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While tutoring focuses on growing a child academically, mentoring reaches far beyond, entering the realms of improving happiness and general wellbeing. So which will your child most benefit from?

Tutoring vs mentoring – what’s the difference?

Both involve promoting achievement and instilling positive attitudes. But while a tutor helps a young person with their studies, a mentor is a role model, somebody that listens, takes an interest and can help with anything that falls outside the parameters of the curriculum.

Charles Bonas, founder of Bonas MacFarlane, views mentoring and tutoring along a spectrum: tutors are at one end, like ski instructors teaching technique, and mentors are at the other, like mountain guides, ‘enabling the exploration of the previously unimagined, inspiring places and perspectives and the cultivation of a lifelong, personal craft.’

Why mentoring?

Doing well in life is not based solely on academic success. Young people need, among other things, good communication skills, resilience, motivation, self-control, organisational skills and confidence. Children are often lacking in these essential life skills and mentors can help to fill in gaps by providing extra emotional support through strong one-to-one relationships. A mentor, explains educational psychologist Michael Hughesman a ‘friendly informal social contact with someone who isn’t a parent or teacher, who is there to help.’

Confusingly, you may think your child needs a tutor when they actually need a mentor. Hugh Viney, director of Minerva Tutors, explains, ‘A child who has no interest in school, is disengaged and apathetic may be doing badly at maths. The last thing they need is more maths – they already hate maths so setting up more maths sessions with a home tutor is not the answer. We would suggest a mentor to look at the bigger picture and get to the root of the problem – why are they unhappy? why are they unmotivated? A mentor can help to ‘unlock’ them in a way that parents cannot. They can find out what they are interested in, what excites them. Once they are happier as a whole, they will be able to apply themselves to things that excite them less, like maths.’

No wonder Big Brother Big Sister - a volunteer-supported mentoring network in the USA – has been such a huge success for years. Bigs meet their Littles at weekends or in evenings and go for a walk in the park, play football, listen to music or just hang out and talk. Similar successful initiatives in the UK include Reach Out, a charity that runs mentoring programmes in schools. But the real rise has been in private mentoring, where hourly agencies are similar to tutoring around £60-90 per hour.

Who benefits?

Any child can benefit from mentoring. In Birmingham, Every Child Needs a Mentor say: ‘Most mentoring is reactive where children have to be failing in order to access mentoring. At ECNM we believe that mentoring should be available for all young people.’ In Manchester, inspired by the US model, Girls Out Loud runs a Big Sister mentoring programme targeting ‘the girls who sit in the middle and simply cruise; they are in danger of becoming invisible as they are neither seriously disruptive, nor super academically gifted.’ A mentor can help any child reach their full potential.

For anxious children or those lacking confidence, a mentor provides a safe, supportive and confidential outlet. Mentors can help children to find their voice by learning to talk openly. They can give them the confidence to make new friends or achieve personal goals like becoming a student representative at school. They can help them to behave more appropriately.

For children with ADHD or those that struggle to get organised, a mentor can help with planning, time management and setting long and short-term goals. When there is no specific academic goal, parents are finding it far easier to persuade children to spend time with a mentor chatting informally than to see a professional counsellor. ‘There is no stigma attached,’ one told us.

What to look for in a mentor

Some mentors may have a specialist subject, some not, but all must be natural motivators and confidence boosters. The key is to match mentors well; getting on is a given and common interests and experiences are valuable. For example, a PHD student who has been to art school is a good match for a young creative unsure of future opportunities. We heard of one student with a love of science who was matched with a suitable mentor to do awesome experiments, attend lectures and have topical discussions. Mentors can effectively inspire further learning by focusing on passions or interests.

If you’re considering a mentoring scheme, always make sure it is properly managed, supported and regulated - careful selection processes, appropriate training and supervision is essential.

Case study: Philippa hires a mentor for her 16-year-old daughter, Rosie

‘Rosie needed extra support to get motivated and organised. She also lacked confidence and needed somebody to talk to. She was not listening to us; it had to be somebody independent of home, school and friends. So we decided to tag the mentoring onto her tutor sessions. She now has extra time to talk about anything that may have made her anxious at school or work through ideas and plan school projects - without being judged. Her mentor encourages her, motivates her and has given her the confidence to believe in herself. She has someone to talk to that is not a professional counsellor, someone who is nearer her age and understands her world. She is a positive influence – and gets her away from her phone!’

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