – possibly working in trios (or even with a newly qualified teacher also) so benefit can be gained across the programme and mentoring skills can be developed further.

Learning from Best Practice in Peer Learning and Mentoring across The Cathedrals Group - Compendium of Case Studies_6.pdf
Learning from Best Practice in Peer Learning and Mentoring across The Cathedrals Group - Compendium of Case Studies_6.pdf View Document

The materials published on this page were originally created by the Higher Education Academy.