Skinners’ mentoring scheme makes the grade

    One of Tunbridge Wells’ top grammar schools is involved in a unique educational support project

    Skinners School
    Aden (far left) and Nick (2nd from right) enjoy their weekly 50-minute learning sessions with their Skinners’ mentors (l-r) Jake Cunningham, George Gomersal and Seb Dark

    A groundbreaking venture in which Skinners’ School students act as mentors for pupils who have struggled in conventional education is proving a great success.

    The scheme involving the high-achieving boys’ grammar on St John’s Road and Two Bridges School in Southborough has come to the end of its second academic year, having started in September 2014.

    The brainchild of the headteachers, Skinners’ Edward Wesson and Sue Beauchamp of Two Bridges, has led to many of the troubled children, aged between seven and nine, being reintegrated into the traditional classroom environment.

    Ms Beauchamp said: “The mentoring programme has shown a solid impact and has helped our students focus. They really enjoy working with the Skinners’ boys.

    “They feel valued by these young men who take time out of their busy schedules to help them move forward with their learning and behaviour.

    Twenty Skinners’ sixth formers have taken part, and each one has attained the university place he wanted – with five receiving offers from Oxbridge.

    Craig Fleming, head of the Skinners’ sixth form, described the aims behind the scheme. “The idea was for our boys to act as role models for the lads at Two Bridges academically but also socially, in terms of their aspirations and behaviour.

    “It helps them to see young people who have ambition, commitment and motivation. And our boys also assist the teaching staff at Two Bridges with IT, maths, science and English.”
    Mr Fleming is enthusiastic about the progress made by his own charges. “They get a lot out of it. They are more reflective about their education, and it gives them a social context so they react more empathetically to the world outside.
    “They tend to grow up very quickly. It’s fantastic for their personal development. And it also helps their future employment because it’s something really very impressive to do.”

    Skinners’ boys have also found themselves learning new skills. The Two Bridges teachers have been very supportive, providing safeguards and explaining what happens in certain scenarios.

    The grammar schoolboys head over to nearby Two Bridges when they are not in lessons. There is a mixture of in-class activity, for example in PE, or more often mentoring on a one-to-one basis, lasting approximately 50 minutes.

    “We help and guide the pupils,” explains upper sixth former Seb Dark, who has been involved with the project for two years. “You can really see the impact you have and they are fun to be with.”

    The future of the students at Two Bridges is much less secure, since they have been left behind by the system. “It makes school a bit cooler,” says Mr Fleming. “They found mainstream education very difficult. But they have responded very positively to this scheme.

    “They refer to their mentors as ‘Mr’ or ‘Sir’, the idea being to introduce a formal element so that they are respected as teachers, but the age difference is smaller.”

    Ms Beauchamp added: ‘The opportunity to work with these talented students from Skinners’ can only really be inspirational for younger students.”

    The pupils at Two Bridges are on a 14-week pupil referral programme. After their time there they are reintegrated back into mainstream education.