Mentoring

– in Westminster Hall at 3:57 pm on 24 January 2024.

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Photo of Maria Miller Maria Miller Conservative, Basingstoke 3:57, 24 January 2024

I will call Dr Lisa Cameron to move the motion and then call the Minister to respond. As is the convention for a 30-minute debate, there will not be an opportunity for the Member in charge to wind up.

Photo of Lisa Cameron Lisa Cameron Conservative, East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow

I beg to move,

That this House
has considered the matter of mentoring.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairship for the first time, Dame Maria. I believe that mentoring can help us to work together collaboratively so that everyone reaches their full potential across the United Kingdom. I thank colleagues for attending the debate; this is a critical issue that demands our attention and commitment as Members of Parliament.

The impact of mentoring can be very profound not only on young people, but on people of all age groups. I have drawn on my experience as a consultant clinical psychologist prior to coming to Parliament. I have witnessed at first hand the crucial role of support, particularly in helping young people to overcome mental health issues and the challenges that life brings. I think we all agree that the recent disruptions to people’s education posed by the covid pandemic and the cost of living crisis have disproportionately affected disadvantaged youth.

One of the groups I want to speak about in a bit more depth is care leavers, who face significant disparities in health, social circumstances and education. We can all try to work with them and ensure that they have the best support possible, including mentoring, across their lifespan.

Photo of Jim Shannon Jim Shannon Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Human Rights), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Health)

I congratulate the hon. Lady on securing this debate. The importance of mentoring cannot be underlined enough, and she is doing that exceptionally well. I look forward to the rest of her speech.

The Prince’s Trust, the Diana Award and other such schemes have shown the success that results from coming alongside our young people to give them the hand of friendship and advice, and the feeling that they are not alone in the world. So often we find young people who think they are very much alone in the world. We should encourage more people with a love for young people to get involved. That is why we need this debate. Well done to the hon. Lady!

Photo of Lisa Cameron Lisa Cameron Conservative, East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow

I thank the hon. Gentleman. He is so fastidious in representing and intervening on behalf of constituents and people across the United Kingdom. I totally agree that the organisations that he mentioned have contributed significantly to the benefit of young people across the United Kingdom. I had the privilege of visiting the Prince’s Trust locally to see at first hand the work it was doing in building self-esteem and confidence among young people, some of whom felt that their mental health had become low. Further to the hon. Gentleman’s point, I have also noticed that there is a campaign to end loneliness. Young people are one of the significant age groups reporting increased feelings of loneliness; as usual, the hon. Gentleman is entirely right in his comments.

The challenge is clear. We can impact the life of young people through mentoring, which emerges as a powerful solution to address many challenges. Consistent support from a caring mentor has the potential to significantly alter the life trajectories of young people. That can happen through volunteering and through businesses. I have had good opportunities to meet local organisations and businesses in my constituency of East Kilbride. They have been helping with the special needs school to try to get mentoring under way and young people with disabilities into the workplace. That is very much needed because often what people require is opportunity. When they are in the workplace and given the opportunities that they deserve, they can really shine and all their potential can show through.

As Jim Shannon mentioned, mentoring also helps young people to become more engaged in their communities—to feel less lonely and much more connected. That is particularly the case for people in rural communities who might feel that fewer opportunities are available and for people from more disadvantaged backgrounds who find it difficult to engage in school or different aspects of the support structures already available to them.

The “Mental Health of Children and Young People in England, 2023” report was published recently by NHS England. It found that one in five young people has reported probable mental health conditions, so it is very important that we try to address their needs. In Scotland, the “Health Behaviour in School-aged Children” study recently revealed the lowest levels of adolescent confidence seen in 28 years—a stark figure. Only 42% of adolescents reported feeling confident often or always and about one fifth of young people reported feeling lonely all or most of the time. The report noted that feelings of loneliness were highest among 15-year-old girls—31%, a very high figure. The challenge is clear, as is the impact that we can make. It is important that we give time to consider what more we can do to support people through mentoring, because young people in particular are suffering. Their mental health might be deteriorating and, as we have heard already, loneliness is on the rise.

