GROW featured in Barnsley’s Community Boost

The GROW Mentoring Programme has featured in Barnsley’s Community Boost, a project funded by the UK Government through the government’s UK Community Renewal Fund as one of the exciting projects on offer to help boost the growth of good employment and ensure local people access it, working closely with local people, businesses, and a variety of organisations and supporting the vision for Barnsley as a place of possibilities.

In the video Michelle Eccles, the Academic Lead for the GROW Programme, explains how the programme was designed to respond to the effects of Covid Pandemic by giving young people one-to-one mentoring with a relatable role model. Graduate Mentor Mark Tipper describes how he works with young people online and Year 10 students, Josh and Gracie talk about how they enjoyed the mentoring sessions and the value to their studies and to them personally.

Meeting individual needs: the GROW SEND curriculum

The GROW SEND curriculum is an adaptation of the curriculum and materials developed since May 2020 and is in use in South Yorkshire Schools (see Phase 1 evaluation of the programme). The GROW SEND curriculum is being used in seven Sheffield Schools. By working with the schools, the  Programme has adapted the GROW curriculum and pedagogy to be used flexibly and adaptively by the Graduate Mentor in SEND settings, guided by the SEND Code of Practice (2015). One of the schools, is Holgate Meadows School, Sheffield, and Adele Hetherington is the School Key Contact for GROW. She writes:

Holgate Meadows School is a specialist school for students with social, emotional and mental health (SEMH) needs, and we have students with some of the most complex needs in Sheffield and South Yorkshire. This last few years have been really difficult for our students, including changes to routine, isolation, and lack of social interaction, so taking on a new challenge for them was something I was quite nervous about. I signed up to the GROW mentoring programme at the start of the year for a March start, in the hope of giving students the chance to have that one-to-one personal reflection time that isn’t always possible in a busy classroom environment. The programme has had such a positive impact on the students who are participating already, all are eager for the sessions to start and leave them very positive. I asked the students to tell me a little about why it has been a positive experience:

‘It is good, as it has made me think about things, college, myself, options.’

‘It is important for me to be able to think and talk about college and careers after school.’

I asked them if they could recommend the programme to others if we were able to run it again and they said they definitely would. They all explained to the students around them why it has been a positive experience and how much they had learnt from it.

Myself and Michelle [GROW Programme Lead] met a number of times before the mentoring commenced to ensure she had a good understanding of the school, our students and their needs. I feel this has played a massive part in the success of the program as our graduate mentor, Helen, is such a good match. Our students can find new people and experiences very difficult but all have built positive working relationships with Helen in a short space of time.

We as a school are very keen to continue working with GROW if the opportunity arises and build this into our school offer due to the positive impact we have already seen.

Thank you to Michelle  and Helen for their continued hard work and support of our students.


Being a GROW Graduate Mentor

Two of our recent Graduate Mentors, Mitch Peake and Emma Nettleship, talk about their experiences of being a graduate mentor in this video. Mitch recently graduated from Sheffield Hallam University in Computer Science for Games, and Emma completed her degree in Childhood Studies.

They found the experience very positive and a great opportunity to work with young people. Mitch found it gave him a powerful insight into the effects of the pandemic on young people’s lives and the difficulties they faced in missing schooling and having to re-engage with learning. Emma found that working in a cohort of other graduates gave her a support network and invaluable training in mentoring, giving her skills that she feels will be very useful to her in her future career. She explains that there is a lot of pressure on graduates to know what they want to do after graduating and that the programme gave her a bridge in her career, while building her confidence and skills.

Evaluation of Phase 1 of the GROW Programme

GROW Programme Evaluation – Phase 1: June 2020 – September 2021 
Authors: Dr Richard Pountney, Dr Josephine Booth and Robbie Campbell
25 November 2021

In July 2020 the GROW Programme was developed in response to the disruption to schooling caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. It provided a platform for pupils, graduate mentors (GMs), and schools to connect and thrive, involving 25-hour training for graduates in mentoring, and a 15-hour mentoring programme for Y10 and Y11 pupils in South Yorkshire schools. Following the pilot it was rolled out and developed further in November 2020 and the offer extended to all Barnsley schools, including Y13s, in February 2021. This evaluation of the first phase of the GROW Programme, June 2020 to September 2021) aims to identify the efficacy of its design and delivery in order to improve its outcomes, and to disseminate the benefits of the model, within SHU and externally via journal papers and conferences. It examines graduate mentors’ perceptions of the training programme and its benefits, including those related to graduate attributes and employment. This includes the skills and knowledge of mentoring that graduates have gained in the mentoring programme, and how the programme has supported graduate readiness for their next step in their career, including the specific aspects of the programme and work with pupils that influenced their decisions.

