Raising Aspirations is an innovative community mentoring project which matches volunteers from local businesses and community networks to provide support to young people. With the support of their mentors, young people gain improved self-esteem, aspirations and ability to form support networks, leading to increased GCSE attainment.
Somerset Community Foundation launched the project in 2011 with support from the Ninesquare Trust. We began work at Crispin School in Street and, since its launch, have recruited and trained over 120 mentors to support young people there.
Dr Chris Pawson, from the University of West England, has been analysing data collected from these pupils, tracking the progress of the mentees against control groups, and has been able to demonstrate impacts on individual pupils’ self-esteem and self-belief, aspirations and support networks. The majority of the first cohort took their GCSEs in 2016 and for the first time the results show that the pupils who were mentored achieved statistically significantly better GCSE results. Dr Pawson said: “These results support what we have been seeing from the qualitative data for a number of years now; that community-based mentoring can have a significant impact on outcomes for young people."
Justin Sargent, Chief Executive at Somerset Community Foundation added: “I would like to thank the trustees of the Ninesquare Trust, the staff at Crispin School, the pupils who took part and the volunteer mentors who gave so much time to invest in the next generation.
"This was a bold undertaking for us; we took a philanthropic approach to finding a new way to tackle low educational attainment and now need to look at how we make Raising Aspirations the bedrock of the relationship between schools and their local communities, so that more young people can fulfil their potential in life.”
With the support of Taunton Deane Borough Council, the scheme is also now extended to Taunton Academy and Court Fields School in Wellington and 40 mentors are now supporting students in Year 7 (age 11) of each school. Since the launch of the project we have been working with researchers from the University of the West of England to evaluate the impact of the programme.
An analysis of the key findings from these three pilot projects can be found in this report.
One student said: "I used to care so much what people thought of me that I would take time off sick from school as I was so worried. Mentoring has given me so much confidence, encouraged me to put myself forward for things and try things I've never done before."
Another said "Mentoring has been a life changing experience. It has moulded us into confident people. Thank you."
More information on the findings of this research will be available in due course. Meanwhile, we are looking to work with local partners to grow the Raising Aspirations project across the county. If you represent an organisation that is interested to deliver a mentoring scheme in Somerset and would like more information about Raising Aspirations, please call our Programmes Manager Jocelyn Blacker on 01749 344949.