AlphaPlus has been working on behalf of the Education and Training Foundation (ETF) to improve the quality of mentoring in the FE and training sector through the designing and delivering of first-rate programmes of professional development.
Mentoring is an essential part of professional development, particularly in sectors where change is frequent and challenging. Research shows that mentoring provides early career professionals with access to non-judgemental support from experienced staff outside of normal line management and the appraisal processes. Done professionally, and embedded within a supportive organisational culture, its benefits are wide ranging – from retention and improved practice, to professional satisfaction and wellbeing.
According to research from the Office of National Statistics (ONS), more than one in five FE teachers leave the profession every year, a worse retention rate than any other high-skilled job in the public sector. To help solve this problem, the Department for Education (DfE) are funding a programme of work that focuses on developing high quality mentoring training to support teachers in the Further Education and Training sector. The trained mentors will provide high-quality and pedagogically sound support to new teachers, encouraging them to develop and progress within the sector.
AlphaPlus has been working on behalf of the Education and Training Foundation (ETF) to develop and deliver high-quality professional development programmes for both relatively new and for experienced/qualified mentors and coaches in the FE sector. This programme aimed to:
- promote a shared understanding of what makes up effective mentoring practices,
- produce a high-quality and evidence-informed training for new mentors,
- produce an ambitious ongoing professional development for experienced or qualified mentors,
- raise awareness of what mentoring looks like, and
- promote best practice for mentoring.
AlphaPlus delivered three professional development programmes on behalf of the ETF.
- Getting ready to mentor – a six-hour online course on the FutureLearn platform which introduced participants to key concepts of mentoring.
- The ‘New to mentoring’ blended learning programme, which ran from October 2020 to March 2021, was designed for FE practitioners who are new or relatively new to mentoring or coaching teacher or trainer colleagues in the FE sector.
- The ‘Advanced mentoring’ blended learning programme was designed for FE practitioners with one to two years’ experience in mentoring teacher or trainer colleagues, or with mentoring qualifications. This programme will offer a form of ongoing CPD for more experienced or qualified mentors.
Participants were able to learn in a small group with a dedicated tutor, experience a variety of mentoring techniques, engage in facilitated action learning sets and simulation exercises to try out practical techniques in a safe space, and undertake 40–50 hours of supported mentoring.
The two blended learning courses were provided at no charge, and participation was supported with a grant to individuals’ organisations of up to £6,000. Mentors who completed the courses are awarded a certificate of achievement.
Impact of Covid
As with many aspects of daily life, the current pandemic has had an impact on how this project progressed. Originally some of the training sessions were to take place in person, but due to restrictions they were run over Zoom. Group sizes have stayed the same size (up to 8 learners) to give attendees the benefit of a small class size.
Despite some initial concerns about how training for mentors could be delivered purely in a virtual environment, both learners and trainers have found the use of the FutureLearn platform for content delivery alongside Zoom for interactive, tutor-led sessions has worked very well. As learners were working in small groups, supported by the same trainer for the duration of the course, they were able to develop supportive relationships with their peers and the use of breakout rooms and other features maximised opportunities to provide safe spaces online where learners could speak in confidence to a small number of peers that they had grown to trust.
Although COVID had been factored into our initial planning, nobody could foresee how it would impact the programmes until the end of March 2021. It has been a challenging time, but the vast majority of learners have reached the end of the course, despite lockdowns, increased workloads and uncertainty. They have been extremely resilient and have often fed back that they found their course an important connection to others who were supportive and non-judgmental.
Feedback for all three elements of the programme AlphaPlus designed and delivered has been extremely positive. This feedback came from learners, the ETF programme assessors and our training team.
Examples of key learner feedback can be summarised in the following categories:
- Improved understanding of mentoring knowledge and skills. In particular, the adoption of mentoring models to support and structure mentoring practice e.g. GROW and OSKAR.
- Improved mentoring self-confidence gained through collaborative peer work and community of practice support.
- Understanding that issues experienced in their own organisations were often thematically shared, and thus were able to gain differing perspectives on addressing them.
- Improved confidence and development of active listening skills and use of ‘powerful questions’ to move mentoring forward.
- That the Zoom sessions, and in particular the breakout rooms, provided a safe and supportive environment for discussions and ideas.
- Greater understanding of how to structure not only mentoring programmes, but how to formalise and contract arrangements within them.
Even at this early point following conclusion of the first run of the programmes there is evidence of the impact of both courses across areas including:
- Mentoring new or trainee teachers to support them
- Understanding different models which best suit mentee needs
- Developing or improving mentoring provision in their organisation
- Raising the profile of mentoring and starting conversations with SLT to incorporate into the organisation, using a business case to sell the benefits
- Increasing personal skills and confidence
- Learning how to deliver mentoring online effectively
- Improving staff retention
At the end of the blended learning programmes, learners were asked what demand there was for more mentoring trainings for themselves and for their organisation.
Of those who responded, 97% felt they had a medium or high demand for further training, and the corresponding figure for their organisation was 95%.
For more information on this project, read these articles written by two of the trainers working on this project:
How mentoring can improve teacher retention by Yvonne Williams
 Hobson, Andrew & Ashby, Patricia & Malderez, Angi & Tomlinson, Peter. (2009). Mentoring Beginning Teachers: What We Know and What We Don’t
 Internal data collection March 2021