Mentoring research at the University of Brighton has helped to shape the formation of a national mentoring infrastructure in England, and has informed and transformed multiple mentoring and mentor development programmes, nationally and internationally, replacing pathological, remedial approaches to mentorship with more developmental, non-evaluative approaches. These advances have enhanced educators’ professional learning, development, effectiveness, wellbeing and retention, with resultant benefits for their learners, organisations and education systems.
Optimum benefits of mentorship rarely realised
Schools in England are legally required to provide mentors to trainee and newly qualified teachers, while mandatory or voluntary mentoring schemes exist for trainee, newly qualified and established professionals across multiple global contexts. However, despite evidence that mentorship can significantly enhance professional learning and development, work effectiveness, wellbeing and retention, the optimum benefits of mentoring are rarely realised. Research led by the University of Brighton's Professor Andrew Hobson, funded by different bodies including the Gatsby Charitable Foundation and the Education and Training Foundation, helped to explain why this is so. Explanations include under-resourcing, weak approaches to mentor selection and mentor-mentee matching, the lack of appropriate training for both mentors and mentees, and the absence of appropriate regulatory frameworks.
Furthermore, the misappropriation of mentoring for the neo-liberal or performativity agenda has spawned the pathology of mentoring practice that Professor Hobson and his colleague Dr Angi Malderez termed ‘judgementoring’, an excessively directive and judgemental form of mentoring typified by mentors’ over-reliance on a strategy of providing evaluative feedback on mentees’ ‘performance’. The research shows that judgementoring, and the widespread use of mentoring as a remedial strategy to address the perceived under-performance of teachers and others, impedes the development of safe, trusting relationships and, in turn, mentees’ willingness to seek mentors’ support for their professional development. Judgementoring thus stunts mentees’ professional learning, impairs their wellbeing and, for trainee and newly qualified teachers at least, detrimentally impacts their retention in the profession.
A judgementoring antidote: the ONSIDE mentoring framework
Informed by his research into what has hindered effective teacher mentoring, and what common factors are associated with highly successful mentoring programmes in different professional contexts nationally and internationally, Professor Hobson concluded that the benefits of mentorship will tend to be maximised – other things being equal – where mentoring is: Offline (i.e. separated from line-management), Non-judgemental, Supportive, Individualised, Developmental and Empowering (ONSIDE). The ONSIDE acronym also helpfully emphasises the importance of a mentor being on their mentee’s side through acting as confidant, ally and advocate.
In contrast to remedial, evaluative, and directive models of (judge)mentoring in widespread use, mentoring was thus reconceptualised as a collaborative, non-judgemental and progressively non-directive strategy for promoting professional development and wellbeing, providing a safe space for mentees to access support from ONSIDE mentors, without fear of repercussions.
Addressing those ‘other things’ that are not, in fact, equal, and informed by a major study of mentoring in the English Further Education and Skills sector, Professor Hobson and his colleague Professor Bronwen Maxwell (Sheffield Hallam University) have mapped out a broader ‘mentoring substructure and superstructure’ that would provide optimal support for mentorship. The substructure comprises various forms of support for mentoring programmes provided by the organisations that they serve, centred on a strong organisational commitment to mentoring, and is a necessary but insufficient condition for optimising the effectiveness of mentoring programmes.
Such optimisation also requires a supportive mentoring superstructure, which comprises elements of the wider educational, social, economic, cultural, political and ideological contexts that together provide favourable conditions for establishing and maintaining effective mentoring substructures. This would include, for example, research-informed policy-making which fosters appropriate conditions for effective mentoring, such as system-level support for effective mentor training and development, and for the separation of mentoring support from performance management processes.
A national teacher mentoring infrastructure
The University of Brighton’s mentoring research has contributed to the development of a national teacher mentoring infrastructure in England, notably by informing key elements of the National Standards for School-Based Initial Teacher Training, the Early Career Framework for beginning teachers, and a new mentoring framework for the Further Education and Skills sector.
Regarding the latter, in 2020 the Education and Training Foundation and Department for Education used Professor Andrew Hobson’s research to provide a rationale for a new national Further Education infrastructure for mentoring and mentor development, for which ONSIDE mentoring was the favoured developmental approach. The ONSIDE and mentoring substructure and superstructure frameworks have subsequently become core features of a new Education and Training Foundation Mentoring Framework and associated Mentor, Mentee, and Organisational Leader Guides for the Further Education sector.
The ONSIDE mentoring framework is also used, for example: by the UK’s flagship Institute of Education, at University College London, in its Department of Education-funded delivery of the Early Career Framework; by Vilnius University (Lithuania), in a three-year pilot NQT induction programme hosted by the National Agency for Education; in a faculty mentoring scheme at Eotvos Lorand University (Hungary); and in an Education and Training Foundation mentee training course as part of a T-level professional development scheme.
Other institutions using University of Brighton mentoring research to inform their education and training activity include: the Kenya Institute of Curriculum Development (KICD), in its development of a national Teacher Education Curriculum Framework; the Gatsby Charitable Foundation, in the development of online mentor training for employers providing industry placements for students following T-level qualifications; and many other universities nationally and internationally, including Trinity College Dublin, University College Dublin, the University of Nottingham, and the University of Oslo.
Supporting the development of sustainable ONSIDE mentoring programmes
To effect change directly, Professor Hobson and University of Brighton colleagues Kathy Clements and Professor David Stephens have designed an adaptable ‘research and development’ model to support organisations to introduce and embed sustainable ONSIDE mentoring programmes. Seeking to establish the model’s utility in different contexts, prototypes introduced teacher mentoring programmes in a Horsham primary school and, funded by the Aga Khan Foundation, in schools in two regions of Kenya. The model involves the provision of specialist mentor and mentee training, research on the initial enactment of ONSIDE Mentoring, reflexively informing subsequent mentor and mentee development work, and an evaluation to establish the scheme’s impact and inform its further improvement.
To date, the University of Brighton has been commissioned by five different organisations to support the establishment of sustainable ONSIDE mentoring schemes, including for trainee teachers, teachers and school staff more widely, and for headteachers across two regions in the south of England.
Both University of Brighton and independent research has found that participation in ONSIDE mentoring has had a significant impact on mentors’ and mentees’ professional learning, development, effectiveness, wellbeing and retention, with resultant benefits for their learners and organisations. A particular adaptation of the research and development model, which Professor Hobson terms ONSIDE Co-Mentoring, has been especially powerful in, as one participant put it, ‘breaking down the last vestiges of hierarchy’ to establish stronger, more trusting mentoring relationships. This creates a safe(r) space within which co-mentors can declare, openly discuss and tackle problematical issues and professional learning and development needs that they might otherwise (and often do) hide from line managers and (judge)mentors, and have no other opportunities to address.