Press Release: Barnsley Council’s new e-mentoring scheme

Barnsley Council’s new e-mentoring scheme is now available in every school in Barnsley.  The scheme is being provided by Truancy Call Ltd and here is a summary of the main features:
Quick, safe and easy way for students and mentors to maintain contact
Bespoke system enabling schools to enhance their mentoring strategy
Students can drop a line 24/7 by text, mobile phone WAP site, Digital TV or through the e-mentoring secure web site
Each student is given their own login and password and messages are sent in or out via the ‘e-mentoring’ system with no direct contact between staff and students
Built-in ‘obscene’ word filtering system, stopping messages from being sent if it contains a recognised obscene word.

This scheme helps meet the Government’s 2010 target for schools to use digital and interactive technologies to achieve more personalised approach in education.

PEN Comment: The case study below offers further insight into this development. Regardless of differing opinions with some of the uses of this scheme PEN network members will recognise the potential of such tools in  supporting a personalised educational landscape. Digital technologies have their place in transforming the landscape as well as propping up the current systems.

*** CASE STUDY ***

E-Mentoring – Bringing the whole school community together

Mentoring has long been known to have a significant impact on the achievement, motivation and learning experience of students. Michelle Atkinson, Strategic ICT Coordinator at Kingstone School, Barnsley, discusses her school’s mentoring strategy, Barnsley Metropolitan Borough Council’s new e-mentoring scheme now being delivered in her school and gives advice to teachers looking to implement a mentoring programme.

A good mentoring programme can have a significant impact on the learning experience and wellbeing of young people. At my school, we have the lowest fixed term exclusions across the whole authority and we put this down in part to a very strong, committed pastoral team, a pupil support centre and informal mentoring of our students. 

At Kingstone, we use a combination of different mentoring methods to support and encourage our students to manage their own learning, develop their skills and ultimately raise attainment levels within the school. We also have a very strong pastoral team in the school to support on a social and emotional level in addition to providing traditional learning-focused support.

We feel strongly at Kingstone that the process should be made as easy as possible, tailoring methods to ensure students feel comfortable with their mentor. Our team carries out regular face-to-face mentoring between staff and pupils and even pupil-to-pupil through a peer mentoring scheme. This particular scheme has been very successful and students have even set up their own web site so mentees can discreetly send information and seek assistance about problems they are encountering. Although there are considerable advantages to our face-to-face method, there are also drawbacks. For example, sometimes mentors aren’t always available when the student wants to see them or the question they have may just require a quick reply and so a meeting isn’t always necessary.

Bespoke e-mentoring system
We are always on the lookout for ways to complement our face-to-face sessions and make the process easier and quicker for students. So, when I received an e-mail 18 months ago from my local authority asking whether our school would be interested in taking part in an e-mentoring pilot scheme, we jumped at the chance! Our authority had been working with Truancy Call Ltd to develop this bespoke system so our schools could further enhance mentoring strategies across the whole area. Piloted with four secondary schools and two organisations focusing on support for over 16s, the service is now available to every school in Barnsley directly from Truancy Call.

Modern communication
We were particularly keen to explore e-mentoring as it meant a quick, safe and easy way for students and mentors to maintain contact. We also wanted to communicate  with students in ways they are most familiar with, e.g. text. E-mentoring has been very popular as students can drop mentors a line 24/7 by text, mobile phone WAP site, Digital TV or through the e-mentoring secure web site. To date, text messaging has been by far the most popular and effective way that students use the system, so even if your school has a no mobile phone policy, students can still use this system out of school and in school they can go online.

This consistent support has encouraged students to manage their own learning. The e-mentoring service has provided our school with distinct benefits, for example, when students and mentors may not have the time to meet up, or the student has a quick question which does not require a meeting, or when they are geographically apart from one another.
Borderline achievers