The effects of the mentoring programme on pupils are also examined, in terms of the recovery of learning, including the agency of mentors in supporting pupils to develop their confidence, habits of work and learning, and metacognitive strategies to meet the needs of assessment at a crucial stage in their school careers. Analysis draws on the perceptions of school staff of the effects on pupils’ participation in the programme and engagement with learning. This research will inform the future development of this form of intervention and the programme design and its effectiveness.
The research questions guiding this evaluation are:

  1. What skills and knowledge have graduates gained in the training and mentoring programmes and how has it supported their readiness for the next step in their career?
  2. How do mentors and school staff perceive the effects of the mentoring programme on pupils’ re-engagement with learning?
  3. How effective is the design of the programme in preparing graduates for working with pupil mentees and how is online mentoring perceived as a method of building trust and encouraging dialogue?

The report includes many accounts, from mentors, school staff and the pupils themselves, of the positive effects of the programme. The general findings and recommendations are summarised below.

Summary of findings and recommendations

The skills and knowledge graduates gained in the training and mentoring programmes and how it has supported their readiness for the next step in their career

GMs expressed strong agreement on the positive effects of both the training and the mentoring experience on skills and knowledge and how this has prepared them for the next step in their careers. There is anecdotal evidence of a considerable number of students reporting success in finding employment and oft being able to talk about their experience in their applications and at interview. Recommendation 1: track graduate mentors next steps and follow up in 6 months

GMs reported the importance of a team ethic, using WhatsApp to share ideas and support each other. They valued the contribution of mentors who have been involved in previous cohorts as providing the ‘real’ experience of mentoring. Recommendation 2: encourage experienced mentors to take part as mentoring ‘buddies’ in the training and working alongside new mentors in schools.

The 14 GMs that completed the Postgraduate Certificate reported higher levels of insight on their training and mentoring practice and were able to deepen their professional knowledge and to gain academic credit for this work. The first cohort were able to test and demonstrate proof of concept.
Recommendation 3: revise the PG Certificate, building on the success of the first cohort, and offer to all GMs participating, to provide professional recognition for their mentoring practice and to raise the status of this professional role.

The effects of the mentoring programme on pupils’ re-engagement with learning

Schools were impressed (and pupils grateful for) the GMs’ ability to be flexible in their approach and to adapt the materials to the needs of the learners.Recommendation 4: provide more time in the training for GMs to become familiar and practised in the use of the materials and provide case studies to illustrate how the materials can be used, including those for trauma-informed approaches.

It is clear that the curriculum provides a structure and a focus, reinforcing the metacognitive and self-regulative principle that guides the programme, and the requirement that metacognition needs to be about something. However, the busy nature of schools meant that pupils missed sessions, affecting continuity. Recommendation 5: provide criteria for GMs to support decisions on both accommodating gaps in the sessions and the minimum requirements for pupils to achieve digital badges and the certificate of completion.

The perceptions of school staff of the effects on pupils’ participation in the programme and engagement with learning include increased confidence, a greater sense of belonging, improved habits of work and learning and academic resilience. This is supported by the accounts of pupils and in the analysis of the completed workbooks. Recommendation 6: provide guidance and support for the analysis of recorded sessions by individual GMs, and across the cohort, using the tools available in the Bramble platform.

The effectiveness of the design of the programme in preparing graduates for working with pupil mentees and how online mentoring as a method of building trust perceived.

Issues reported by GMs include the practical issues of timetabling and using the resources, as well as the time pressures on managing the mentoring sessions. Recommendation 7: introduce a mentor tracking system that reduces the pressure on GMs to keep records, and which logs pupil attendance, workbook progress and badge awards. This can also feed into an overall spreadsheet which shows progress across all settings and gathers statistical data.

The three-way design of the programme, linking mentors, the pupils and key school staff, was a crucial element in the success of the programme and in building trust and rapport. Where the school contact was able to communicate and meet with the GMs regularly a higher level of completion by pupils was seen. Recommendation 8: disseminate the effects of the programme to schools at the initial liaison meetings, alongside the level of commitment needed in terms of time and responsibilities and support the school staff in this role, and emphasise the importance of the weekly meetings between SKC and GM.