I want to speak about some different programmes that I have had the privilege to engage with. I used to be chair of a very important group in Parliament, the all-party parliamentary group on mentoring, which had the secretariat provided by the Diana Award. We were able to engage with MPs, which was a valuable part of our programme. During covid, we managed to pair up more than 100 MPs with young people in their constituencies across the United Kingdom to offer mentoring support during National Mentoring Week. We put a great deal of effort into that. I became a mentor myself for that period, and the responses that we had showed that the MPs benefited as well as those who were mentored.

The experience gave us a much better understanding of and empathy towards people’s plights locally, in addition to the connection to what was happening on the frontline, which we are not always afforded as MPs. I remember after being elected wanting to visit a hospital where I had worked previously. I was offered a tour, but I wanted to speak to patients and staff. They said, “Usually, MPs get a tour of the hospital,” but I said, “I don’t really need a tour—I used to work there, so I could probably give the tour.” That shows that as MPs we need to build a connection to the frontline. What people might think we want to hear about or engage in means that that connection is not always afforded to us.

One of the programmes that we have been engaged with and which contributes to mentoring is the Grandmentors programme by Volunteering Matters. It is an intergenerational mentoring programme for care-experienced young people—possibly the strongest and most resilient people in any community because they have often faced many more challenges during their early lives. Through the skill of mentoring, care-experienced young people have been supported to want to achieve their goals.

The programme was established in 2009 and now runs in 14 locations in England and Scotland. Interestingly, a mentor is typically aged 50 years or over—I have to admit that I fall into that category—and, importantly, the mentee is a young person, typically aged between 16 and 24 years old, which means there is an intergenerational transfer of knowledge and support. The programme tries to recruit older volunteers to use their life experience and skills to provide emotional and practical support to young people, particularly when they are transitioning from the care system to independent living.

As of October 2023, 169 mentors had been matched with mentees, with many more ready to be matched. Their impact is measured in employment, education and training; housing and finance; and health and wellbeing. It was found that everything really is relational, with the primary focus on nurturing and strengthening through the relationship and connectedness as individuals to the place where they live.

Photo of Daniel Poulter Daniel Poulter Conservative, Central Suffolk and North Ipswich

I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing today’s debate. In Suffolk, we have found that mentoring tends to be taken forward on an altruistic basis with a limited formal framework. Does my hon. Friend agree that it would be helpful to hear from the Minister about what the Government can do to encourage and foster that form of altruism among businesses? What is her reflection on the role that chambers of commerce could play in supporting the many businesses that want to do this, and taking that forward at a county-wide or regional level?

Photo of Lisa Cameron Lisa Cameron Conservative, East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow

My hon. Friend makes an insightful intervention. One of the key things on which we could work together across the House is having more of a mentoring strategy moving forward, to help organisations that wish to pursue that and provide help in the world of business, in communities and in the voluntary sector.

As my hon. Friend says, a great many organisations wish to lend their knowledge, expertise and support and to be there for people and pass on their experience. I have accounts from young people, which I will mention briefly today, who say that that has been invaluable in their lives. The more we can do, the better. If there can be a structure moving ahead, engaging key organisations such as the British Chambers of Commerce, that would be extremely valuable. According to the Home for Good report 2022, care leavers currently make up about 25% of the homeless population and 25% of the adult prison population, which shows we need to do much more to support them. Some 41% of them are not in education, employment or training, compared with 12% of other young people.

New research from the universities of Oxford, York and Exeter has demonstrated that one third of care leavers are not working or studying, compared with just 2.4% of comparable young people who have never experienced the children’s care system. Data from the Office for National Statistics also demonstrates that more than half of those who had been children in care had a criminal conviction by age 24, compared with 13% of children who had not been in care. Early intervention is crucial for young people who may have experienced trauma or be at a critical period in their lives.

