Breakthrough Summary Final Report

Breakthrough Summary Final Report


Young people can experience social and behavioural problems that result in engagement in risky behaviours such as drug taking, and poor attendance at, or exclusion from school. This can affect later life chances with high costs to the individual and society. Providing a vulnerable young person with an adult mentor is thought to help them develop life skills, confidence and good health and prevent negative outcomes such as unemployment, entry into the criminal justice system, mental illness or premature death.


Breakthrough Mentoring carefully matches a young person with an adult mentor who has similar interests. Twenty-one secondary school students, aged 11 to 16 years, whom the school thought would benefit from mentoring, participated in a pilot randomised controlled trial (RCT). Its purpose was to determine if it would be possible to undertake a large scale scientific evaluation of the effectiveness of mentoring in improving behaviour, health and wellbeing. Students were randomly allocated into intervention and control groups with a 50:50 chance of receiving a mentor for a school year (n=11) or not (n=10). We measured their health, feelings and wellbeing at the start of the study, and 6, 12 and 18 months later. We asked them what they thought about being in the study, having or not having a mentor and completing questionnaires. Parents, teachers, mentors and key staff in local government were interviewed about their views on mentoring.


The RCT format was acceptable to students, parents and schools because they understood the randomisation process and purpose of the research. High levels of response were achieved throughout. Some students in the control group had wanted a mentor and were mildly upset at not achieving this. Students who received Breakthrough Mentoring indicated that having a mentor unconnected with the school that they could talk to about their problems helped them to give voice to and deal with difficult feelings. All students allocated a mentor remained on the programme although half had a change of mentor. Some students felt unprepared for the end of mentoring.


The success of this feasibility study indicates it would be possible to undertake a large scale RCT to test the effectiveness of youth mentoring in the UK but that it would need to be larger than originally envisaged and therefore multi-centred. Schools are only likely to be prepared to participate in such an experiment if at least some of the costs of mentoring are met from elsewhere.

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