Further development of the programme

Recommendation 9: appoint a full-time member of academic staff to oversee the coordination of the programme and a Project Manager to manage the administration, including a central record of weekly school meeting, as well as recording receipt of school compliance documentation.
The intention is to run further cohorts in South Yorkshire schools in 2021-22 that take forward these recommendations and build on the success of the programme. A further evaluation of the GROW programme and its impacts will build on this report and examine further its impact.
Recommendation 10: further evaluation of GROW should be made to examine the pupil-mentor interactions, pupil learning and the development of graduate attributes

Download the report

Never stop flying

Following 12 weeks of online mentoring, and the successful completion of the GROW Programme, the opportunity for Graduate Mentor, Mariya Masood, to meet with her mentee was an amazing opportunity. Featured in Sky News, Trevor Phillips on Sunday, on 20th June 2021, headteacher Paul Crook at Penistone Grammar School, Barnsley, acknowledges the benefits of the programme to support pupils’ mental health arising from the struggles of lockdown. Programme director, Susan O’Brien talks about the need for a nuanced mentoring programme that supports pupils to reconnect with school and their learning, that sits alongside, and complements, the tutoring offered by the government’s National Tutoring Programme. The commitment by the Regional Mayor’s Office is underlined by Dan Jarvis to support levelling-up regionally.

Pupil Alison Andrijauskaite talks about the struggles of lockdown: ‘… just staying at home, and not being able to see anyone, especially teachers, it was so much more difficult to concentrate at home because there are so many more distractions …‘. Her graduate mentor, Mariya Masood provided one-to-one coaching over six weeks, all online. She says: ‘ … we covered a variety of activiites over 12 workbooks – we spoke about anything at all to do with skills, future development, future planning, careers, exam and startegic learning, calming strategies, that kind of thing …‘. According to Sue O’Brien, the GROW Programme Director, what has been really crucial to the succes of the GROW Programme is that it has been co-designed with local schools: ‘You know, we didn’t say this is what you need to do. They said to us, you know actually we’ve got subject specialists, so that’s OK, what we need is this more nuanced mentoring programme‘. The need to invest in young people, and to address the gap caused by the pandemic is echoed by Regional Mayor, Dan Jarvis, who has supplemented the local government’s contribution to the GROW programme from his own office funds: ‘It is really important that the governemnt really goes much further to provide much greater levels of investment, so those kids who have been disdadvantaged as a result of lockdown, get every opportunity to catch up‘.

Light at the end of the tunnel

My name is Abigail Roberts, and I graduated from Sheffield Hallam University in Occupational Therapy in 2020. As a future occupational therapist, mentoring is a big part of the role. We have a mentor-type relationship with clients, have peer-mentor relationships with colleagues and are encouraged to mentor others thoughout our careers. Alongside developing my skills as a mentor, I have also gained valuable experience working with young people which has given me insight into the challenges young people face, especially in light of the pandemic and the effect this is having on them.

As a graduate mentor on the GROW Programme since November 2020, what has become to clear to me is that mentoring on an individual level is essential during this time. My experience speaking to the 15-16 year-old students has highlighted how policymakers tend to misunderstand the realities of being a young person in the UK and I think the historical focus on subject-only mentoring demonstrates this. Unfortunately, not everyone has access to a quiet room, technology, wifi or even space to work. Some of my young people are carers and others previously relied on the stability and structure offered by a school environment to keep their routines going. Furthermore, young people are acutely aware the rug may be pulled out from under their feet at any time – as seen by last year’s predicted grades debacle and this year’s U-turn on keeping schools open. As a result, focus on the individual is essential to ensure students have someone to talk to about their fears, a safe space to ask questions and be honest about their anxieties about the future and someone to signpost them.

The focus throughout this pandemic (rightly so) has been on protecting vulnerable members of society. However, as we approach 12 months of lockdowns, I believe that the GROW student-centred approach is vital in ensuring that students’ futures don’t become unforeseen casualties of this pandemic. In short, no amount of subject mentoring will address the damage and, frankly, trauma young people have experienced during this time. Many of my students struggle to see the point of revision or college when there are “bigger problems at the moment” that swallow most of their time and energy.

