Cass Business School in London has made a major investment in mentoring projects for staff and students. Mentoring and coaching is a key part of the school’s flagship programme as a UN PRME Champion institution sitting alongside their research work on responsible business (led by ETHOS), their ongoing commitment to teaching business in an ethical context and other projects including dissertation placements and work with Social Enterprise. The programme also links to their Widening Participation activity that sees students volunteering in the community as well as the award winning staff and student mentoring scheme. I spoke with Rob Compton and Paul Palmer about the importance of teaching mentorship as well as the challenges.
Why do you feel that mentorship is important for students?
People skills are essential for any manager and prospective leader in business, yet they can present a challenge for Business Schools and left for employers to develop in the workplace on a largely ad hoc basis.
We believe that Business Schools should develop knowledge and skills in this area to complement more technical or operational aspects of business studies and economics. Mentoring and coaching brings together many of these skills and can be presented in a format that undergraduate students can digest and relate to in a business context.
Also, these “life skills” can be presented in the context of other aspects of students’ lives and open up the opportunity to be practiced outside of their peer group and the University setting.
What is the mentoring project and how it came about?
The mentoring project started in 2015 and aims to develop our curriculum, enhance our teaching methodology and demonstrate a firm commitment to responsible management education.
The idea of using community engagement to develop skills and enhance the way undergraduate students learn as an accredited element in their study programme was a logical extension to Cass’s work over many years within its Centre for Charity Effectiveness and our placement projects with charities and social enterprise. The idea is to deliver social purpose through our core activity of introducing students to the very best critical insight from the world of business and civil society.
How do you teach coaching and mentoring in the classroom?
Teaching mentoring and coaching is a challenge as it involves development of practical skills and is more naturally suited to an interactive workshop approach with relatively small groups of students. We do primarily use this approach with a high number of practice exercises and role-playing alongside a critical examination of the theoretical frameworks.
This innovative pedagogical approach is a new challenge for many second year undergraduates who have not previously experienced workshop learning. The module also requires a new (for Business Schools) assessment method that combines literature review, reflective essay and observation.
The main distinct feature is how the practical element operates with students either developing mentoring and coaching skills by working with pupils from London schools in deprived communities or supporting first year university students.
We currently work with four schools and have two options for supporting first year students. School activities vary, but focus mainly on helping 16/17 year old students plan for the next phase of their academic, vocational studies or work options. First year mentees from the Business School are either coached through a specific study module or more widely supported as they settle into the study programme and integrate into university life.
How do you measure the impact of your work?
We are committed to demonstrating the impact of the programme over time on our beneficiaries (in schools and university), our student mentor/ coaches and on the institution as a whole. This involves presenting evidence of the benefits over time (impact) rather than immediate outcomes through a longitudinal study over a minimum of 5 years following the Theory of Change model. A research-led evaluation function is integral to the design of the project.
The project is co-funded by the Sir John Cass Foundation, a three hundred year old Education Charity who require an evaluation report at the end of their initial funding commitment. To ensure longer term funding sustainability both from Foundations and the University there needs to solid academic evidence of the financial and social impact of the programme following Social Return on Investment (SROI) principles.
The range of stakeholders and timescales involved presents a challenge for empirical based metrics and we have had to utilise a number of impact evaluation methodologies to enable us to provide a practical evidence base to demonstrate the true value of the programme and its replicability.
What have been some of the challenges?
There have been many challenges in getting the project up and running including the time constraints of both the university and school timetables.
Specific points include:-
- School partners are very busy and time poor with limited (and decreasing) resources for new projects.
- Identifying the right key contacts within schools to influence and communicate the benefits to colleagues and pupils.
- Developing the right assessment process to test the development of skills and meet rigorous academic standards including assessment by observation rather than examination.
- Delivering a project outside of the core processes for the university that often doesn’t fit with established systems (e.g. may need to rely more on visiting lecturers with experience as mentors and coaches). We are not part of the Widening Participation programme and are different from other core teaching activity.
- Additional cost involved in small group teaching and the development and delivery of sustainable external partnerships.
- Time delay in seeing the true benefits of the programme. From project development to the first mentors in the workplace is c.4-5 years. For the first mentees in the workplace, this may be 6-7 years.
- Developing appropriate impact evaluation methodologies
Successes? Have students reported benefits from this training in the post graduation careers?
We are starting to see evidence of the benefits to students, initially through feedback from their work placements and internships. The first cohort of students are now entering full time work although it may be some time before they are fully able to report the impact of their mentoring and coaching learning. We are committed to tracking this and will be reporting on examples of how students take this learning forward in the workplace.
More immediately, benefits to mentees in schools can be tracked in their academic progress as well as other actions they take to support their longer-term career development. For example, more informed decision-making as they progress into higher education and secure work experience.
What advice would you have for other schools thinking of putting something similar into place?
It is best to order this under the three headings of internal and external stakeholder as well as curriculum or teaching:-
Internally, it was important to engage the leadership of the Business School by presenting the ethical (responsible management education) as well as the pedagogical case for the project. This appears a very “nice” win-win situation, but it is important to remember that this is new and requires additional investment.
This kind of project has to involve external partners. Charities and schools in particular will be understandably reticent about working with a Business School or indeed a private sector partner offering “in kind” rather than financial support. They need to understand how they will benefit and have a say in how the mentoring will work to benefit their school or charity.
In terms of teaching, the learning needs to clearly link into the curriculum at the right stage in the undergraduate pathway. We have found that this requires teaching as an elective module spread across the Autumn and Spring Term in the second year of the Management and Business Studies BSc study programme.
What’s next for the initiative?
Our focus now is on scaling up the programme to increase the numbers of students and beneficiaries of the programme by making it an option for all Cass undergraduates. This will mean setting up many more mentoring partnerships across more schools.
At the same time, we will start to report the impact of the project to demonstrate the long-term benefits and provide toolkit guidance and support for other universities looking to replicate the programme.