A tutor perspective of the GROW Programme by Mark Dowdeswell

After nearly thirty years of working with teenagers as a history teacher, Head of Department, Head of Year, SENCO, Safeguarding lead and senior manager, I can safely say I have never experienced anything that has had such an impact on children or been so challenging to me as a teacher as the experiences of the first seven months of 2020. So, when I was approached by Richard Pountney, Principal Lecturer in Education at SHU about the opportunity to help produce materials for the GROW Programme, a new project designed to help Y10/11 students re-engage with education post COVID-19 lockdown, via a mentoring programme delivered by recent SHU graduates, the need was, sadly, all too obvious. So, where angels fear to tread, I rushed in:


Strange times.  A lifetime fighting in the trenches of education, suddenly catapulted into the role of sending others over the top. End of the school year, worn thin by lockdown, why bother? Three reasons; me, them and those wonderful teenagers. Worried about this generation for a long time; no resilience, over-reliant on others, avoiding responsibility. Totally ill-equipped to cope with the tsunami of COVID and lockdown. And yet… in all those long years in the classroom, I’ve seen something, rare glimpses, fleeting shadows; compassion, empathy, the desire to be on the side of the angels. No one would wish COVID on the world but now that it’s here maybe, just maybe, it could be the making of them.

Something of a surprise then when the leaders of the GROW programme asked me to help write the content of mentoring sessions. Too intrigued to ignore it, had to investigate. Before I knew it, I was in. Then the doubts. Years of moaning about ‘them’ and how they had no idea about the reality of helping children. And now I was ‘them’; sending the troops over the top armed only with the weapons I’d provided. Lions led by donkeys? Probably.


Met the troops. Better or worse? Not sure. I like them; committed to the cause and ready for the challenge. They’re stepping up, young graduates wanting to make a difference, looking beyond themselves. Excellent. But now I’m responsible. Not abstractly but to real people. They’re relying on me. Can’t let them down. So, re-fill the coffee, recalibrate sleep, let’s go again. This has got to be right.

1.00 a.m., hard yards. How does a twenty-one-year old explain ‘resilience’ to a fifteen-year-old? Can’t help smiling; much of a muchness really – me, them, the pupils. Onwards.


Well, well, well. Recording of a graduate mentoring a pupil. It works! Thank goodness for editors! I can hear the pupil resurfacing after lockdown, re-engaging, re-visioning, reversing the ratchet. Wonderful. Reality check; the material sets it up but it’s the graduate mentor playing the shots. Excellent, how it should be. Two for one; the graduate grows into the mentor; the pupil grows from the mentoring. Good name, that; GROW programme.

Lions led by donkeys? Quite possibly but listen to those lions roar. If we can keep this going, if we really commit to this, we’ve got a chance; a fight nobody was looking for might just turn out to be the making of them us.