In my work as a mentor I strive to motivate the students to not only look ahead but to also acknowledge what has happened/is happening to them and try to frame these experiences so they serve us, not hinder us. One of the activities we do together is ‘Snakes and Ladders‘, an exercise in looking at what moves us forward and what holds us back. Having a mentor to keep them accountable and encourage them to keep moving forward, while empathising with their position and hearing them out, is essential to ensure students don’t disengage from school entirely. I think some of my students log onto my sessions just to have someone listen to them and to be honest with them and then they go to lessons or look at what they will do after this year, which they may not have done otherwise. For me, my approach is about encouraging students to see light at the end of the tunnel, while acknowledging how scary and difficult it is to still be in the dark.

Hope. A lesson I didn’t teach the children, a lesson they taught me.

The GROW Programme: A Graduate Mentor View by Abigail Wensley

As a Psychology graduate from Sheffield Hallam University I always knew I wished to work with children in a supportive role. That is why when I was beginning to search for jobs after my last and final deadline this one caught my eye. Working as a graduate mentor with ten year tens, coaching them through the changes of leaving lockdown and returning to school. A chance to work with children in a supportive role just like I wished. After an intensive week of training I have not only left with new skills and knowledge but new experiences with children to help me with my future. The GROW program is a program that benefits everyone involved. Some benefits I did not expect:


Graduating into a Covid-19 job market was daunting and just short of terrifying. Smaller job market, more applicants and a seemingly hopeless tirade from the media of all future prospects for our country, let alone little old me, gone. A small project provided a glimmer of hope.

I soon came to realise the magnitude and speed at which this project was being rolled out at. Having no structure during lockdown and my time at university I felt I had been hit square on with a tonne of bricks. I was mentally exhausted from day one and it was a fraction at which the team leading us through this unknown wilderness felt I am sure. The training was intense and varied. However, no amount of training I am sure would make us feel prepared to leave our trench of security and head out into no man’s land carrying our soon to be teen charges on our backs. In an unknown overwhelming post Covid world where I myself felt lost, how was I going to inspire and encourage those dubbed “the lost generation”?


Armed as I was with my new found knowledge and barrage of activities I sat there. Behind my computer, notepad at the ready. Nerves, excitement and dread swirling around my already strained mind. The sudden realisation they may not show up hit. But show up they did.

Children hit down and pushed back by a world out of their control. Struggling to keep up, stay motivated and worst of all stay hopeful. I wasn’t alone in realising that a post Covid world looked bleak. But day after day they showed up, their resilience remarkable and inner drive to do something, anything to help themselves amazed. They worked with me to begin inch by inch crossing no man’s land to the potentially bleak future they faced but a future that was bearing down on them none the less. Slowly but surely as we inched across and progressed through this program their ability to still have goals, hopes and dreams made that future look just a little less terrifying.


Each individual child progressed miles during this program. Each facing a unique challenge to their future. These children have had it hard. There’s no denying the impact of Covid has had on them is unknown and the extent probably won’t be felt or anticipated to its fullest for a while. However, I believe between us I inspired them while they inspired me. A two-way door I was not expecting. I myself along with hundreds of thousands of other graduates are about to start traipsing the long hard path to our future. This, while not the same path, runs parallel to that of the students returning to their education in September. The largest change I have seen appear on that path, hope. Hope for themselves, hope for their goals, hope for their future. We each must now navigate ourselves through this new and daunting world, and each inch we make across no man’s land, each painful terrifying step, is fuelled by one thing. Hope. A lesson I didn’t teach the children, a lesson they taught me.

Lions Led by Donkeys

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.

What do schools think about GROW?

The GROW project has been designed by and for schools. We’re delighted to have captured some of their thoughts on how the pilot has been working in different school settings, the impact on their pupils and how it has affected their plans for the next school year.

Firth Park Academy, Sheffield

In this short video, Mirus Iwaskow, Assistant Principal at Firth Park Academy, reflects on how the GROW project, and in particular the trained Graduate Mentors, have supported his students to reflect on how Covid-19 has affected them personally, as well as encouraging them to plan for the future.

XP School, Doncaster

Below Jamie Portman, Principal of XP and XP East Schools, Doncaster discusses the ‘power’ of the GROW project, the great response from his students, and XP’s plans to extend and embed the project into their academic year.