The Key to Unlocking Buried Potential

For more than a decade, MCR Pathways has supported Scotland’s care-experienced and most disadvantaged young people to achieve what all young people deserve: a fair chance. At every step, young people told us what challenges they faced, what had failed them, and what gave them the motivation, commitment and resilience to keep going.

We work daily with care-experienced young people and they taught us that relationships are the key to unlocking potential. This is the basis of MCR mentoring. Now the independent research is here to prove it. To determine the true and lasting impact of MCR mentoring on care-experienced young people’s education outcomes, the Robertson Trust commissioned ScotCen to study the programme. ScotCen are the Scottish arm of NatCen, Britain’s largest independent social research agency.

Using internationally recognised, qualitative and quantitative research methods, this 3 year evaluation rigorously analysed the data and interviewed young people, mentors and school staff.

What they found was transformational.

World Leading Impact - Relationship-based Practice

This independent evaluation has shown that MCR Pathways participants are significantly more likely to stay on at school, much more likely to achieve at least one qualification at SCQF Level 5 and more likely to move on to a positive post-school destination than equivalent young people not supported by the programme.

MCR mentors help young people to develop their study skills, increase their confidence, manage their stress and develop goals and aspirations. In other words, to be mentored through MCR is a life-changing experience on a number of levels. 


ScotCen Social Research is Scotland’s leading social research institute and is the Scottish arm of NatCen, Britain’s leading independent social research institute.

Exploring the Stats & Stories

This independent evaluation now provides further and extensive evidence that mentoring had a major positive impact on care-experienced young people’s education outcomes. Not only that, MCR mentoring was found to have an impact in many additional areas, including confidence, social skills and attendance.

In this blog, we’ll be digging deeper into the research for you, sharing the stats and, most importantly, highlighting the voices of the young people and mentors who took part.

Our young people are brilliant, but many of them face challenges that can drastically hold them back. 77.6% of young people who took part in the study live in Scotland's 20% most deprived postcodes, 66.5% have additional support needs and almost 10% have English as an additional language. To accurately determine the statistical impact of mentoring, the researchers needed to create clear criteria to compare mentored care-experienced young people with others who had not been involved in the programme.

The researchers compared:

“I understand Pastoral Care do care, but it wasn’t like that intimate bond ‘cause they’ve got hundreds of students that they need to see and make sure that they’re doing OK, so like of course there are gonna be people that like slip through, and I was one of those people who were like slipping by and not getting the help that I feel I needed…

But with a mentor – because it is a one-on-one basis – it’s much more intimate and there’s much more attention on the issue, and I think that really helped me …”

– Young person involved in the study

Broadening Horizons for a Brighter Tomorrow

"It helps me feel like I'm targeting myself to do something because I know I have to report back to her and tell her how I've been doing in school, so knowing that helps me. It motivates me actually to try harder, work harder, do what I'm supposed to do in class, ‘cause I feel more encouraged when she's happy and she tells me “That’s really good” so – yeah – it helps me try and work harder in school.” - Young person involved in the study

70.7% of mentored pupils continued their education in S5, compared to 60.1% of non- mentored care-experienced young people in Glasgow - an increase of 10.6 percentage points.

87.8% achieved at least one or more SCQF Level 5 qualification(s), compared with 66.8% of their non-mentored care-experienced peers - an increase of 21 percentage points.

81.6% of mentored care-experienced pupils left school for college, university or a job, compared with 56.3% of those young people not being mentored - an increase of 25.3 percentage points.

MCR Pathways stands out as a youth mentoring programme in its scale and focus. We now know that the impact it is having for care-experienced young people in staying on at school, gaining qualifications and moving on to further study, work or training is significant. The difference it is making exceeds many programmes in other countries subject to the same kind of quality evaluation. MCR Pathways is clearly of international significance to youth mentoring."

“The evaluation is high quality and thorough, and identifies really strong impacts. The most extensive meta-review which the authors cite shows consistent, positive but more modest impacts averaged across many youth mentoring programmes in the USA where there has been much more investment in higher quality evaluation than in the UK. MCR Pathways impacts look to be among the most significant by comparison and this study adds hugely to our knowledge base for Scotland and the UK."

Dr Jim McCormick

Churchill Fellow researching youth mentoring programmes internationally and member of the Social Security Advisory Committee, Associate Director for Scotland Joseph Rowntree Foundation.

Staying On & Going Further - Raising Retention Rates

Encouraging young people to achieve the most out of their secondary education is the best way to prepare them for a future they deserve. Staying in school longer gives them a greater chance to achieve everything they’re capable of.

The report found that mentoring made a significant difference to young people’s decision to stay in school beyond S4.

Many young people described how their mentor changed the way they saw school and helped them realise how important it could be to their future. The researchers found that mentors helped young people develop goals and career aspirations, and that inspired them to engage more and continue with their education.

There can be a number of reasons why young people leave school after 4th year and these are unique to each young person. By spending time one-on-one, mentors were able to support their young person through the challenges they faced, providing encouragement and the individual, practical support required to keep them engaged.

