Supporting coaching and mentoring in the Covid classroom - How to meet growing demand with limited resources

by Lyn Dale, 30 September 2020
Four school students sat at a desk

Students returning to school this September are facing more than their fair share of challenges. From the socially distanced classroom to reduced extra-curricular activities, life is very different for the class of 2020 and this has led to fears, among education professionals, of rising student anxiety and a drop in confidence. England's Department for Education has also recognised that student wellbeing is now a serious issue, recently inviting current and former educational psychologists to come back into school to provide temporary additional support in order to meet growing demand.

The Covid-19 pandemic, the lockdown and the long gap in schooling present a unique set of additional challenges which need to be urgently addressed.

Even under ‘normal’ circumstances, vulnerable students can find academic progress difficult to sustain. The Covid-19 pandemic, the lockdown and the long gap in schooling present a unique set of additional challenges which need to be urgently addressed. Students need strategies to cope with the immediate context while also developing and maintaining skills required for long-term academic success. Many students need help reengaging their attention and enthusiasm but also – unfortunately – to prepare for the real possibility of further restrictions and a return to more independent study. While most schools already run coaching and mentoring programmes, or have informal mechanisms in place to support more vulnerable students, these resources are limited and need to be swiftly channelled.

This represents a difficult balancing act for coaching professionals, and one response is to start by undertaking a closer analysis of a student’s ‘personal styles’ – the behaviours and attitudes shown to support academic performance. These include practical abilities such as thinking and study skills, but also behaviours more closely linked to emotions and beliefs, such as coping skills. By identifying strengths and weaknesses as a priority, vulnerable students can be quickly identified and support tailored to their specific development and improvement needs.

CPSQ for schools measures the behaviours that promote academic achievement, with a focus on five key competencies – thinking, coping, study, collaboration and communication.

This is the aim of the Cambridge Personal Styles Questionnaire (CPSQ) for schools developed by Cambridge Assessment Admissions Testing and based on CPSQs already used in higher education and healthcare. CPSQ for schools measures the behaviours that promote academic achievement, with a focus on five key competencies – thinking, coping, study, collaboration and communication. When assessing ‘thinking’, for example, the questionnaire assesses curiosity, creativity and flexibility, while ‘coping’ provides insights into students’ emotions and beliefs about their ability to cope with challenges, setbacks and change.

The result is a holistic analysis – an understanding of more than just academic abilities but also resilience and coping styles, so that interventions can be targeted at specific competencies while also encouraging greater self-awareness. Pilot studies have shown the impact of this type of targeted intervention. At Passmores Academy in Harlow, for example, the CPSQ for schools was used with a test cohort of OfS Uni Connect Programme students. The OfS Uni Connect Programme aims to encourage students who are from areas with typically low higher education attendance to participate. When results were compared with the progress made by a comparative ‘blind sample’ group, staff could see a difference, with the research cohort showing an average increase of 2.06 levels in subject performance between year 10 and the year 11 mock exams, while the ‘blind’ sample saw an average increase of only 1.46 levels. ‘CPSQ for schools is very useful as a starting point to open up conversations,’ commented Lee Pickering, Associate Senior Leadership Team at Passmores Academy, and Head of History. ‘It is accurate at identifying students’ areas for improvement. It targets mentoring and helps make programmes efficient by saving time. It enables resources to be tweaked and personalised to student needs.’

Supporting vulnerable students has always required skill and resources, both of which, due to the pandemic, are now in short supply. Swift, easy-to-implement, evidence-based tools such as the CPSQ for schools could make a real difference to counselling and mentoring strategies in the current context, maximising the impact of limited resources and helping minimise the longer-term impacts the pandemic will undoubtedly have.

Lyn Dale, Assessment Psychologist, Cambridge Assessment Admissions Testing

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