Once e-mentoring was in place, the Senior Leadership Team at our school sat down to identify where this particular programme could work most effectively. We decided to trial it with a small group of Year 11 students requiring additional support and encouragement having been identified as ‘borderline’ in relation to achieving their five A-C GCSEs. We initially used the system during study leave and holiday before the mock exams and then continued using it during term-time as a way of maintaining contact, reminding them of important dates and tasks and following up quickly any actions or problems that arose. We also encouraged other staff to liaise with the mentor, reporting on any issues relating to the student, or to ask for extra praise or reminders to be sent via the system. Where issues arose with students, we also used e-mentoring to communicate with their parents.
Safe and secure
Ensuring the safety and wellbeing of staff and pupils is a huge concern for every school so was a top priority for our e-mentoring system.  Each student is given their own login and password and messages are sent in or out via the ‘e-mentoring’ system with no direct contact between staff and students. The system has a built in ‘obscene’ word filtering system, stopping messages from being sent if it contains a recognised obscene word.  The filtering system is managed by the school which is great as it means that we can add and remove ‘localised’ words which are being used obscenely within the school.
My advice to schools considering an e-mentoring scheme is to purchase a safe and secure system rather than trying to set it up yourself. A concern that may be raised by staff is that of students contacting them out of hours. A system like ours eliminates this worry as mentor messages are stored within the system so you need to log on in order to read them.
Positive relationships
Since implementing e-mentoring, we have seen relationships between mentors and students improve and develop. I believe that once young people get passed the perceived barrier of viewing staff as purely authoritative figures and see them more as mentors and friends, they benefit from this improved relationship and are ultimately open to more effective learning. The fact that all correspondence goes through a secure site and no mobile numbers or email addresses are passed between students and staff, ensures both staff and students are protected. In addition, all information sent between staff and students can be monitored by a nominated member of the school’s SMT, thereby reducing the risk of inappropriate relationships or discussions. 
Training your mentors
It is imperative that staff are properly trained and enthusiastic about the concept of being a mentor. Don’t assume that the service alone will automatically relight students’ interest in learning! To be successful, you need keen mentors who will continually encourage the children to use the service.

Staff at my school were sent on a mentoring course which helped them immensely to understand mentoring concepts and the levels of support required. It’s also equally important that students too are properly trained in the principles of e-mentoring and exactly what and how it should be used. This enables you to set appropriate boundaries for the programme, including the type and level of support your school will provide e.g. curriculum-focussed or more broad support. Another major factor to determine when starting to mentor a child is the length of the programme. You should set clear objectives for the support and the period you are going to be available to them otherwise you can end up coaching rather than mentoring. This also encourages students to use your time more appropriately, ensuring that they stay focussed on the particular objectives set.
Who else can benefit from e-mentoring?
Examples of ways e-mentoring can be used:

As additional support for Gifted & Talented students
During the transition from primary school to secondary school – get your Year 8s mentoring Year 6s from feeder schools to give them a taste of secondary school life and provide support for concerns they might have
Facilitate businesses e-mentoring Upper School students to support the new Diplomas
Future plans

We have many future plans at the school to support mentoring and the provision of ICT in general which includes involving parents of our Year 10 students in e-mentoring.

Currently, we ban the use of mobile phones in school so it will be beneficial to our e-mentoring programme if the Government looks closely again at classroom mobile learning. We are also keen that in the near future, the e-mentoring service will be compatible and work within our virtual learning environment. This would ensure that all learning tools and materials are kept within one secure login site.

With regards to the e-mentoring programme itself, our school would like to see it used across our authority so that schools and local businesses can collaborate. For example, with the new Diploma coming into play in the autumn, it would be very beneficial if local businesses could mentor students interested in different vocational careers.


The E-Mentoring Project was a pilot for Barnsley funded by the South Yorkshire e-Learning Programme. The project aimed to provide a more flexible toolkit of communication methods to enhance the mentoring that was taking place in the Borough, including a secure web-mail system, SMS texting, Digital TV and Forums. 

Originally envisaged as an inclusion project to support those not in education, employment or training it has become apparent through the pilot that it also has applications in curriculum mentoring, careers advice, peer-mentoring and nurturing our Gifted and Talented students.   It is not, and never was, seen as a replacement for the standard approach of face-to-face mentoring but to compliment this, providing any-time, any-where communication designed to fit in with the busy demands of young people’s lives. 

Barnsley Council’s bespoke e-mentoring system was devised and created by Truancy Call Ltd, a leading provider of automatic notification systems to over 1000 schools and Local Authorities across the UK. For further information about the e-mentoring service or to discuss requirements for your own bespoke service, please contact Tel: 0870 046 4246, e-mail: or visit the web site at

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