Located in Stockton on Tees, Bede Sixth Form College is a member of the Education Training Collective (ETC) group It offers a range of A level and A level equivalent vocational provision to around 700 students and employs 40 teaching staff.
The Grant Lead, Judith Myers, first became involved in the ETF’s Mentor Training Programme three years ago, when she undertook the Advanced Mentoring course. Engagement in the programme enabled her to pilot the mentoring scheme at Bede.
At that time, learning walks were used at the college to monitor the quality of teaching and learning, along with graded observations. Judith recalls that mentoring was very much linked to performance and administered through line management:
“The general procedure would have been: These are the areas for focused work with the learning coach to improve that and we will come back in to observe you to see improvements.’ As a result, there was a lot of negativity around this process.”
The mentoring course reinforced for Judith that mentoring should be non-judgemental and practitioner led, and this refreshed thinking helped to shape the college’s new observation and CPD strategy. As a result, professional development is now more teacher led:
“The way that our teaching and learning has moved is that rather than CPD ‘being done to’ staff, they are taking that ownership for themselves. So, our CPD is very much led by the staff now. And it’s all evidence informed.”
Whilst the college still has learning walks, these are now ungraded and have a different emphasis, in that they result in a coaching conversation about areas for improvement.
Support from a mentor is offered to all teaching staff, including teachers undertaking their PGCE.
George Parkinson, a mentor on this year’s Advanced Mentoring course, explains how mentoring support works in practice:
“Those teachers who want to opt into the mentoring service complete an online form in which they specify an aspect they would like to focus on that’s often completely unrelated to any observations or any learning walk. We now have a team of five active mentors who’ve created a mentor profile in which they say what they feel are their key strengths, backed up by managers. We can then allocate the mentee and the mentor accordingly as to who we see is the best fit.”
Judith explains that, quite often, teachers come with quite broad requests – not necessarily with a teaching and learning focus – and this is where the expertise of the mentors comes in:
“It is the skill of our mentors in that conversation, because you can go in as a mentee with something that you think is an area for development, but actually asking open questions and following a line of thought can open up a whole range of other things that they hadn’t even thought about.
“So, it’s the art of those conversations to broaden their thinking and one thing that I was really keen with the programme is that it doesn’t just have a teaching and learning focus.
“But actually it could be anything. So, we do make that clear on our form, when mentees select areas, they can be organisation and time management and general well-being as well. So, it’s a very holistic mentoring programme.”
The college now has a CPD and observation strategy that is underpinned by the non-judgemental approach to mentoring.
After three years of involvement in the ETF’s mentoring programme, 13 mentees have now received support and there are signs of positive impact:
Whilst the initial focus was on providing mentoring support for new staff, the aim is to roll out the programme further for existing staff to increase the number of staff being mentored. Judith explains her vision for the future:
“My vision is that we have staff who dip in and out of the programme whenever they want, and that all staff will have taken advantage of it in some way, shape or form, maybe over the course of three years of their academic life. That would be how I would measure success; that staff – when they’re new, are happy when they come in, they feel supported – and that we’re retaining staff because of that level of support and that sharing of good practice.
“There are also plans to continue to grow the number of mentors and to introduce one-to-one supervision for the mentor team.”
The ETF programme provided the College with a new direction and inspired Bede to develop a whole college policy for mentoring that was cohesive and that could evolve over time.
The programme has been hugely developmental for George:
“I would go as far as say that it is the best CPD that I’ve done.
“I think the opportunity to engage in terms of the FutureLearn course and then discuss and implement that with other mentors from around the country and engage – particularly in the breakout rooms where you can practise and you can discuss and deliberate and then apply what you’ve learned, both in the sessions to actual mentoring within the organisation and with a whole holistic approach – means that you’re learning and applying and then developing it and then actually seeing what works for you.
“So, you can adjust it accordingly to your individual needs in your organisation and the mentee. You know, I would recommend it to anyone. At the start of the year, when we were selecting mentors, members of staff came up to me and each time it was like, ‘Yeah, you need to do it like, you’ll love it. And so, yeah, it was just massively beneficial.”