A Word on Applications

If you are thinking of applying to university and you are a gifted student, you should be considering the Russell Group of UK universities, including Oxford and Cambridge. Many schools who are successful at supporting their students to elite universities will start to promote and discuss these options with more able students as early as Year 9; so it’s never too early to get thinking about it.

If these prestigious and elite seeming universities have always seemed out of reach or ‘not for you’, think again. Here’s what Oxford had to say about accessibility:

“We do not have any specific requirements for GCSE grades, though higher grades can help to make your application more competitive. Successful applicants typically have a high proportion of A and A* grades.

Where possible, tutors will be made aware of the overall GCSE performance of the school or college where you studied. They will also have information on how you have performed compared with other Oxford applicants at similar schools. (See further information on how we use contextual data.) Tutors will also consider your achieved or predicted grades at A-level (or other equivalent qualifications), your personal statement, academic reference, and any written work or written tests required for your course. If your application is shortlisted your interview will also be taken in to account.  

If you feel that you did less well in your GCSEs than you might otherwise have done, for good reason, then you may still be able to make a competitive application. Examples would include disruption caused by change of school or system, severe discontinuity of teachers, bereavement, and debilitating illness. We take care to treat each application individually and would always take such mitigating circumstances into account, if they are brought to our attention. You may like to mention any such circumstances in your personal statement, and your referee should make sure to mention them clearly in their reference.

Tutors will want to see how you improve your academic performance after your GCSEs and that you do well in your A-levels or other equivalent qualifications.”

So there is every reason to think that you can apply. Give it a go, it may change your life.

Impact Study – 2019/20

Executive summary

Key Findings:

  • There is a need for high ability disadvantaged students to be mentored in higher order personal and interpersonal skills which may enable students to achieve aspirational outcomes in their future steps.
  • There is a need to boost reading for pleasure as an activity in high ability disadvantaged students at Ks3 and beyond.
  • Mentoring is  beneficial to both mentees and sixth form mentors as a means of self development for high ability disadvantaged students.
  • Systems of support (parents, teachers, tutors, mentors) for all mentees should be fully engaged in the project and aware of targets to increase students’ confidence and ability to unlock barriers in the way of academic progress both in and out of class.


The gap between students from a disadvantaged context and their peers is a well-documented concern which has only been increased by Covid-19 and its impact on learning.

In order to address this gap, between January and March 2020 Bristol Achieve began its pilot programme of mentoring for students in Year 7 from Cotham School who are both high ability and disadvantaged. To ascertain ‘disadvantage’ in this case we used the criteria that the student will have been in receipt, at any point in their education, of free school meals. Staff at Cotham School identified students who were both disadvantaged and high ability for our programme. All sixth form mentors were from St. Brendan’s sixth form college.


To boost the confidence of the Year 7 mentees in terms of their presentational, inter-personal and oracy skills as well as enriching academic skills and a love of reading for pleasure. The long term aim is to open up the future routes that are in line with the potential of high ability students, such as higher education and top level professional apprenticeships.


Intergenerational mentoring sessions over 10 weeks with sixth formers and Bristol Achieve Officers. Questionnaires for mentees at start and end of programme, and other methods of data collection including teaching staff, mentors and students’ observations of progress in certain key social skills such as oracy and mastery of literacy skills.

Initial findings:

Mentoring is a much needed and impactful activity and especially essential in our current context where evidence points to the gap between advantaged and disadvantaged learners growing ever greater. mentoring activties will also support the recovery of learners post lockdown as findings indicate that it has the potential to enhance a sense of belonging within the educational system.

All mentees completed an initial self-assessment of their own confidence in learning. See table 1:

Table 1- Questionnaire for initial student self-assessment 

  1. How often do you think about ideas related to your learning independently?
  2. How often do you read for pleasure?
  3. How often do you know the answer but keep your hand down?
  4. How often do you put your hand up in class?
  5. How often do you talk to your friends/family about ideas related to your learning?
  6. How confident are you to speak in front of groups of people e.g in class?
  7. How confident do you feel speaking to an authority figure such as your head teacher?

With four possible answers in the multiple choice, we were able to give each answer a ‘positivity’ score where four is the highest ‘positivity score’ a student can give and one the lowest, these are represented in the colour key attached to the table. By analysing this positivity score we begin to see some interesting trends. see table 2.

Table 2- mentees answers to questionnaire

analysis of self-assessment questionnaire survey:

  • All mentees gave a high positivity score for putting their hand up in class showing students are confident learners and feel able to contribute.
  • Students are talking to their friends and family about their learning and often think about their learning independently. 
  • The fact that many students know the answer but keep their hand down seems to contradict analysis point 1 that students feel confident to put their hand up. Perhaps this is indicative of the fact that whilst students may be happy to put their hand up once in class there is a perceived stigma around positive learning engagement. Whilst this is perhaps not uncommon in students of this stage, the impact on disadvantaged students may potentially be greater than their peers. If mentoring were able to encourage more positive learning engagement in high ability disadvantaged students, the positive impact on their progress would be great.
  • The number of students reporting the highest positivity score when asked about reading for pleasure was low. Research points to the close correlation between children who read for pleasure regularly and those who attain the top grades in exams. Therefore we note the importance of this data finding in our cohort of high ability disadvantaged students who may have a significant gap between their predicted and actual attainment in future key assessment points such as GCSES if they continue not to enjoy their reading. Therefore we are renewed in our belief in the importance of reading for pleasure and aim to boost this activity in all future sessions.
  • A large proportion of students gave the lowest positivity score for their feelings about speaking in front of a group. This is a worrying sign for future challenges such as presentations or spoken assessments, as well as interviews or seminars if students are to fulfil their academic potential. All confidence building in public speaking will benefit these students to overcome this barrier to their representing their views at important discussions in the future.