Some 59% of the mentees on the Grandmentors programme who had support as care leavers were independent or stable in sustaining education. They had sustained training, education or employment, with 62% independent or stable in terms of their wellbeing, which had dramatically increased from the start of their mentoring. The figures speak to the power of mentoring. As many as 75% were stable with regard to housing, which is a huge change, given the figures we heard about homelessness. We should never underestimate the difference that having such support at a critical time can make.

I want to mention Saliou’s story, which I have been granted permission to share:

“I arrived in the UK at 17 from Guinea. I’ve been part of the Grandmentors programme…and I am now 19. I’m at college full time building up my skills and language. I aspire to be an electrician, and I am doing some work experience in this. My volunteer mentor really listens, and we work things out together. I share things that are bothering me, but I also talk about my plans for the future. My mentor has been…supportive since we have met, and I feel grateful to have met such a wonderful person. She puts smiles on other people’s faces. I don’t want to lose our friendship.”

I also want to mention the Diana Award, with which I had the privilege to work in relation to the all-party parliamentary group that was organised a few years ago. I thank it for the powerful work it does across the United Kingdom. It offers mentoring programmes to support young people to develop their career skills and make positive changes in their communities. It celebrates not just mentoring young people but enabling them to make changes and contribute to their communities, which is so valuable.

The Diana Award collaborates with volunteers from all backgrounds and levels of experience to deliver mentoring programmes for young people aged 14 to 18 who are deemed to be at risk. Young people who have taken part in the programme have shared that it allowed them to grow closer to their peers, and feel comfortable sharing their opinions. One said:

“My confidence and skillset has changed. I understand different skills required in the workplace more.”

Another said that the programme had helped them

“to realise the vast majority of my classmates experience similar issues to me.”

A teacher whose comments I am allowed to share said that their student had

“grown in confidence about his own ability to interact with others in unexpected social situations.”

The results were not just about the experiences that the mentees expected; the skills transferred to all other types of experiences. I have not been able to include all the fantastic organisations, but I will mention some that I have been in touch with: the Kids Network, the Mentoring Lab, Volunteering Matters, She Stands, Bloomberg, The Girls’ Network, the Youth Endowment Fund, the Patchwork Foundation and Chance UK.

We hope to re-establish formally the all-party parliamentary group on mentoring. We should continue to support it as Members of Parliament, across parties. We can offer vital opportunities to young people in our constituencies right across the United Kingdom. Of course, they also offer us great experiences and engagement in return—everybody benefits. I hope to work with Members of Parliament in the near future to re-establish that group. I look forward to hearing from the Minister about what more we can do together.

Photo of David Johnston David Johnston The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education 4:15, 24 January 2024

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairship, Dame Maria. I congratulate my hon. Friend Dr Cameron on securing this debate on such an important subject. I am familiar with the Diana Award, and have been for some time. I will talk more about the APPG, but I appreciate my hon. Friend’s great work in championing mentoring. I have seen at first hand the difference that mentoring can make to a child or young person, because I spent 16 years running organisations for disadvantaged young people before I became an MP, and I ran mentoring programmes as part of that. I also volunteered to be a mentor through various other organisations, including Chance UK, which my hon. Friend mentioned.

Education is a key determinant of young people’s life chances and social mobility. That is why this Government are committed to providing a world-class education system for all children and young people. We have invested significantly in education and undertaken a number of important reforms to ensure that, whatever their background or circumstances, all young people have the opportunity to reach their potential. Much of the Department for Education’s work prioritises giving children and young people with special educational needs and disabilities, or those who have been in our children’s social care system, the additional support they may need to ensure that they are prepared for adulthood and to achieve positive outcomes.

I have a keen interest in working to ensure that all children and young people fulfil their potential and that we are promoting social mobility, which was the theme of my pre-politics career. A key part of that is the role of mentoring, and of effective programmes more widely. That is why we re-endowed the Education Endowment Foundation with £137 million in 2022. It has been a key part of ensuring that what we do is effective, and that we have programmes which work for the most disadvantaged in particular. The EEF identifies, develops, supports and evaluates projects that raise the achievement of disadvantaged children and young people. That has included an evaluation of mentoring and how it can be used to improve outcomes for those that need help reaching their potential.

