Mentoring: What Can Support Projects Achieve That Schools Cannot?

Although corporate multinational firms around the world have long reaped the benefits of mentoring and coaching programs, such programs are a relatively new fixture in Europe’s education system. For disadvantaged children of migrant background, who are disproportionately among those who underperform in the classroom, mentoring programs provide specific and personalized support on the road to academic success. Mentors who act as role models and fill the role of an older sibling can help improve the cognitive gains, self-esteem, and self-reliance of their mentees. When a high-achieving university student with an immigrant background teams up with a younger, at-risk student with immigrant parents, the positive effects can extend far beyond the classroom.

In fact, mentoring is important precisely because it addresses core needs that schools themselves are not equipped to fill. The intense and individualized guidance provided via mentoring can motivate students more deeply and personally, and learning in an informal setting rather than a classroom can be a refreshing change for teenagers. Additionally, mentors can tackle emotional, cognitive, and social problems in a more holistic manner—for example, by reaching out to a student’s parents—than teachers are able to realize in the constraints of the school environment. The power of mentors lies in their ability to push pupils to become agents of their own educational trajectories and destinies.

This policy brief explores how European policymakers can design mentoring and other educational support projects to be an integral part of the educational landscape, and explains why it is important for them to do so. It highlights examples of successful mentoring experiences that focus on cultivating the hidden talents and potential of children of immigrants, countering prevailing narratives about these children possessing an educational deficit and needing to “catch up” in school. Finally, the brief summarizes current research on the benefits of mentoring and offers recommendations for program development and for policymakers at the EU level.

Download Policy Brief on Mentoring

The Brief is also available for download in French, German and Spanish.

This policy brief is part of a series produced by the SIRIUS Network in collaboration with MPI Europe, which focuses on how policies at the EU level and within individual Member States can better support the education outcomes of young people with a migrant background.

Via Migration Policy Institute 

Mentoring in Education -Stakeholder meeting report

supreme mentoringThe final SIRIUS stakeholder meeting, this time focusing on mentoring, took place in association with the final conference of the SUPREME mentoring project on 27 October 2014 in the Neth-ER offices in Brussels. The SUPREME project has been developed by a partnership where VET and SME associations, as well as policy makers, work together to increase the cooperation between VETs and the world of work. The objective of the conference was to:

  • Learn about good practices in the field of preventing early school leaving and youth unemployment
  • Experience how mentoring binds education and industry on a European level
  • Explore state of the art mentoring results in European countries
  • Involve decision makers in order to secure the mentor methodology and the cooperation of industry and education in Europe

photo 3SUPREME members gave examples of their work from around Europe, with a focus on the importance of exchange of good practices that are adaptable to the cultural conditions of each country. Developing links between industry, welfare, education and policy makers is also important in order to get the most out of mentoring for all involved.

Thomas Huddleston (Migration Policy Group) spoke during the plenary session on The added value of European cooperation in mentoring, to serve migrant youth and highlighted the importance of mentors as role models that give positive images, confidence, cognitive gains, social skills and networking connections to their mentees. Inclusive education can be developed by involving all local communities (including immigrant ones) and sharing lessons learned for EU cooperation and policy recommendations.  He underlined the importance of mentoring for migrant pupils who are particularly affected by early school leaving, youth unemployment and over representation on technical or lower quality tracks, despite the high educational ambitions of both pupils and parents. Innovative outside-school learning through mentorships offers these children and their families improved knowledge of schooling, orientation for pupils and parents, often from mentors with a similar language and cultural background which allows them to address socio-emotional problems. He noted that there was a striking discrepancy between the popularity of mentoring on the ground and the lack of engagement on the topic on a policy level, whereby mentoring programmes are seen as “nice-to-have” but not “need to have”. Mentoring programmes should be recognised as helping educators to diagnose problems or missing services in schools, and can offer necessary support to develop the potential of their students. His recommendations summarised the ENESP Handbook on Mentoring and the SIRIUS Policy Brief on Mentoring and include the following:

  • Mentoring should be considered as an effective hands-on tool to reduce the achievement gap with little legislative or financial effort.
  • There is a clear role for mentors and the competences they need, but they should not be considered a substitute for social workers/therapy.
  • Mentoring programmes should be available for all pupils in less supportive environments, including high potential, not only ‘at risk’ learners.
  • There needs to be secure long-term funding beyond project cycles to ensure training and use of dedicated mentors, perhaps through ‘embedding’ projects within school system or well-established education or migrant organisations.
  • Mentoring needs to be an integral part of policymaking in education and in promoting education outside the classroom to strengthen social skills.
  • Closer cooperation with migrant-led mentoring programmes will allow non-migrant policymakers a better understanding of the needs and situation of pupils, parents, and communities, while also fostering good relationships with school, teachers and staff.
  • It is important to monitor and address equal participation of immigrant youth in mentoring schemes, not only as mentees but also mentors.

