Grapevine Stories

We all need a mentor

Henry Fabor and Walter Kerr tell us a bit about their company, Oppidan Education, who provide a fantastic mentoring service to children.

We all need a mentor

By Henry Faber & Walter Kerr

Oppidan Education is pioneering the role of a mentor in children’s lives, through one-on-one, school and summer camp programmes. 

We all need someone in our lives to help guide and direct us when the journey ahead seems unclear. Whether it’s a colleague or an old friend, help from outside the family has its value.  

That care helps motivate. It establishes a game plan. It engenders cooperation. It inspires drive, clarity and builds self-esteem. Having somebody who makes it their business to nurture and care is vital for a child of any age, regardless of background or ability. Take the following cases and see if they resonate. 

Emily is 10 and has her 11+ exams for the local school. She’s bright, but feeling anxious and wants to make her parents proud. Sophie is 13 and quietly struggling in a big senior school. She misses the slower pace of life and the smaller year groups. Her mum doesn’t really understand. Tom is 16. He faces GCSEs but wants to drop out of school. He wants to spend his days playing hockey but can’t find the motivation to tackle his exams. 

These young people are successful and bright. They may have supportive families, great teachers and loyal friends. But whatever their level, children are faced with both internal and external challenges and uncertainties. 

We all need a mentor. 

Sir Peter Bazalgette agrees. In ‘The Empathy Instinct,” he suggests that one-on-one support helps improve emotional intelligence with children. He argues it would be the mark of a “profoundly empathetic society” for this conditional to become an imperative. If everyone were able to talk freely with a trusted source of support, we would be far more willing to cooperate as a community. 

The importance of one-on-one support for children is immeasurable. In his vision for a more empathetic future, Bazalgette argues for a culture in which “every young child gets the one-on-one nurture and stimulation they need to give them their own functioning empathy circuit.” 

If we believe Bazalgette and indeed are able to create an environment that assesses and cultivates the emotional intelligence of every child, then this has exciting implications for the potential of the next generation. 

How then do we create that environment for children? Is it possible to do that within a family dynamic? Can we rely on teachers to do this? 

Is it possible for parents to inspire and encourage children without causing them added stress? Are parents able to be both the enforcer and the motivator? Some schools and parents may say ‘yes’ to this. In our experience, the majority will say ‘no’. The complexities of these diverse roles imbalance and frustrate many families. 

Mentoring is the alternative. A mentor sits neatly between a school and a family. The concept of mentoring in the working world is nothing new. Law firms, sport teams, musicians and multinational companies all employ internal mentoring schemes to help juniors progress. And yet the role of the mentor in education is still to be fully understood. 

Confidence is at the heart of a child’s development. Sports psychologist Richard de Souza identifies seven key areas in achieving high performance and confidence features centrally. A mentor’s impact is widespread: helping to reduce stress, to contextualise targets and to foster to a natural curiosity and a desire to learn. A mentor exposes a child to the outside world and helps to encourage organic motivation without unnecessary pressure.

A mentor mediates within a family to allow parents to focus on the positives of family life. With clear expectations and a disconnected impartiality, a mentor can bridge that difficult conversation that frightens even the bravest parent. 

Children’s efforts in school are directly linked to their sense of self-worth; that is, that quiet belief in their own ability. A mentor is there to encourage their charge towards realistic goals, achieved through planning and perseverance.

A report for the Children’s Commissioner reviewed more than 350 mentoring programmes across the country. Though they inferred promising signs of positive change, they argued there was “no guarantee of mentoring’s effectiveness.” Nebulous concepts like mentoring shouldn’t necessarily have to be proven to be effective. You can’t measure the efficacy of something intangible through simple data; you simply have to have faith in a system that’s designed to nurture and support, in the right way and for the right reasons. 

Amid the growth of the tuition sector and increasingly anxious young people, schools are turning away from prescriptive methods of assessment. The Consortium has moved towards a one-hour interview for entrance to senior schools while Wellington College have chosen to scrap high-stakes examinations at thirteen. This is a fantastic start. Professor of Psychology Carol Dweck suggests that “than an overemphasis on intellect or talent leaves people vulnerable to failure and fearful of change.” 

If parents trust the great work schools are doing and are able to see the role of the mentor as something of genuine and necessary importance for children, then there’s every good reason to look forward to an empathetic education for emotional intelligence. 

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Grapevine also believes in supporting young people to get a strong start through internships and work placements. We also help a number of charities including Heads Together and The Injured Jockeys Fund.