One of the ways we are helping people to achieve their potential is through funding mentoring programmes in various areas of the Department for Education’s portfolio. I will start with children in care. We are committed to quite a big programme of reforming the system for children in care. We set that out in the “Stable Homes, Built on Love” strategy we published last year, which puts stable, loving relationships at the heart of the care system. By 2027, we want every care-experienced child and young person to feel that they have those strong and loving relationships. As part of our commitment to helping local authorities with family finding for children in care, we are funding 24 befriending and mentoring programmes for children in care and care leavers. Those are all designed to enable children and young people to improve their sense of identity and community and create and sustain consistent and stable relationships.

As part of our work to remove barriers to people with special educational needs, a learning difficulty or a disability starting apprenticeships, we have been developing a pilot to test the value of targeted and specific mentoring support for apprentices who have learning difficulties and disabilities. The pilot will offer targeted expert support, advice and training to the people providing mentoring to apprentices, and measure what impact it has on the cohort’s level of satisfaction and on key performance measures, such as retention and achievement, for those apprentices.

More widely across the education system, mentoring is supporting children and learners to reach their full potential and prepare for the world of work. For young people leaving school, mentoring can be a great way to support effective transitions and empower them to make positive decisions that lead to fulfilling careers. We are running a pilot targeted transition fund in a number of schools this academic year to help young people to make successful transition choices that they feel confident about. The project delivers a wraparound programme to young people eligible for free school meals and with low school attendance, giving them careers guidance, counselling, mentoring and employability support.

As has been touched on, some careers hubs also use employer mentoring to support young people when they transition from school into further education or employment. To improve the work readiness of all young people, employers are engaging in greater numbers than ever before, helping to connect careers information and advice with the world of work and enabling opportunities for young people to experience a variety of workplaces.

I come to two or three of the initiatives that my hon. Friend mentioned. I have explained that I am familiar with the great work of the Diana Award, and I enjoyed hearing about the specific programme that she described. On Grandmentors, some of the local authorities that we are supporting through our “Stable Homes, Built on Love” strategy use that programme to support their care leavers, which is good news. For businesses, which have been touched on by a couple of Members, part of our careers strategy measures the Gatsby framework for employability, including by looking at what they do on mentoring. Given my experience of running such programmes, I should say that it is incredibly difficult to get a consistent relationship in mentoring. We have to acknowledge the great work that all these organisations are doing, because it does not just happen naturally; it requires a lot of support.

I am enormously grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow for raising the issue of mentoring and social mobility today. The Government agree with her that mentoring can transform the lives of children and young people. I was particularly struck by her point about its importance in rural areas and in helping to develop young people’s confidence. She also said—we clearly both know this from personal experience—that it helps the mentors, not just the mentees, which is absolutely true.

Photo of Lisa Cameron Lisa Cameron Conservative, East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow

I was really interested to hear the Minister talk about people with disabilities. He will be aware that I chair the all-party parliamentary group for disability. Could we work together on some of the programmes to look at how young people with special needs could be engaged as apprentices or interns here in the House of Commons and with MPs? That would help us to reach out to young people right across the UK.

Photo of David Johnston David Johnston The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education

My hon. Friend makes an extremely important point. This is one of many areas where we ought to lead by example and not just preach to other organisations about what they should be doing. We should demonstrate that we are doing it ourselves, and I would be very pleased to work with her on that.

Mentoring would not be possible without all the people up and down the country who volunteer to be mentors and who are working to support children and young people. I personally thank them and the organisations that co-ordinate such activities, and I assure them that I will keep working with the education and children’s social care sectors to ensure that we use mentoring as effectively as we can. I will work with my hon. Friend and support what she is doing to reinvigorate the APPG on mentoring and promote mentoring more widely.

Question put and agreed to.

Sitting suspended.