“MCR Pathways is now undoubtedly proven as an intervention that has an unquestionable positive social and economic impact. This truly supports the most vulnerable young people moving them forward towards a positive destination.

We now need to work together across Scotland to embed this approach; collaborate to consolidate significant positive outcomes for Scotland’s young people.”

Sir Tom Hunter, entrepreneur and philanthropist

Closing the gap - Achieving Greater Attainment

For young people to get the most out of their education, they need to be able to engage deeply and focus on school. For young people with experience of the care system, this can sometimes be an uphill battle when disruptions in life interrupt studying and concentration.

The study found that young people felt like their mentors helped them improve their academic performance, and this in turn gave them a greater sense of confidence. Even for young people who didn’t see improved grades, the report found that young people still felt a stronger understanding of the subject. The report explored four ways in which mentors assisted young people to improve their attainment:

“Our young people who experience the greatest disadvantages, need and deserve the best we have to offer and simply flourish with the support of a mentor.”

We have been told by international experts that the MCR programme and its impact is world leading. Giving all our young people the right to the support they need, will ensure we transform not just the next generation but those that follow. As a mentor with firsthand experience, I simply ask that MCR is made a permanent feature of our education system.”

– Dr. Iain MacRitchie, MCR Pathways Founder and Social Entrepreneur

Broadening Horizons - Positive Destinations

That period right after secondary school is challenging for most young people. But for those with experience of the care system, this is an especially unstable time. Ensuring that young people are supported to leave school to a positive destination has a major influence on their life chances.

The research found that mentoring has a statistically significant impact on care-experienced young people’s progression rates to college, university or employment. They identified four key ways mentoring makes a difference:

All young people are talented, but many need the encouragement of a supportive adult to realise it. The report found that before having a mentor, young people felt restricted by how other people might judge their aspirations. Many expressed that they didn’t feel like university or college was available to them. Mentors proved essential in helping young people develop the confidence they needed to pursue their dreams. 

“We can be confident that the MCR Pathways programme did have a positive impact on participants’ moving on to a positive destination after leaving school. The analysis showed that upon leaving school, 81.6% of mentored pupils went on to a positive destination, 25.3 percentage points higher than their peers.” 

– Extract from the ScotCen Evaluation

“The sort of support I received from my mentor during that time [during a family bereavement] was invaluable. I've often said I probably wouldn't be here if it wasn’t for that support, if that makes sense: If I didn’t have the support, I feel I definitely would have just left school at 16 when I could have, which would have maybe been 2 or 3 months after it.

I definitely think I would have had more serious mental health issues if it wasn’t for the support that I received from [my mentor] and from the MCR Pathways staff as a whole to be honest.”

Young person involved in the study

Beyond the Numbers

As shown in the sections above, mentoring has a statistically significant impact on care-experienced young people's education outcomes.

However, these stats only tell part of the story. Behind grades and destinations is the holistic impact of mentoring. Through talking with young people, mentors and school staff, the researchers discovered additional benefits of mentoring, beyond these hard stats.


Prior to their involvement with MCR Pathways, many young people shared that they felt shy, and uncomfortable with talking openly. 

This held them back, with many reporting that they were hesitant to take part in class discussions or activities.

By speaking regularly with their mentor, young people gained self assurance and felt more at ease talking to adults.

It’s given me confidence, like I used to be like really shy, say if you’d come to me in fourth year I would be stuttering, not being able to answer these questions and getting really embarrassed. Now I’m like answering the questions…I think everyone should have a mentor.

Practical & Emotional Support

Again and again, young people stated that the non judgemental, emotional support of their mentor was key to helping them get through difficult situations. On top of this emotional support, young people received practical support for their challenges, both those faced inside school and out. This duo support helped young build their independence and ability to approach new challenges.

“It helps you keep positive. It helped me look forward and not dwell on the past. My mentor always helped me think about the fact that I’ve overcome so much already, there’s nothing that could stop me now. And, if I did go down, she would always say that, “There is nothing that you can’t do.” (Young person)


Attendance issues can have multiple causes. The researchers found that mentoring was instrumental in tackling each young person’s individual barriers 

Mentors helped build self-confidence and supported young people to address underlying reasons for non-attendance at school, which helped them develop positive behaviours. The report found that this helped change young people’s attitude to school. 

“I deliberately put meetings with mentor to the end of the week so I would need to come in constantly… then over time it just changed my viewpoint on school  – just actually waking up and wanting to go to school, rather than just making it a chore.” YP

Relationship-Based Practice at Scale

This study by ScotCen and the Robertson Trust proves the simple, but absolutely crucial, fact that our young people have told us since the beginning: mentoring makes the difference.

We learned this more than 12 years ago, when MCR Pathways was still just a pilot project at St Andrew's Secondary School.

Liam Murray, one of the very first young people in the programme - a boy who by his 4th year had experienced homelessness, family breakdown and was several years behind his peers academically - told us this fact. When he was asked what it was that helped him build resilience and overcome his circumstances to attain a university place, he pointed at his mentor and said, "her."

Can you become a mentor and #BeTheBridge between potential and possibilities?

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