Sheffield Hallam graduates are currently being recruited to train as mentors, before being deployed in local schools to work with pupils and teachers. They will support young people to re-engage with their studies, navigate the transition back to full time school and help pupils see the benefits of doing so.
It is envisaged that the GROW programme will see incoming year Y11 pupils in the region provided with a personal mentor, with a focus on disadvantaged pupils who are in danger of falling behind.
A pilot will begin in some local schools in July, with a view to roll the programme out across more schools in South Yorkshire for September.
The news comes as Government announce a £1bn fund to support a subject specific tutoring programme, aimed at helping pupils in England catch up on lost learning because of school closures.
Consultation with schools suggests that, in addition to tutoring, broader support around wellbeing as well as reengaging and motivating pupils will be vital to help young people successfully transition back to full time school and make the right choices for their future.
Evidence shows that support based around a mentor relationship, particularly a mentor who can act as a role model a pupil can relate to, can be extremely effective.
Conor Moss, Dean of Work-Based Learning at Sheffield Hallam University, said: “Our ground-breaking plan will harness the power of Sheffield Hallam graduates and boost the national effort to support young people, whose education has been unfairly curtailed by Covid-19 through no fault of their own.
“This taskforce will act as mentors and role-models, helping pupils to get back in the classroom and succeed after such a long layoff.
“By working in close contact with schools they will offer a broad range of support, including developing positive habits of work and learning, as well as wellbeing and careers advice.
“But the programme will also have a positive effect on our graduates, who themselves face a challenging jobs market due to Covid-19. Being a mentor will provide an outstanding chance to upskill at a time when opportunities are limited, and some could even be inspired to go into teaching as a career.”
Northern Powerhouse Partnership Director Henri Murison said: “The investment of an extra £1bn in education by the government, including £300m for catch up tutoring over two years, responds to the crisis that those like Anne Longfield, the Childrens Commissioner, and Rob Halfon MP, the Chair of the Education Select Committee recognised when backing the Catch Up Premium. Their calls have been answered, along with educators and those of us across civil society which have campaigned on these issues.
“The disadvantage gap affects many Northern communities hardest, and if we are to give the chance of a better future to those who have faced the greatest barriers with no access to a laptop, internet connection at home or pens and paper to learn, then our teachers need extra support.
“Northern universities, including Sheffield Hallam, have already established a mentoring programme to enable those graduates from some of our most disadvantaged communities to contribute to this effort. Alongside the Tutor Trust, the North of England needs to pull together, and we will be calling upon the government to ensure we have the capacity we need locally in all our communities to avoid schools not having the choice of locally delivered, high quality support.”
Frank Norris, former Chief Executive of the Co-op Academies Trust and education adviser to the Co-op, who was one of the architects of the GROW initiative said: "It is vital that children, particularly from a disadvantaged background, catch up on the education they have missed in the past few months.
"This innovative scheme shows that communities can find local solutions and harness the student talent that readily exists. I urge the Government to support it."