RETIRED professionals from fields such as banking, law, medicine and science are helping disadvantaged pupils get to university.

Under the groundbreaking scheme, mentors are paired with pupils from schools in deprived areas who have the aptitude for higher education.

The volunteer mentors provide weekly or fortnightly one-to-one sessions to provide advice on how to write personal statements, pass on contacts who can organise work experience or even give simple tips on how to dress and speak in an interview.

The Glasgow Intergenerational Mentoring Network, which is backed by Big Lottery funding and run by Strathclyde University and Glasgow City Council, covers seven schools in the city and the aim is to recruit 300 mentors to work with 450 pupils.

Recent figures show that many schools in Glasgow, which contains almost half of Scotland’s most deprived neighbourhoods, send low numbers of pupils to higher education compared to the national average.

The mentors are all volunteers drawn from a diverse range of backgrounds, but the focus is on recruiting experienced, retired professionals from education, science, engineering and business who also have a knowledge of higher education and relevant career paths.

The scheme is seen as a particularly effective way to break down barriers for pupils from families who have no experience of higher education themselves.

Katie Hunter, a research associate at Strathclyde University's School of Education, said the mentoring project started as a pilot between a team of researchers and teachers from Springburn Academy.

She said: "Under the pilot we matched retired professionals with pupils who had similar broad subject or career interests and, from interviewing young people and their mentors, it was clear volunteers were doing more than tutoring.

"They were providing all sorts of insights into professional careers or where different study programmes might lead, and crucially providing emotional support to pupils to persist in the process, particularly around exam times or after pupils received their exam results.

"To enter some of the high status professions and apply to the most competitive courses at some point you really need a wealth of knowledge and experience of the specific field, which can be challenging for applicants without any access to professional contacts."

Tom Berney, chairman of the Scottish Older People’s Assembly, said the scheme had also highlighted the untapped potential of older people.

He said: "It's no secret that Scotland’s population is ageing, but too often older people are seen as a burden rather than for the benefits they still offer to society.

"This mentoring scheme is a prime example of how older people are both willing and able to contribute to the next generation.

"Not only do talented pupils from poorer backgrounds benefit from the service, but the older people who volunteer report feeling rewarded and excited.

"The experience of intergenerational working in this way has the added benefit of breaking down some preconceptions on both sides and I see no reason why this scheme should not be rolled out across the country."


THANKS to the help of his mentor, Jordan Campbell is close to achieving his dream of becoming a sports journalist.

As a pupil at Springburn Academy, in Glasgow, he was identified as being capable of getting enough Highers to go to university and was paired with freelance journalist Sheila Waddell.

Now 19 he has secured a place on a multimedia journalism course at Glasgow Caledonian University and is well on the way to becoming a football writer.

He said: "Sheila has been a great help all the way through my exams explaining how to answer certain types of questions and break down essay questions.

"She also used her contacts to get me some work experience at newspapers helped me with things like my personal statement. I don't think I would have been able to get on this course without that help."

Jordan believes the mentoring scheme was so beneficial it should be used much earlier.

"Pupils can go through five years of school without actually thinking about what they want to do when they come out. Help is available, but I think schools let too many people go through the motions.

"People in my school may not have the best grades, but they are talented and if they can get access to work experience then it makes it easier to progress and compete with other pupils from different backgrounds."

The mentoring scheme has also been hugely rewarding for Waddell, a former leader writer at The Herald and press officer at the Scottish Development Agency. She volunteered for the scheme after seeing a poster in Strathclyde University.

She said: "When I heard it was helping schools from deprived areas it was of interest to me because there is a lot of deprivation in Glasgow and I feel a lot more needs to be done to tackle it.

"I have enjoyed seeing Jordan making tremendous progress in his English exams and I would advocate this mentoring programme to anyone as a very positive experience."