Peer mentoring as an alternative to exclusion

Tutors of school-leaving age can help to unlock hidden potential in pupils excluded from mainstream education

In the face of ever-changing goals schools are having to run just to keep up. They are (rightly) judged for the continuous improvements of their students – and there is nowhere more difficult to achieve this than in alternative provision.

How to introduce alternative provision for pupils who have been excluded – or are at risk of exclusion – is an issue every school faces, with some traditional techniques having the potential to backfire.

A traditional option is to place the child in isolation with a teacher or assistant specially positioned to provide one-to-one instruction. Although this is likely to have a positive effect on the rest of the class, any resistance to authority figures can often be reinforced by separating the child from their peers and placing them in a potentially overwhelmingly austere situation.

Alternatively, where staffing shortages mean the child is simply given work to do on their own without support, their motivation hits rock bottom and they are in danger of falling out of education altogether.

These tutors are not authority figures in the usual sense

This is where peer-to-peer learning comes in. By interacting with people other than teachers to attain educational goals, students can sometimes feel more comfortable and supported. It feels more like a joint effort towards achievement when provision is delivered one-to-one or on a small group basis, away from the pressures of a conventional classroom and led by an impartial, outside source.

It’s not a novel notion that younger students look up to people in a slightly higher age bracket, who remain approachable and “down with the kids”. As such, an option is delivering provision to excluded children through tutors of school-leaving age. These tutors are not authority figures in the usual sense; working with them does not have the same feel as working with a teacher, so the pupils are simply more receptive.

This willingness to engage can have a clear impact. For example, over one year of receiving tutoring from Yipiyap, one student, Ellie, made five sub-levels of progress. Another student, Jess, had been permanently excluded due to behavioural issues, but since receiving tuition through Yipiyap, her attendance “has gone from not going to school at all, to going to tutoring nearly every session”.

She attributes this to the approachability of her tutors: “They have been fun to work with and I liked the fact they are younger and not teachers. They know the subjects that they are teaching me and they have all the teaching materials they need.”

Jess’s sentiments aren’t shared by everyone. The age and perceived inexperience of such tutors can be off-putting to key decision-makers in schools – despite it simply being a more formalised version of existing peer-to-peer initiatives.

Additionally, as alternative provision is aimed at the more challenging children, there can be doubt that tutors will be able to manage student behaviour. A young tutor may therefore not be appropriate if a pupil has a history of violence. For those who have stronger sense of motivation, but simply struggle in the mainstream, the success rate is high.

Tutors quickly develop a connection that extends beyond the subjects they’re teaching to become more of a mentoring role. As a result, pupils start to recognise the benefits of engaging in schoolwork, passing exams and, ultimately, the effect that this will have on their future.

With the next school year creeping to the top of every teacher’s agenda, schools must explore more and more options open to them to help address the different needs of every pupil. Formal peer-to-peer learning is a promising key to unlocking hidden potential.

Yipiyap provides tuition in core subjects to students in need of additional support

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