A credit to mentoring 😉

I accepted the role of Senior Mentoring Adviser to The Careers & Enterprise Company because I believe that the Company has a unique opportunity to use its funding to leverage transformational change in employer-led youth mentoring. In this way, the Company has the potential to significantly multiply the impact of its investment across the mentoring community as a whole. One of the key ways in which I believe that the Company can exercise this wider responsibility is in upping the ante on the required standards which should be expected of organisations in this field.

In line with this wider commitment, I recently led the inaugural webinar for the Company’s Mentoring Grant Recipient Community, focussed on the issue of accreditation. It was great to bring together such a wide spectrum of mentoring providers not just to keep each other updated on the development of the Company’s employee-led youth mentoring campaign but to start looking together at some key issues facing the sector.

I start from a pretty basic premise: surely any organisation wants to ensure that it is organised as effectively as possible to deliver its services? And isn’t one of the best ways to do this to invite in external experts to check that you are meeting the best industry standards? This runs true, for me anyway, across pretty much any industry or sector. And this is especially important when thinking about organisations delivering services to young people. That is why I champion the importance of impact assessment (see my previous blog) but also the cause of accreditation in the mentoring sector.

Accreditation is, simply, “the external validation of organisations”. When an organisation is assessed by an independent body “accreditation offers an additional, top-layer quality assurance by assessing the competence and impartiality of the… bodies.” (The Economics of Accreditation, Frenz and Lambert, March 2013). The key benefits of accreditation include:

  • Improved quality of operations
  • Compliance with statutory requirements and best practice
  • Enhanced credibility with funders, stakeholders, etc
  • Increased public confidence in and reputation of organisation

A Government-commissioned research paper to evaluate the benefits of UK Accreditation Service accreditation (The Economics of Accreditation, Frenz and Lambert, March 2013) concluded that there were very strong economic and wider benefits of accreditation. The research estimated accreditation in this sector realised financial benefits of at least £600M to the economy and a number of other significant benefits that could not be economically quantified. Whilst there has yet to be similar research assessing the impact of accreditation of mentoring organisations on the impacts delivered, it would seem pretty obvious that an accreditation scheme that requires organisations to deliver its services in line with evidenced best practice will deliver better results for its beneficiaries. Testing this hypothesis and quantifying the differential impact between accredited and non-accredited organisations would definitely be a useful next step.

Only a minority — albeit a growing one — of organisations delivering employer mentoring appear to have any accreditation at all. The most common scheme which is focussed specifically on the accreditation of mentoring organisations is the Approved Provider Standard (APS) overseen by NCVO Mentoring & Befriending (formerly the Mentoring & Befriending Foundation). The APS is the national quality standard designed specifically for all types of mentoring and befriending projects, recognised by the Department of Education and the Ministry of Justice. The Standard covers ten requirements across four key areas, spanning how an organisation is organised, how it identifies and assesses service users, how it manages mentors and how the mentoring relationship is effectively supported. The assessment process if a rigorous one which organisations need to prepare for thoroughly. The APS framework also maps well against the five key areas identified in the Company’s What Works research paper on mentoring.

On the webinar, we heard from a number of providers who had gone through the accreditation process. All those who had been through the APS process were pretty clear that it had added value. The most commonly-mentioned benefits were:

  • The process provides a thorough and independent ‘health check’ for organisations committed to quality, encouraging organisations to look critically and systematically at all of its processes and procedures
  • Accreditation enhances credibility amongst external partners — schools, business supporters, potential mentors — directly supporting an organisation’s ability to grow in scale and reach
  • The process helps organisations to understand and describe more precisely and concisely their services
  • Being accredited directly supports fundraising efforts, instilling confidence in potential funders in the organisation

Accreditation isn’t without a down side though. The cost, both direct and indirect, of accreditation isn’t insignificant; seeking accreditation is a big step for most organisations and requires significant staff time. The time taken to go through the process, especially with larger multi-site and/or multi-programme organisations, can seem a distraction from core business. And accreditation doesn’t really help in helping an organisation to measure its impact or understanding how to improve its impact (but isn’t really designed to do so..!).

It is pretty clear that NCVO’s scheme is the de facto ‘gold standard’ in this space. From my own experience at The Prince’s Trust’s Mosaic, the standard is well-designed and the accreditation process itself is a rigorous one. The standard goes well beyond a ‘tick box’ approach to policies and systems but tests the design and delivery of the organisation being assessed. In short, the Approved Provider Standard is the only real game in town.

For me, the arguments for accreditation are over-whelming. I have seen in my own organisation the transformative impact that the process had in enabling us to organise and deliver our mentoring programmes in a professional and organised manner, underpinned by rigorous and thorough quality assurance processes. Securing the APS was, for us at Mosaic, when I think we ‘came of age’ as an organisation. It provided the foundations for us to then look at effectively measuring — and therefore improving — the impact of our programmes on the young people for whom they were designed, safe in the knowledge that our core processes were fit for purpose.

The clear lessons for me, therefore, are two-fold:

  • Firstly, mentoring organisations serious about quality standards and independent assessment should put themselves through this review process.
  • Secondly, any organisation or individual looking to provide financial support for a mentoring organisation should insist on the accreditation standard having been met or agree to cover the costs to enable the organisation to undergo accreditation as a condition of their funding.
  • First published 14 November 2017 – https://medium.com/@jonathanfreemanUK/a-credit-to-mentoring-2572466bcd80