Derbyshire County Council: Using ‘creative mentoring’ to support looked after children

Derbyshire County Council uses ‘creative mentoring’ to support looked after children who are struggling to engage in education. This case study forms part of the Value of culture - young people section of our online Culture Hub.


Derbyshire Virtual School was launched in 2014 to enhance the life opportunities for children and young people in care. It works alongside schools to support children and young people in their existing school setting, helping them to achieve the best possible outcomes.

‘Creative mentoring’ is Derbyshire Virtual School's approach to working with looked after young people who are struggling to engage in education or at risk of exclusion or disaffection. A creative mentor is commissioned to work with the young person and is briefed jointly by social care professionals and schools. They get to know the individual and introduce creative activities such as film, drama, music, poetry, photography and stories to help them safely explore the world around them, learn new skills, communicate and address personal and emotional issues from an artistic distance.

The mentors are freelance creative professionals with experience of working with children and young people as ‘artist pedagogues’. They are employed by the Virtual School on a sessional basis using Pupil Premium Plus funding. Activities take place at home, in school or in the community over varying lengths of time, depending on the specific learning targets. The mentor is encouraged to get involved and learn new skills alongside the young person, which has proved to be a powerful way to build stronger relationships.

Activities are planned collaboratively with the young person alongside their supporting adults. The mentor identifies personalised pathways for progression. The social and emotional development of the young person is carefully nurtured, enabling them to develop their interests, engage fully in education and focus on their ambitions.

Impact of the activity

About 90 individuals aged from four to 21 currently have creative mentors. Eight measures of progress are reviewed regularly: participation, engagement, confidence, communication, motivation, achievement, leadership and ambition. The scheme has helped participants to:

  • try new opportunities and develop skills
  • have more self confidence
  • cope with transitions between schools and care placements
  • manage their feelings and develop emotional resilience
  • reduce feelings of isolation
  • work with others and manage relationships
  • express their views and ideas
  • understand their own potential
  • recognise their growing competences
  • identify their ambitions
  • find help and support from others.

Schools across Derbyshire are implementing creative mentoring to support their most vulnerable learners at times of crisis to avoid periods of exclusion. An entire federation of 11 secondary schools in the High Peak area are currently working in partnership with the Virtual School to utilise creative mentoring in situations of ‘crisis management’. The feedback from schools is very positive. Recent comments include:

“The change in this student over just 12 weeks has been quite remarkable. His behaviour and emotional state have both improved. Concerns around his behaviour have now been lowered from a red (high concern) to a green (low concern).”  

“The impact has been fantastic. We never thought we would get him back into school and we have, thanks to the creative mentor. For the first time in a very long time, A’s adoptive parents were smiling!”  

Councillor Alex Dale, Cabinet Member for Young People, said:

Creative mentors bring creativity into moments of crisis. Working on many different levels, both practical and emotional, they get to know the child and find ways of engaging with them, helping to make visible their strengths and potential. Working collaboratively they can also help all the different services and systems to find new ways to understand each other, and give the school and wider team of professionals different ways to connect with the child.

In a 2016 review of creative mentoring, Dr Paul Kelly, a Specialist Senior Educational Psychologist, found that the benefits include improved behaviour, skills development and re-engagement in education through increased enthusiasm, motivation and confidence. He wrote: “Creative mentors are able find innovative ways to engage young people and connect with them, following the lead of the young person on a journey from wherever they are at when they meet, into new realms of possibility.”

For further information contact Kim Johnson, Arts Education Coordinator, Derbyshire County Council: kim.johnson@derbyshire.gov.uk.

Watch a short video on Derbyshire’s Creative Mentoring.