The University Students and Primary School Mentorship programme – overcoming educational inequalities and mental health

The University and Primary School Mentorship programme would approach two different groups – primary school children and university students – who have both experienced a challenge surrounding the changes to their education during the pandemic.This issue provides a great opportunity to link two groups that have experienced very specific problems within the pandemic, but two demographics that would gain from working together. It would work by partnering local primary schools and universities and pairing up one university student to a pupil specifically in need, that has been recognised by their school as having a particular disadvantage, whether due to their financial circumstances (being on FSM), having parents who are key workers, falling behind academically, or experiencing social isolation in class. The child would be paired with a university student who has volunteered to sign up to this exciting new opportunity. University students will likely be interested in this opportunity, especially given the levels of social isolation they have experienced during the pandemic. This would also be a great thing for careers departments in universities across the UK to encourage via their respective channels, as volunteering is a great thing to have on one’s CV, and their commitment to this during a pandemic would also build a sense of collective purpose amongst university students. We have seen that communal aid and the pooling of resources has become even more essential during the pandemic, and projects such as this one ought to be rolled out at a national level in order to build links between those impacted negatively by the pandemic. This policy would be a mutually beneficial and participatory solution that utilises an opportunity for an intersectional solution to a practical problem. We know that collaborative work in the community is an essential grassroots tool, and by connecting university students with school children in this way, we could have an innovative solution for both parties. For school children, the opportunity to have someone to talk to for advice, guidance and assistance with either homework, classwork or simply for a space to chat with a positive role model. Currently, state schools do not have the funding to fill gaps and hire private tutors and extra staff, so by making this initiative a voluntary program, this is a sustainable solution that is beneficial for both parties. This scheme would not require training, as a voluntary program whereby university students can choose which area they would like to sign up to assist with from the following options for primary school pupils – Maths, English, Science, Spelling and Grammar, General Mentoring and Coaching. They would then be paired with a child on the basis of that child’s recognised support needs by their school, and they would do a 6 week programme of weekly mentoring with. This would follow with a Monitoring and Evaluation session with both student and child doing a survey, and if it is recognised there is still a need for continued support they would continue for another 6 weeks. Keeping the tutor and weekly time slot the same would be essential in giving the school child a clear and dependable routine where they can build a positive and genuine relationship with their mentor. As a former tutor for primary school children, teaching assistant and volunteer with International Citizen Service, I understand just how rewarding that working with children to address societal issues can be. The potential that young people have in having a positive influence on a child’s development and wellbeing cannot be underestimated. In the UK, 28% of school children are classed as ‘disadvantaged’ and this sees them leave school on average 18 months behind. COVID has widened this gap by a drastic 75%, equating to them being 2.5 years behind. This scheme therefore, would be especially beneficial for those children who are unable to afford private tutoring. The scheme would also provide an opportunity for children of key workers to gain extra support and have someone to talk to, as many of these children might well be experiencing shared anxieties around the pandemic, and the impact this might have on their mental health has not been fully considered. Furthermore, as a university student myself, I understand just how difficult it has been to remain positive during the pandemic, with disrupted learning and the pressures to continue to excel academically. In a survey conducted by The Recovery Clinic, 76.8% of participating students across the UK admitted to dealing with anxiety and worries, and 74.6% responded that they had felt stressed or overwhelmed. I would argue that this opportunity would give university students something to look forward to but would also not be too much to take on – an hour of volunteering or community work weekly is completely doable and is something many students would have already been committed to prior to the pandemic. Having a purpose and commitments outside of academia is essential to keeping a positive mental wellbeing, and lockdown has made this more difficult. Therefore, the University and Primary School Mentorship programme would be an incredible solution to the respective needs of both of these groups.




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