Theresa May has recently announced a multi-million pound plan to build a wave of new grammar schools, “so that the most academically-gifted children get the specialist support to fulfil their potential regardless of their family income or background.”

Although these plans aim to increase social mobility, so that high-achieving students in poorer areas are not limited by underachieving local schools, they come at a time when many state schools are being threatened by ‘catastrophic’ financial cuts and budget squeezes. Cuts to state schools in less affluent areas are already having a significant impact on the quality of learning and support available to students: many schools are experiencing oversized classes, a lack of resources, and subjects being dropped from the curriculum, with teachers under pressure to hit targets under increasingly difficult circumstances.

With state schools stretched this thin and teachers under extreme pressure, many working class students across the country will not be receiving the personal and academic support they need to reach their full potential. The impact of this on social mobility is extremely concerning, when combined with the ‘poverty of expectation’ that many young people living in working class communities experience.

Many of the young people at RECLAIM are aware that other people’s opinions and expectations of them are affected by their accent or post code. The Adswood and Brinnington 2016 Manifesto, written by 12 and 13 year olds living on two of Stockport’s council estates, includes statements such as ‘see me for who I am, not where I am from,’ and ‘teachers should build confidence, not knock it down.’ The manifesto was written after the cohort shared stories of being discriminated by teachers, police and members of the public for living in Brinnington or Adswood.

In this social and educational context, working class young people are in need of human investment and empowerment. When society seems to be negatively stereotyping you and limiting your opportunities from a young age, having adults outside of your family who invest in you as an individual, listen to you, and encourage you to achieve your goals can have a huge impact on your self-belief and confidence. This personalised investment and support is what RECLAIM provides through our one-to-one mentoring schemes.

“It’s helped me to talk openly about my feelings and given me information to help solve my own problems. Since I’ve had a mentor I’ve been more confident in myself.” – Moss Side Pride 2015 Participant

Mentoring at RECLAIM is not just about pastoral care. At RECLAIM, one of our core aims is to source and support the next generation of social change pioneers. Mentors play an important part in achieving this: they encourage their mentees to be socially conscious, self-aware critical thinkers. Combined with the training, networks and opportunities offered on the RECLAIM programmes, this kind of goal-driven, one-to-one support equips the young people with the personal skills and self-belief they need in their journey as young leaders and social change pioneers.

 “I feel that [my mentee] is starting to understand the need for social awareness and he’s recognising the need to look for solutions to problems independently, where possible.” – Mentor on Stockport 2016 Programme

The investment of mentors in the young peoples’ lives at RECLAIM has a hugely positive impact on their development, which is crucial at a time of educational instability and social challenges.