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Guest Blog: The Role of Mentoring for an Effective Workforce

January 9, 2024
5 minute read

In this short blog we will explore mentoring in the early years workforce, and it's significance for an effective workforce in early years practice.

The best place to start is to consider what we understand by mentoring, then to offer insight into what the characteristics are to be a mentor, and finally the role of the mentor for supervision and improved outcomes.

So, what is a Mentor?

I would describe a mentor as an experienced advisor, someone who can offer guidance, who recognises potential and who cares deeply about improved outcomes, in this context, the best possible practice for babies, children and families, and the sector as a whole. So, here’s the thing, mentors do not enforce hierarchy or superiority of position, rather they share their expertise with sincerity. For example, an effective Manager may not be the most experienced in every aspect of early years practice in a setting and may be mentored by a colleague who has greater knowledge and practical experience in a specific area. Mentors invest time in others to ensure the best possible guidance is available and accessible, it is a cultural movement that builds inner strength and professional value. Mentoring then is a serious business!

Who can be a mentor?

Developing professional relationships between mentor and mentee is a critical decision requiring careful thought and management. Consideration must be given to time allocation, experience and current role and responsibilities when selecting a mentor. Mentoring is not a snatched couple of minutes at the end of the week to check if someone is OK, it is a process. Mentoring in the early years workforce between colleagues is typically conducted informally, but nevertheless as with any process, arranging meeting times (albeit flexible), setting out the ground rules and establishing the objectives are important. Mentoring is not supervision but may well contribute to such through own development and learning. Mentoring may however be an outcome of supervision for skills and confidence development in a specific area of practice. Recording mentoring sessions will capture the growth and progress made by the mentee and help to keep the mentoring sessions focused. Templates can be a useful way of reflecting on each session, requiring just a few bullet points from mentor and mentee. This will also help to gauge the duration of the mentor: mentee sessions on a particular aspect, feed into supervision and improved practice.

So, thinking of becoming a mentor or been asked to be a mentor? Questions you may ponder include:

What would you expect from your mentor?

· You need to be experienced in the area specified in order to be in a good position to share skills and offer relevant advice.

· You need to agree to an investment of time, effort and share your knowledge with sincerity, offering advice and guidance, not instruction.

· You need to see the potential in others and be willing to support the personal and professional growth in others.

The mentoring cycle

Earlier in this short article I spoke about mentoring as a cultural movement. By this I mean it reaps the best rewards when it is embedded in practice. Mentoring is not just for induction but a practice model to follow as an ongoing feature, and integral to effective supervision. For example, at supervision open and honest conversations around own developmental needs will take place where mentoring opportunities are identified as a strength to improve practice and not perceived as intervention due to weakness. In this way mentoring for improved professional practice is seen as desirable rather than responsive to any deficit in practice. Mentoring should ideally be available and accessible to all, as all colleagues will be able to offer an area of strength, in this way mentors and mentees may cross over in their role dependent on area of expertise and responsibility, managed, co-ordinated and facilitated by a skilled manager who knows their team very well. The EYFS 2024 refers to the importance of supervision in reference points 3.28 and 3.29:

“Providers must put appropriate arrangements in place for the supervision of staff who have contact with children and families. Effective supervision provides support, coaching, and training for the practitioner and promotes the interests of children.

Supervision should foster a culture of mutual support, teamwork, and continuous improvement, which encourages the confidential discussion of sensitive issues.

Supervision should provide opportunities for staff to:

• Discuss any issues – particularly concerning children’s development or wellbeing, including child protection concerns.

• Identify solutions to address issues as they arise.

• Receive coaching to improve their personal effectiveness.

(DfE, 2024)

A final comment

So, we can appreciate the significance and relevance for mentoring for improved outcomes and as part of a cycle that embeds mentoring through recognised cultural practice. In such busy times mentoring can slip, I actually think some gaps or breaks from mentoring does not impact the supervision cycle. Mentoring for mentoring sake may lead to resentment and complacency, however the role and function for mentoring is to strengthen, personally and professionally.

Mentoring is not a performance management tool but a passionate cultural movement towards a framework for best practice which, when applied well, raises esteem and professional pride from which we can all benefit.

To discuss the free to access NCFE Professional Practice Framework please contact

Janet King, Sector Manager for Education and Childcare NCFE

With over 40 years in education, Janet is passionate about social justice in education, wellbeing and confidence in children, young people and those who care for them.

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