We use cookies to ensure that we give you the best experience on our website. You can change your cookie settings at any time. Otherwise, we'll assume you're OK to continue.

Durham University News



Student mentors bring out best of young people

(6 October 2004)

University students are helping to bring the best out of young people in care in County Durham.

A mentoring partnership between Durham County Council and the University of Durham's Collingwood College has seen students teaming up with looked after young people to support them in their school work and boost their social skills.

After a successful pilot year, the project is now looking to recruit a new team of student mentors. Already, 32 have successfully applied and training is under way for new mentoring relationships to start in October.

Susan Dolphin, project co-ordinator, said nationally the educational achievement of young people in public care is lower than their peers and the project aimed to try to change that.

"The key to a successful mentoring relationship is that the mentor should be a consistent, positive influence, giving a young person someone who will listen to what they have to say," she said.

"One of the main aims of the project is to provide an experience tailored to each young person's needs.

"Activities have included visits to museums, galleries, cinemas, bowling and even a golf driving range. One pair developed an effective and supportive relationship largely through exchanging e-mails.

"Mentors have also supported some young people with their school studies especially at key times such as exams and have encouraged young people to take part in a range of study support initiative,”she said.

The response from both students and young people has been uniformly enthusiastic with both sets pleased with their experiences.

One young person was moved to write, “I would like to thank everybody who helped organise this project, as it has helped me with a lot of things and showed me what University life is like and gave me more encouragement to go there”.

Collingwood College Geography student Madelaine Dobson enthused “For the mentor, I think of the project as a valuable learning experience, a way of gaining new skills and a satisfying and enjoyable way to spend time.” While the scheme has undoubtedly benefited the young people involved – they speak with enthusiasm of enhanced self-confidence and the opportunity to try new things – the scheme has also been beneficial for the mentors.

Emma Cockburn, a Business Studies student at St Mary’s College, said that the experience had increased her understanding of the issues affecting children in public care immensely – “I realise now they are just normal children affected by circumstance. I did not realise this before. They are also much stronger and resilient than I thought”.

County Councillor Alan Barker, a member of a steering panel that oversees the organisation and progress of the scheme, said: "I'm amazed at the immense improvements achieved by the students and young people. It's best practice that should be rolled out in the rest of the country."


For further information : contact Susan Dolphin on 0191 586 3522.

Media enquiries to : Tom Fennelly, Public Relations Office, University of Durham, Tel 0191 334 6078 or e-mail :

Notes to Editors
  1. On a national basis the educational achievement of young people in public care is much lower than that of their peers. In 2001/2 only 8% of Year 11 looked after children gained 5 or more GCSEs A*-C compared to 50% of all young people.
  2. The Government’s long term policy objective is to ensure that every child in public care is able to fulfil their potential. Steps have been taken to both increase funding to support Children in Public Care and to set challenging targets within the revised Public Service Agreement. One target refers specifically to children in public care and their achievement at GCSE:
  3. “The proportion of those aged 16 who get qualifications equivalent to 5 GCSE’s graded A*-C should rise on average by 4% each year from 2002 and in all local authorities at least 15% of young people in care achieve this qualification”
  4. Within the County of Durham, the LEA, Social Care and Health, and Collingwood College of the University of Durham have worked in partnership to establish a project that both enhances opportunities for children in public care and raises their aspirations.
  5. A steering group involving representatives from the LEA, Social Care and Health, a County Councillor and the Principal and Vice Principal of Collingwood College oversees the progress of the scheme.
  6. The mentoring scheme involved recruiting a team of mentors from the student population at Collingwood College and providing a programme of rigorous training to ensure they fully understand their role and procedures.
  7. Mentors are provided with regular supervision sessions and have access to 24 hour support in case of emergency. All mentors have Enhanced Disclosure Certification and their applications have been supported by references.
  8. Workshops to raise awareness of the scheme were delivered to a range of key professionals including social workers, designated teachers and foster care groups together with the young people themselves.

Share this story