The NIHR School for Public Health Research is exploring how local government and public health experts can work with academy school chains and free school groups to improve staff and student health.
Young people can experience social and behavioural problems that result in risky behaviours such as drug taking, and poor attendance at, or exclusion from school. This can affect later life chances with high costs to the individual and society. Providing a vulnerable young person with an adult mentor is thought to help them develop life skills, confidence and good health and prevent negative outcomes such as unemployment, entry into the criminal justice system, mental illness or premature death.
This study explored how breakthrough mentoring, which carefully matches a young person with an adult mentor who has similar interests, could be used to improve young people’s behaviour, health and wellbeing. The project was led by the University of Bristol in partnership with South Gloucestershire Council.
As part of this study, 21 secondary school students, aged 11 to 16 years, whom the school thought would benefit from mentoring, participated in a pilot randomised controlled trial (RCT).
Students were randomly allocated into intervention and control groups with a 50:50 chance of receiving a mentor for a school year (n=11) or not (n=10). Researchers measured their health, feelings and wellbeing at the start of the study, and at 6, 12 and 18 months later. Researchers asked them what they thought about being in the study, having or not having a mentor and completing questionnaires. Parents, teachers, mentors and key staff in local government were also interviewed about their views on mentoring.
All students allocated a mentor remained on the programme and they indicated that having a mentor unconnected with the school that they could talk to about their problems helped them to give voice to and deal with difficult feelings.
The success of this feasibility study indicates it would be possible to undertake a large scale RCT to test the effectiveness of breakthrough mentoring in the UK. However, the study would need to be multi-centred, and consider how to fund the costs of mentoring as schools are only likely to participate if some of the costs of mentoring are met from elsewhere.