The aim of the Progress Mentor (PM) programme is to provide individualised packages of support to help students with experience of children’s social services to overcome the barriers to success in Further Education and achieve better education, progression, wellbeing, and housing stability outcomes. The programme, introduced in Birkenhead Sixth Form, involves a full-time equivalent college-based PM, who provides bespoke support during term time.
The transition to Further Education from school can be challenging for students, as it often involves more personal responsibility, less supervision and less of an emphasis on pastoral care from the education provider. In many cases, students will move to a much bigger site, with new surroundings and peers. Students with experience of children’s social services typically find this transition to college more difficult than their peers and are more likely to be negatively affected by the changes.
This report evaluates the introduction of a progress mentor to Birkenhead Sixth Form. The programme was evaluated by IFF Research following a commission from What Works for Children’s Social Care (WWCSC). It is a pilot evaluation which covered the 2021/22 academic year. Involving both qualitative and quantitative research, the evaluation is a process evaluation focusing on understanding the implementation, process, mechanisms and how and why the programme works (or does not work) to support students. The evaluation has also explored indicative evidence of outcomes where possible. Given the nature of the programme and the scope of the evaluation, these will be short-term outcomes only.
The pilot evaluation aimed to address the following research questions:
1. Evidence of feasibility: How is the progress mentor programme being delivered in the college, and how far is it implemented as intended?
2. Readiness for trial: What (if any) changes are needed to the design, procedures, or delivery approach of the progress mentor programme before any wider rollout?
3. Indicative evidence of impact: In the short term, do the destinations, wellbeing, and housing stability of students who have received support from the progress mentor programme improved?
4. Costs: How much does it cost to deliver the progress mentor programme per student?
The pilot evaluation adopted a mixed methods approach to address the research questions, which involved the analysis of:
- Interviews with students, parents/carers, staff, and external stakeholders.
- Focus groups with college personal tutors.
- Programme management data (i.e. administrative data, both college-wide and specific to the progress mentor cohort).
- The programme was largely implemented as planned, and there was a high level of engagement and take-up of the support offered by the programme from eligible students. All but one student who was offered support engaged with it.
- Although this evaluation was primarily focused on exploring the programme’s implementation and did not include a formal outcomes analysis, the evaluation shows early promise of short-term outcomes for students. These include:
- Raising aspirations, with many students considering progression pathways (and in particular university) that they had previously felt to be unattainable.
- Improving wellbeing as a result of receiving support through the programme, such as feeling better and more able to manage their anxiety, greater confidence, and improved resilience.
- Supporting students to stay in college.
- Reducing the number of students living in unstable housing.
- The average cost of delivering the programme per student was £429.65 per year.
Findings from the evaluation suggest that the progress mentor programme offers promise for students with involvement with a social worker in the past six years, with some limitations and caveats.
It is recommended that future research should include running another pilot at a larger scale. As the programme is at capacity in the college involved in this evaluation, this would mean extending the progress mentor model to other colleges with a similar intake of students. Future research may also consider further testing the revised logic model and the use of quantitative outcome measures.