Logo-ENESP-300x74Ibrahim Elmaagac, General Coordinator of the Dutch Platform for Education, Innovation and Talent Development (NPOINT) participated on behalf of the European Network for Educational Support Projects (ENESP) in order to give practical examples of how they engage with students from an intercultural or socially disadvantaged background. NPOINT do this by assisting pupils in their studies to prevent them from falling behind, as well as helping them to explore their interests and find a course that suits their talents. Rather than measuring their abilities only through coursework and outcomes, they encourage a learner-focus on personal development and personal happiness.

mentoring handbook

Sarah Cooke O’Dowd (Migration Policy Group), together with Huddleston and Elmaagac manned the roundtable in order to meet mentoring stakeholders interested in understanding how to make mentoring schemes more sensitive to a diverse student population. To this extent, they were directed to the European Network for Educational Support Projects’ Handbook on MentoringOther participants wished to know more about the recommendations that SIRIUS has for policy making and they were given copies of the SIRIUS Policy Brief on Mentoring.


SUPREME mentoring manual

The Netherlands: Foundation for Knowledge and Social Cohesion (SKC)

logoOn 27 November 2013, I spoke with Marlot van der Geld from the Stichting voor Kennis en sociale Cohesie (Foundation for Knowledge and Social Cohesion – SKC) in order for her to tell me more about its mentoring project and other work that the SKC carries out in the field of inclusive education.

SIRIUS: Why was SKC set up?

marlot-van-der-geldIn 1998, The Mentor Project was set up by Mimoun Ouariachi with the support of the Government of Amsterdam in order to tackle the challenges posed by the youth in Amsterdam at the time. In order to provide positive role models for primary school children of a migrant background (particularly Turkish and Moroccan), mentors from the same cultural background were trained to teach social and learning skills to the children.

To guarantee the continuity of this project and in order to cover further gaps that were apparent for the improved education of young people with a migrant background, the SKC as such was founded as a non-profit foundation in Amsterdam in 2005. Since then, it has developed additional projects and has expanded its network to work with a wide variety of actors in the city, including primary, secondary and post-secondary schools.

SIRIUS: How is SKC run?

The SKC has ten project leaders, who were previously mentors themselves. The Board meets every six weeks to discuss the developments in each project and in the SKC itself. The Foundation Director is also the overall leader of the projects.

SIRIUS: How does the mentoring project work?

We believe that every student of higher education can become a mentor, and encourage the mutual participation of everyone who lives in Amsterdam. We encourage knowledge exchange between mentee and mentor in order to create new knowledge as each side learns from the other.

The SKC currently has 300 mentors, of which 20% are volunteers and 80% are interns. The interns are recruited through agreements with universities of applied sciences, and receive ECTS credits for their work.  Mentors come from diverse backgrounds, about half of which have an immigrant background.

On the one hand, this project trains young adults to positively engage with young people with a migrant background or from a vulnerable environment. Each would-be mentor is interviewed in order to see if they fit the profile that SKC wish to have. Once they have passed that phase, they are given basic training on the organisation, its philosophy, its vision, its working methods etc. Thereafter, the mentors are further coached in one-to-one sessions in order to acquire the pedagogical skills necessary to become a successful mentor.

The children, aged 10 to 14, are guided by their mentor in order to develop their own potential. The main content of the programme focuses on learning skills and social skills necessary for the successful transition from primary to secondary school.  1500 mentees are currently assisted through this project, over 90% of which come from a migrant background. SKC only works with schools in lower social neighbourhoods, so-called ‘black schools’ in Amsterdam, which means that over 60% of the school population has a migrant background.

The mentor project is completely funded by the local government in Amsterdam. The network of schools involved is now rather substantial, but when we get further funding, we always try to increase our reach.

2013 newsbrief

SIRIUS: What else does SKC do to support inclusive education?

SKC also runs projects such as homework classes or weekend classes in which students develop their cognitive and civil skills. These projects are funded by the schools themselves, or are supported by the foundations with which we work.

SIRIUS: What are your future objectives for SKC?

We would like to expand the work that we are currently carrying out to other cities in The Netherlands. Big cities all around the country face the same challenges Amsterdam, and we think that our experience could be useful to schools and local governments in other cities. We hope to see this expansion starting in 2014 already.


SIRIUS note: Since October 2012, the SKC has been a member of the European Network for Education Support Projects, run by the SIRIUS network. It is amongst the highlighted projects mentioned in the Brochure on Mentoring.

The European Practitioners Network

To involve practitioners in the SIRIUS network is a challenge and is not easy to accomplish. More often policy and research networks talk about children of immigrants in education rather than work with practitioners organizations run by people with an immigrant background. The SIRIUS network wants to break away from this general trend. To get the commitment of practitioners’ organizations we have to be open to their agenda and needs. And this is the reason to create this network.