News, Blog November 2021

Now is the time to invest in supporting young people

Our Widening Access Coordinator, DonnaMarie Steel, reflects on the findings of recent work around mentoring and tutoring provision in Scotland.

Launched last week, our new evidence review with Poverty Alliance on the mentoring and tutoring landscape in Scotland is an important step on our journey to better understand the poverty-based attainment gap, what needs to change and where we, as an independent funder, may be able to add value. 

The report examines evidence from Scotland, the UK and beyond on the effectiveness of mentoring and tutoring approaches and makes a number of recommendations for future action. Having emerged as areas of interest for us from our poverty-based attainment gap evidence review with Poverty Alliance at the start of the year, it's this focus on action we are particularly interested in.

Alongside our commissioned research, we have also spoken to over 30 organisations in recent months about their work in mentoring and tutoring - and what we discovered was two very different landscapes.

Mentoring: A complex and cluttered landscape

There are many organisations providing dedicated mentoring support and carrying out life-enhancing work with young people. We know from our review that mentoring can have a positive effect on personal outcomes, particularly emotional, attitudinal and behavioural, and contribute to better educational outcomes. 

However, what is also clear is that mentoring forms a complex, cluttered, and confusing landscape in Scotland.  While there are thickets of organisations around the central belt, rural expanses of the country have no access to mentoring at all. There are also clear equality gaps in mentoring provision, often putting those most affected by the attainment gap at further disadvantage.  We also learned that many organisations provide mentoring support but don’t necessarily badge it as such, making it harder to align their work with others.

Funders are a key player in this environment yet our conversations brought to light a number of ways in which existing support can be ineffective. Many highlighted the prevalence of short-term funding, which fails to create scope for long-term mentoring relationships. Meanwhile, the tendency of funders tendency to support pilots and ‘innovation’ but not ‘business as usual’ or core operating costs was also highlighted as problematic.

Other issues included the use of the Scottish Index of Multiple Deprivation as a method of distributing funding, which can see disadvantaged people missing out in rural areas, while a lack of flexibility in funding can often result in projects being unable adapt in the ways they need to. The need for extensive evaluation information can also be a barrier. For example, one organisation told us that they stopped asking evaluation questions as a result of mentees being required to rate negative statements about themselves such as ‘I feel useless’ or ‘I can’t do my schoolwork’. The evaluation design did not consider the experience of mentees or how it would feel to be confronted with this kind of wording.
The message from organisations to funders has been clear: do better.

The Trust is embarking on a new phase of work around mentoring. We want to address the concerns that stakeholders flagged and the gaps that the research has highlighted, most notably increased collaboration, more effective funding practices, increased evaluation support, and addressing gaps in mentoring.

Tutoring: A sparse landscape

Evidence highlighted that high quality one-to-one/peer tutoring is one of the best and most cost-effective ways to address the poverty-based attainment gap. In fact, the Education Endowment Foundation revealed that tutoring can deliver an average of five months’ academic progress. 

In response to growing inequalities in education attainment due to the Covid pandemic, the UK Government established the National Tutoring Programme in England and Wales. This aims to provide additional tutoring support to the most disadvantaged students and now works with 33 tuition partners, including many third-sector organisations. In contrast, we struggled to find more than a handful of third sector organisations dedicated to tutoring without charges in Scotland. Those we did tended to be working on small local projects, often involving partnerships between education establishments and community organisations.

We know that some schools are providing extra tuition to those young people who most need it as part of their Attainment Challenge funding, largely through hiring additional teaching assistants and peer tutoring schemes. We also believe many universities may use tutoring as part of their widening access toolkit. However, this information is not easy to come across and, despite engaging with Scottish Government agencies, the situation is still unclear and prospects uncertain

One thing, however, is clear; there is a lack of third sector-supported tutoring in Scotland and, as a result, a missed opportunity for the education and third sectors to engage and work together.

As an independent funder, we want to make decisions that are driven by evidence and ensure our support is proportionate and appropriate. As well as financial resources, we recognise the potential funders have to influence, convene and contribute to strengthening the evidence, and through our Educational Pathways work so far this year, we now see mentoring/tutoring as one such area where we can help to make a difference.

With this in mind, we would love to hear from organisations working in mentoring and tutoring for children and young people to ensure our approach is informed by practical experience, to build a more in-depth understanding of how the landscape in Scotland needs to shift and help connect external partners to bridge the gaps that currently exist.

The Trust is committed to this area of work in the coming years and I would encourage anyone with an interest to contact me directly at Additionally, if you would like to stay up-to-date with our progress, please sign up to our mailing list or follow our social channels.