The sixth form mentoring sessions- did they have an impact?

Initial analysis of mentee feedback indicates that mentees were able to identify positively with the sessions. An example of comments can be found below:

“ I like my mentor because she understands me and the type of person I am, which is very rare…she is kind.” 
“It help[sic] me because it is better to be with someone the same generation.”
“Yes because every lesson has been so fun and it has really helped me in all ways like now I read a lot more and she has helped me with reading.”

The 1:1 sessions with adult Bristol Achieve officer- did they have an impact?

Initial analysis of mentee feedback indicates that mentees were able to identify positively with the sessions. An example of comments can be found below:

Since that talk it has helped me focus a bit more and, when something happens during it, I discuss it with my mentor and use her ideas she mentioned to me.
We talk about subjects I don’t like and come up with a solution but they don’t work. Instead we could do some reflecting on the solutions and come up with a better one.
Yes because my describing on items like buildings and art photos helped me explain more about it.
It help[sic] me because it got me to get into reading and not judge a book by its cover.
It kinda helped because she told me things to improve, and it has helped a lot.

Key Recommendations for extension of the project.

  1. Ensure all students are well informed about why they are in the mentoring session and fully engage with the process of self reflection and improvement. This will involve parental support and holistic discussions around the benefits of attending sessions.
  2. Mentors use a set of targets that are easy for students to identify themselves and will help them to progress in areas of challenge in the classroom.
  3. Mentors are able to work more closely with classroom teachers to triangulate evidence that students are working on their targets and are progressing.
  4. All student feedback should be done in online forms and there should be no gaps in the collection of data. E.G If a student misses a data capture session due to absence, we must ensure they complete it at the next possible opportunity. 
  5. All mentoring should be conducted on a safe online platform that will ensure activities are not affected negatively by home learning.

Conclusions and lessons learned

Our time working closely with Cotham school has given us evidence that:

  • There is a need for high ability disadvantaged students to be mentored in higher order personal and interpersonal skills which may enable students to achieve aspirational outcomes in their future steps.
  • There is a need to boost reading for pleasure as an activity for high ability disadvantaged students in Key stage 3 and beyond.
  • Mentoring is beneficial to both mentees and sixth form mentors as a means of self development.
  • Systems of support (parents, teachers, tutors, mentors) for all mentees should be fully engaged in the project and aware of targets to increase students’ confidence and ability to unlock barriers in the way of academic progress both in and out of class.
  • For all students to gain access to all activities that will support their progress we must ensure excellent on-line mentoring and communication systems are in place and maintained with safe-guarding standards in place.


N.B Unfortunately due to Covid-19 we were forced to cease all activities after 8 weeks and were unable to get to our final impact activities and data collection points E.G We were unable to complete our interview for all mentees with the head teacher due to lockdown. 

Next steps:

  • Continue to support high ability disadvantaged students in Bristol, aiming to try and increase engagement of schools and students who live in the South of the city.
  • Continue to embed our mentoring programme and support students at Cotham School ongoing.
  • To adopt and implement mentoring programmes using older students from within the school of the Year 7 mentees.
  • To support all mentees to become aspirational and inspirational young people through to their post 16 future steps and beyond.
  • To work closely with other mentoring and support programmes such as Duke of Edinburgh, Babassa, the Mayor’s leadership programme and Future Quest, to ensure all young people in Bristol are supported to their best possible future outcomes.

Hetty Brown, and  Katie Thoburn (Bristol Achieve)

Making The Most of Mentoring As A Mentee

Being mentored can mean a huge variety of things to different people. This means that it can be daunting, working out how to make the most of your mentoring sessions. 

Mentoring is a mentee-led process. That means that, as the person being mentored, it will be up to you to decide what your mentor helps you with. 

Your mentor will have been trained to guide you in making a plan for your mentorship. You might also just want to choose a few end goals and start from there – the plan can come as you work. Make sure you talk about these goals with your mentor so that they can help to get you there. 


Why have you decided to be mentored?

There is usually something specific that students want to work on when they decide to be mentored. Make sure to prioritise whatever it is that you think you need to work on the most when speaking to your mentor for the first time. 

Try to have some idea of what specifically you want to work on. For example, if you think that you struggle with speaking and presentation confidence. What specifically do you want to work on? Presenting from a screen? Speaking to a large audience?

 However, if that isn’t true for you, then don’t worry. If you’re not looking to improve on a specific skill but feel you could benefit from mentoring, be honest about this with your mentor. They can help you to find areas that you want to develop in and work from there. 

Be Selective

There is a huge range of things that a mentor can help with. But don’t overwhelm yourself by trying to work on too many things at once. 

Try coming up with a list of 3-4 things that you want to work on, whether that be speaking skills, tips for revision and study focus or ways of improving self-confidence, and bring these to your first meeting with your mentor. 

Bear in mind that your ideas might change as you go through the process. That’s okay and may help you to focus the mentoring relationship on something bigger. 


This is the big one. Preparing for your mentoring sessions can really help you to make the most of your time with your mentor. 

You don’t have to make pages and pages of notes and ideas before each session. Just a few bullet-pointed notes with what you might like to work on in the session is great. This will make it easier for you both to direct the session, without making it too restricted. 

If you’re finding it difficult to prepare, here are some questions you could ask yourself to get started?

  • What do I want to have achieved/be able to achieve at the end of this session?
  • What is my mentor’s area of expertise/what could they best help me with?
  • How can I work on my end goal? – Try breaking your goals down into smaller pieces. 

Next Steps

Deciding to take part in mentoring is a great decision that can really help you to achieve your educational and professional goals. 

If you’re still unsure, try speaking to others that you know that have been mentored, or head over to our external resources page for some further mentoring advice.