A pioneering mentor programme between Birkenhead Sixth Form College and the University of Liverpool has been hailed as a major success in helping both our A Level students with their exams and undergraduates get into the teaching profession.

The scheme, which sees students from Liverpool University act as academic mentors for their younger counterparts at the College, gives the undergraduates a helping hand into the teaching profession in their subject, while our students receive peer-to-peer advice and guidance to fulfil their potential at A Level.

Although the programme has been running with major success for a number of years at Birkenhead Sixth Form College in a range of different subjects, this is the first time that the mentoring makes up an optional component in the degrees of the final year Geography students at Liverpool University interested in teaching, giving them a chance to get real experience under their belts before applying for their teacher training courses.

“I think we can bring a different angle to helping the A Level students, with university resources and looking at it from an undergraduate point of view. It’s been a lot of hard work, and so much more challenging than we all thought it would be, but rewarding at the same time.”

Jordan Smith, Liverpool University student & academic mentor

In mutual benefit, the A Level students reap the rewards of one-to-one mentoring with someone who has recently been in their shoes, on top of their normal lessons and specialist support sessions.

Sociology teacher at Birkenhead Sixth Form College, Claire Morgan, devised the scheme back in 2013 to help students in her own subject, but it has since gone from strength to strength and undergraduate mentors now help out in a variety of subjects, leading to the geography department at Liverpool University incorporating it into their degree programmes.

Claire said: “With some students, we’ve seen a real improvement, and we’re talking grades. In some instances, we’ve had students moving up two grades, so it’s making a significant impact with their confidence and their academic ability.”

Claire explained that the relationship built between mentor and student plays a key role in helping the student develop, and that the scheme benefits performers of all levels.

She said: “We like to focus on exam technique and revising. Some of the mentors like to do mind-maps with them and really try to get them to add depth and detail to increase their marks. With some students that aren’t as strong, they found that working on key terms is important and help them to revise in that one-to-one environment – quizzing and testing to help build their confidence.”

“The Geography students have written reflective accounts on the experience, and what has been great to find is that they have not just been reflecting on their own development, but they have focused on the thoughts, feelings, abilities and development of the A Level students."

Professor Andy Plater, Liverpool University

Final year geography undergraduate at Liverpool University, Jordan Smith, is one student who took up the option of mentoring and is hoping to get into the teaching profession.

Jordan said: “I think we can bring a different angle to helping the A Level students, with university resources and looking at it from an undergraduate point of view. It’s been a lot of hard work, and so much more challenging than we all thought it would be, but rewarding at the same time.”

Jordan continued: “I would have really appreciated having something like this when I was sitting my A Levels. As well as the educational benefit, I like to take some time at the end of each session to answer some general questions about being at uni, and what it’s really like, even if they’re not planning to do the exact same course as me. I’d have loved to have had that insight before going off to do my degree.”

In charge of the scheme at Liverpool University’s geography department is Professor Andy Plater, who said: “The normal procedure for those looking to teach Geography would be that they do their degree first then apply for teacher training courses, whereas here, Birkenhead Sixth Form College are providing them with that direct experience of teaching in the real world before they go into it. In that respect, it’s quite ground-breaking.

“It’s thinking outside of the box; it’s doing something different, and I think our students have learnt a huge amount from it in terms of practical learning and career development.”

Professor Plater concluded: “The Geography students have written reflective accounts on the experience, and what has been great to find is that they have not just been reflecting on their own development, but they have focused on the thoughts, feelings, abilities and development of the A Level students. The programme is fulfilling so many career development goals and it’s doing exactly what was hoped, so from my perspective, it’s been very successful.”