Mentoring is more normally associated with secondary schools. In primary schools it is less well-developed. Where mentoring occurs it tends to be conducted by teaching assistants or support services and is perceived as being primarily pastoral in nature. It is aimed at improving behaviour or supporting personal development, with little consideration of academic attainment, achievement or attitude. In brief, mentoring is often a low level, low status activity; involving few children and fewer staff for limited periods and with limited results.
Assertive Mentoring is very different. It involves all children and all staff, all of the time. It is high status, driven by the leadership team and is the central activity to drive forward school improvement and pupil achievement.
Assertive Mentoring is a process rather than an activity. It is a collective term for the key processes of a schools work:
Its key components are:
Its key outcomes are:
Collection of Systems
Assertive Mentoring provides the vehicle for ensuring that these often separate entities are brought together and wrapped around the child. The child remains central to the whole process throughout.
“The Assertive Mentoring system brings together many outstanding school systems together in one place, It can form the basis of a focused, child centred collaborative approach based on a dialogue about the child’s present and future learning needs. The system is outstanding and should have a significant impact upon the motivation and progress of pupils.” (G. Downey SIP 2008)
All schools will have their own systems in place for these aspects of school review and improvement. These can be reviewed and either adopted or adapted for mentoring purposes. Crucially, for Assertive Mentoring this information is shared with the child in an understandable and consistent format.
Assertive mentoring takes targets from the head’s desk to the child’s head. It gives all stakeholders; teachers, managers, parents and pupils a framework which makes sense of these often unrelated activities and provides a focus on the individual child achieving their potential.
Assertive Mentoring is a guaranteed, regular, one to one dialogue between pupil and mentor. It is evidence based and focussed on ‘The Triple A’:
Progress towards long term targets is reviewed as well as the achievement of medium term targets. Further meaningful medium term targets are agreed. Targets are carefully chosen from agreed assessment criteria so as to be both challenging yet achievable and to have the greatest impact on performance. These targets transfer to pupils’ personal mentor files and form the focus of continual assessment, marking, feedback and support.
‘There is no evidence that increasing the amount of testing will enhance learning. Instead the focus needs to be on helping teachers use assessment, as part of teaching and learning, in ways that will raise pupils’ achievement.’ (Assessment Reform Group)
Extensive international research (William and Black) ‘Inside the black box’ proved ‘without a shadow of doubt’ that, when carried out effectively, classroom assessment with constructive feedback to the student will raise levels of attainment. This research resulted in a major re-think of assessment practices in schools and led directly to the drive for Assessment for Learning and Personalised Learning.
Assessment for Learning
‘Assessment for learning is the process of seeking and interpreting evidence for use by learners and their teachers to decide where the learners are in their learning, where they need to go and how best to get there.’ (Assessment Reform Group, 2002)
‘Put simply, personalised learning and teaching means taking a highly structured and responsive approach to each child's and young person's learning, in order that all are able to progress, achieve and participate. It means strengthening the link between learning and teaching by engaging pupils - and their parents - as partners in learning.’ (Report of the Teaching and Learning in 2020 Review Group)
‘Assessment which is explicitly designed to promote learning is the single most powerful tool we have for both raising standards and empowering lifelong learners.’ (Assessment Reform Group)
Most schools will have the quest for high standards and empowering life-long learners in their mission statement or aims. However the research also confirms that this remains an underdeveloped aspect of practice in most schools.
‘There is abundant evidence from reports of school inspections that the use of assessment to help pupils learn is one of the weakest aspects of practice in classrooms across the UK.’ (Assessment Reform Group)
The perception of assessment has almost become synonymous with testing and SATs in particular. In too many schools this is still seen as the problem or main concern of the Y2 and in particular the Y6 teacher. Early Years practitioners have become proficient in tracking the smallest steps in learning whilst end of Key Stage teachers have, of necessity, honed their teacher assessment skills. Rarely does this extend across a whole staff. Even where targets are set across the school these rarely have the same relevance, importance or consequences as end of Key Stage targets.
If children are to reach their full potential they must receive the same degree of assessment rigour, support and guidance at every stage of learning. Moreover this must in be within a framework that is designed to inform and improve learning rather than merely test it.
‘Inside the Black Box’ identified the key factors that improve learning through assessment. Briefly, children learn best when:
Assertive Mentoring has these principles at its heart and keeps the child central to the whole process. It ensures Assessment for Learning, guarantees Personalised Learning and raises achievement for all.