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Scholarship Programme

Boosting opportunity in south London schools

22 March 2024
Reading time 6 mins

School led and backed by research– a new social mobility project has created the dream job for Learning Mentor, Cherisa Kya-Scott.



Words by Fiona Thompson
Photography by Jayne Lloyd

“I’ve worked in education for many years and I’ve never seen a social mobility programme quite like this one,” says Paula Ledger, Executive Headteacher at Leathersellers’ Federation of Schools.

“Our scholarship project is different because it allows us to offer intensive one-to-one mentoring and support to a group of 12 students from disadvantaged backgrounds who lack motivation or have high levels of disengagement. In addition, it will provide laptops, free wi-fi, residential trips, careers opportunities, extra-curricular activities and extra tuition.

“Backed by research, this project is only possible thanks to the extremely generous funding of £426,000 over four years from the Leathersellers’ Company.” The Company has been involved in education since the 17th century and currently supports the running of four schools in south-east London. The Leathersellers’ Federation of Schools, which formed in 2009, comprises three of these and traces its history back to the founding of Prendergast School in 1890.

The scholarship project reinforces The Leathersellers’ Foundation’s long-standing commitment to social mobility. The Company and Foundation define this as the idea that every child or young person facing disadvantage is supported to realise their full potential, whatever pathways they choose to pursue.

children working at a desk with a teacher

Paula explains why the scholarship project is targeted at children in Year 8. “I noticed a pattern of disengagement for some students. They’d arrive at secondary school excited about the fresh start, even if they’d had a challenging time at primary school.

“They might start lacking motivation by the end of Year 7. The attainment gap would then widen as these students became more disengaged and more demotivated. I’ve seen several students on that trajectory. The resources you can fund and put in place don’t always have the impact you’re hoping for.

“I wanted to see what would happen if we invested a great deal of time, effort and resources in students, providing them with extra-curricular activities that would open their eyes to new possibilities and broaden their horizons.” A key element of the project is a Learning Mentor who acts as a motivational link that ties all the support together.

“When students become demotivated, it can be because they feel they’ve failed at a new challenge and don’t believe they will ever succeed,” says Paula. “In this project, a Learning Mentor will attend extra-curricular activities with children, support them when they feel demotivated, praise them when they learn something new, and – crucially – connect that learning back to the classroom.

“Seeing them light up is everything. I want to help students to work through their fears and celebrate their successes, so they understand that learning can be fun.”

portrait of a woman in a school corridor

”This might involve reminding a child that they’ve just done something they’ve never done before, and encouraging them to use that same attitude to tackle an academic challenge.” The Learning Mentor also provides an important link to the students’ parents, who may not be able to attend all of the activities outside school with their children.

In June 2022, the project appointed its first Learning Mentor, Cherisa Kya-Scott. “This is my dream job,” says Cherisa, who has worked with children and young people in a variety of ways for 22 years.  “This role allows me to use all my experience and creativity to inspire young people to achieve their goals. Seeing them light up is everything. I want to help students to work through their fears and celebrate their successes, so they understand that learning can be fun.”

Cherisa will work closely with 12 Year 8 pupils at three secondary schools in Lewisham that belong to the Leathersellers’ Federation of Schools: Prendergast School, Prendergast Ladywell School and Prendergast Vale School. In the second year of the project, Cherisa will stay with these students as they move into Year 9, and a new Learning Mentor will be recruited for the new Year 8 cohort.

The students in the programme have been carefully selected. “It was important to choose students who were lacking motivation but were still willing to engage,” says Paula.  Looking at the equality objectives of each school, Cherisa and the respective headteachers have focused on key underperforming groups, including Black Caribbean students. Many of these students do not attend any extra-curricular activities.  “They go to school, they go home, they go to school,” says Cherisa. “This project is going to open up a whole new world for these students and I can’t wait to be with them when that happens.”

The scholarship programme doesn’t officially start until September 2022, but it’s already causing a buzz. “The students in this project are amazing young people,” says Cherisa. “They’re all so excited about being involved. “Right now, I’m getting to know their passions and their interests. One student wants to go horse riding. One wants to play basketball. Another is interested in debating classes because they want to be a lawyer. Students want to do drama, sing and dance. They all want to play an instrument; I’ve had requests for lessons in piano, drums, guitar and trumpet.”

schoolchildren and adult on tyre swings

The students’ parents are equally enthusiastic about the project. “They’re so happy, there are no words,” says Cherisa. “I’ve got tearful myself on a few of the calls. Parents are delighted that the school is helping their child. One told me, ‘My child really needs this. Their confidence is so low.’ “Having a good relationship with the parents is vital. It will be amazing when the families are able to see the benefits as their child starts to engage more with learning.”

The initiative is also providing additional benefits to the schools within the Federation, as Cherisa is able to develop new connections that are bringing the schools closer together. The programme has been created with the support of Better Purpose, a consultancy that designs and delivers educational programmes.

“Working with Better Purpose has been brilliant,” says Paula. “They’ve helped us devise a monitoring and evaluation framework so we can measure the impact of the programme.  “As a result, if the programme is successful, we’ll be able to provide evidence to national organisations that this is a good way to improve young people’s life chances. So far, there’s no magic bullet to support demotivated, disadvantaged students. If we can show that this works, that has a lot of power behind it.”

Paula adds: “We’re so fortunate that the Leathersellers’ Company has supported this pilot. They’re so passionate about social mobility, fairness and equality, and they really believe in what we’re doing. In four years’ time, I hope that we’ll be able to share some truly extraordinary results.”