Last week, we announced that a new educational mentoring programme is being launched in Aberdeenshire.
Befriend a Child is looking to recruit 10 mentors to take part in a pilot across Inverurie and Peterhead Academies. They will need to spend an hour a week in the schools, speaking to children aged 13-18 who have previously been befriended or have been identified as being at risk of exclusion from school, to re-engage and support these young people on their pathway into further education, university or vocational training. The charity was awarded funding through the Crerar Trust and its partners at Thainstone House Hotel, Inverurie and a small trust fund in Peterhead.
The programme was launched in partnership with MCR Pathways and will have the same approach. The initiative was founded by Scottish entrepreneur Dr Iain MacRitchie and for many years has provided adult mentors for disadvantaged older children and young people, many of whom are care experienced.
Currently, MCR Pathways is provided in eight schools in Glasgow, supporting over 300 young people. A three-year plan in partnership with Glasgow City Council was announced recently to roll out the initiative to every secondary school in Scotland’s largest city.
The idea of a programme like MCR Pathways first came to Dr MacRitchie after he was asked to help three organisations – with a total of 90 residential children’s homes, five schools and a foster agency – and couldn’t accept the future that was laid out for the children these agencies were helping.
He explains in his own words how he started MCR Pathway and what the success has been so far.
“I went on a little bit of a journey to see what difference we could make. It wasn’t just about the care, it was about the individual and their particular talent, that’s the whole DNA of the programme now.
“It’s about working out what these young people are capable of and how we can best support them, accepting that they are going to have breaks in their education and have a lot of issues at home that cause them understandable loss in confidence and all the things that restrict and restrain young people, through no fault of their own.
“I looked at a few things, but the only thing that made a difference was education and working through the education process to help the young people get their confidence back and, most important, to get into something that could lead to a job or college or university.
“Glasgow is my city of birth and I knew that was where I really wanted to dedicate the foundation. The foundation I had at the time was in Glasgow and it was working. This new one would use existing contacts and the team I had in place and would focus on care-experienced young people.
“Initially, we focused on one school in the east end of Glasgow in the best area of opportunity as it is one of the most deprived areas. We had the support of the head teacher and the staff. That was back in 2007.
“The school had 1,650 on the roll and about 100 young people at any one time were under some form of social work supervision. A further 200-300 were showing the same degree of disadvantage, just with their living circumstances.
“This was where the model was tried and tested. We worked and did various things with the young people and, ultimately, it took about three years to really work out in detail what interventions and support were working, and which ones were not.
“We soon realised that the common denominator was, without exception, when there was a relationship with an adult on a regular basis, but an adult who was there because they cared. They weren’t there because they were being paid or they had to be or it was part of their job. The young people see through these things.
“As soon as we have that mentoring relationship in place, we have the opportunity to look for the spark and see what the young person is capable of and really help them find, grow and use their talents. Those are the two sides of the equation. Without that strong relationship, the rest is a little bit random. But when you have that relationship, there is a big difference in the model.
“There’s a huge number of care-experienced young people who leave school on or before they are 16. The Scottish Government stat is that between 80% and 85% will leave school. It’s a massive number.
“The first five years had some quite transformational numbers. When we first started, we had a 4% retention rate post-16 for care-experienced young people. We got it up in 2013/14, when we were still in the school, to over 70%. For those care-experienced young people who went on to further education, it went from 19% to 63%.
“That gave us the confidence to go to other schools and use the model. We picked five other schools with the most challenging locations and that’s what we’ve been doing for the past three years. We’ve been testing the model at scale in six schools. We’ve seen lots of fabulous stories of young people coming in leaps and bounds.”
Those interested in finding our more about becoming a mentor are being asked to get in touch with Katie Thomson by e-mailing firstname.lastname@example.org or phoning 01224 210060.