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The Erosion of Mentor Time: A Call to Preserve the Human Side of Education

By Dan Jones


The school gates are open, and those early risers are already in – students cluster in the warmer, quieter spots and teachers are at their desks, getting themselves prepared for the day ahead. Inevitably, in time, those clusters become larger and less quiet as groups of students reconnect all around the building. Similarly, teachers share the familiar exchanges over some last-minute printing. And then the first bell of the day rings throughout, signalling that it is time for these two bodies to make their way to their mentor rooms, as they do each day, to register, check in and prepare themselves for the day ahead. This 20-minute sliver - a stepping stone between socialising and learning – might seem insignificant but holds formidable value and is being eroded.


In the relentless pursuit of academic excellence, schools are facing a critical challenge: the loss of valuable mentor time. Purdy (2013) maintains there is no distinct definition for mentor time but overseeing students social and emotional wellbeing and learning is involved. Mentor, Form or Tutor groups are typically led by a teacher and little research exists as to methods to determine how these groups are allocated and how this time is allocated, despite the fact that students often spend more time in mentor than in subjects such as Physical Education, Drama, Art or Music (Cara, 2022) . Calvert (2009) describes the opposing approaches to mentor time which reflect opposing pedagogical philosophies – the progressive vs the traditionalist.


Albeit anecdotal, from my own experience as a mentor I have witness the not-so-gradual allocation of this time. In my previous school when I began as a year 7 mentor, with the exceptions of a weekly assembly and giving relevant daily notices, mentors had creative freedom over how to spend that time, and, as teaching is inherently humanistic, many chose to bond with their groups. When I left that school, I had a new year 7 mentor group, however every morning school there were prescribed activities – one day for assembly, one for Maths, one for English, one for Science, and one for wellbeing. The difference in the richness of connections between the students my first year compared to my last was palpable. At my new school the picture is very similar. At secondary level this designated period, often the only opportunity for teachers to connect with students on a personal level, is being sacrificed in favour of additional revision in English, Maths, and Science. While excelling in these subjects is important, the unintended consequence is the gradual erosion of a crucial aspect of education – the humanistic connection between educators and students. Mentor time is more than just a break from traditional lessons; it's a dedicated moment for teachers to check in with students, to understand them beyond the realm of academic performance. It's a time for genuine conversations, for educators to get to know their students as individuals, to discern their passions, struggles, and aspirations. Unfortunately, the trend of prioritising GCSE revision over mentor time is pushing schools towards a perilous path of dehumanising the education experience.


This erosion comes at a significant cost. In the race for higher grades and standardized test scores, we risk neglecting the emotional and social development of our youth. The mentor-student relationship is a powerful tool for identifying and addressing issues that might otherwise go unnoticed. Whether it's academic struggles, personal challenges, or mental health concerns, mentor time provides a crucial opportunity for educators to pick up on the subtle cues that can signal a student in need – and, the name suggests, provide mentorship, defined by the Cambridge dictionary as “the activity of giving a younger or less experienced person help and advice over a period of time, especially at work or school” (Cambridge Dictionary, 2024).


Beyond the immediate impact on individual students, the shift away from mentor time reflects a broader societal misconception. Placing an exclusive emphasis on academic success, as measured by exams and grades, oversimplifies the educational journey. Education is not merely about acquiring knowledge in English, Maths, and Science; it is about nurturing well-rounded individuals who are equipped with critical thinking skills, empathy, and a sense of purpose.


The prioritisation of 'important' subjects over mentor time perpetuates the dangerous narrative that success can be distilled into a small set of data points. Education is not a linear equation; it is a dynamic and multifaceted experience that extends beyond exam halls. By overlooking the human element in education, we risk producing academically proficient but emotionally detached individuals.


As a society, it is crucial to reassess our priorities in education. While academic proficiency is undoubtedly valuable, it should not come at the expense of the mentor-student relationship. Schools must recognize the irreplaceable role of effective mentor time in fostering holistic development. We must collectively acknowledge that success is not confined to exam results but extends to the character, resilience, and empathy instilled in the hearts and minds of our future generations.


In preserving mentor time, we affirm our commitment to a more compassionate and nuanced education system—one that recognizes the inherent value of each student beyond their performance in standardized assessments. It's time to prioritise the whole student, ensuring that the journey towards success is not just academically rich but emotionally fulfilling and personally transformative. This overlooked and under-researched period episode (Cara, 2022) holds a great deal of potential to influence students outlooks on their educational experience. The recommendation would be to discover student and teachers opinions on what this period means to them and the effects of how different approaches to it manifest.


 

If you believe in the importance of human scale education and the irreplaceable value of mentor time in schools, we need your voice!

Share this article with your friends, colleagues, and social networks to spread awareness about this critical issue.

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