The General Teaching Council for Scotland

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Pathway to a better future

A life changing mentoring programme is unlocking the potential and talent of young people

For care-experienced young people, the likelihood of staying in school past fourth year is slim. Around 80 per cent leave on or before they reach the age of 16. Only about four per cent go on to higher education. They’re four times more likely to be unemployed than their peers.

The problem isn’t lack of academic talent — it’s a lack of stability at home, which makes it difficult to engage with school. Challenging relationships with adults, disrupted home lives, financial pressures that affect how they see their future options — MCR Pathways was established to address those issues.

It started ten years ago when social entrepreneur Iain MacRitchie, recognising that a huge talent pool was struggling to realise its potential, set up a project with St Andrew’s Secondary in Glasgow’s east end.

“We identified a need which didn’t surprise us, but which we hadn’t previously quantified or focused on,” said Programme Director Donna Cunningham. “Young people in the care system and from disadvantaged backgrounds had the same access to learning opportunities as their peers, but their achievement levels were lower.

Afonso and Mentor


“The MCR programme focused on various ways to address the issue. After three years, we had learned from the young people that two interventions were making a huge difference — relationship-based mentoring and ‘talent taster’ sessions.

We identified a need which we hadn’t previously quantified or focused on

Donna Cunningham

“One-to-one mentoring is provided by volunteers outwith the school system, helping address a lack of adult support, attention or continuity. Talent taster sessions give young people a chance to experience ‘bite-size’ opportunities they might not have access to otherwise — some with employers, some with further and higher education institutions.

“The simple vision is to give disadvantaged young people the same access to educational outcomes, career options and life chances as any other young person.”

Results over the ten years of the programme have been exceptional. Post-16 return to school rates in the first ten schools increased to 64 per cent, versus 27 per cent — the national figure for mentored young people in 2016. The number of care-experienced young people going on to further and higher education or employment increased from a baseline of 48.8 per cent to 81 per cent.

MCR Pathways is now fully operational in 20 of Glasgow’s secondary schools, with another eight due to complete implemention within the next month.

St Roch’s Secondary School in Royston has a specific department for deaf pupils, some of whom are involved in the MCR programme. They’ve been assigned mentors who can meet their needs — like being able to use British Sign Language.

The school has been working with MCR Pathways for about four years. To begin with, four young people were involved.

 Talent taster sessions give young people a chance to experience bite-size opportunities they might not have access to otherwise

Donna Cunningham

I'll be honest, I had my doubts about how they’d relate to their mentors,” said Depute Head Teacher Tommy Donnelly, who led the implementation.
“All four of them, however, were really positive. And we very quickly saw the programme was going to work. News spread to other pupils, and they started asking for mentors too. This grew from an aspiration to a reality in a very short time.”

The school now has 78 young people on the programme — around 15 per cent of the total student body. They range from first to sixth year, and the programme works slightly differently for each year group. Danielle Campbell is the MCR Pathways Co-ordinator for St Roch’s. It’s her job to share all the opportunities offered by the programme with pupils. She finds young people the right mentors, and helps them to choose their talent taster sessions.

Simone and Mentor

She’s also involved in delivering the programme, particularly with participants from S1 and S2. “We work in weekly groups, meeting 30 weeks of the year,” she explained. “We talk about various subjects, like online safety and bullying, keeping everything active and dynamic. It’s important that they see me as someone outside their usual school environment. They don’t call me ‘miss’ — I’m Danielle.

We very quickly saw the programme was going to work. News spread to other pupils, and they started asking for mentors too. This grew from an aspiration to a reality in a very short time,

 Tommy Donnelly, Depute Head Teacher, St Roch’s

“Children from S3 onwards meet with a mentor once a week. My role with them is to help them plan what they’ll do when they leave school. I find out what they’re interested in, and match the talent taster sessions to those interests.

“We’ve covered quite a range of areas — from the Dogs’ Trust and Loretto Housing to workshops with Scottish Opera and university open days. We also take part in the Duke of Edinburgh Awards, which is something not always open to disadvantaged young people. It’s usually pitched at the highest achievers and involves a lot of commitment, but our young people get a great deal out of it.”

It’s not just the young people themselves who benefit — although those benefits are both tangible and impressive. More than 90 per cent of the pupils at St Roch’s now go on to positive destinations, including further or higher education. That’s a significant improvement on figures before it began participating.

It’s also about benefits to the school. “This programme is a real extra arm to the support we can offer our pupils,” said Head Teacher Stephen Stone. “It’s different from the teaching and pastoral support we offer. That’s partly due to the approach MCR applies.

“The young people are meeting mentors who actively want to be there for them. They’ve put themselves forward to offer support, and that creates something special. You can see it in the young people— they’re always enthusiastic about meeting their mentors.

“This programme is as much about additional support, greater inclusivity and helping pupils at an individual level as it is about the number of positive destinations.” Across Glasgow, there are more than 900 young people supported by MCR, working with more than 500 mentors from a bank of 1,700 registered volunteers. The vision now is to extend the programme across Scotland.

The young people are meeting mentors who actively want to be there for them… and that creates something special.

Danielle Campbell, MCR

Commitments are in place to open up in five other local authority areas, and the ambition is to reach every secondary school in Scotland. “This is an extraordinary programme, and we’re seeing extraordinary results,” said Donna Cunningham. “But there are hundreds of young people out there who still need support, so we’re going to keep pushing. We need more mentors and more volunteers to get involved. So if there’s anyone out there who’s interested in taking part, we’d love to hear from them!”

More Information

Can you offer one hour a week to help a disadvantaged young person? Visit the MCR website to learn more at:

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Editor contact: Evelyn Wilkins

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