4 Support for mentors
Mentors require support because they often find it difficult to fail students. This is due to lack of confidence in understanding the assessment process, interpreting the information used by professional bodies and being able to differentiate between failing and competent students. They need to develop an in-depth knowledge and understanding of their accountability at every stage of the student’s programme, because they are accountable for the decision made to either pass or fail a student.
Activity 5 Support for mentors in decision making
The following video features Ros Moore, a practitioner who talks about the problems in failing students and acknowledges the need for mentors to have an in-depth knowledge and understanding of accountability for the decisions made. She emphasises the mentors’ professional responsibility as facilitators of learning, gatekeepers and the public representatives within the profession, and believes that when mentors see a student struggling in practice, they should be willing to be the support and take action when required. Ros stresses the importance of their role as mentors in making valid judgements when assessing students’ competence in practice to protect the service users and maintain good professional standing.
As you watch, make a list of the factors that helped mentors to make confident decisions. Then reflect on what you have learned from doing this activity. Has it helped or hindered you in making assessment decisions on knowing when to fail students?
You may have considered the importance of preparation for mentors when failing students. It cannot be underestimated that mentors need to be prepared to undertake this aspect of their role. They need to be confident, assertive and skilled in assessing performance. There is evidence that mentors are inconsistent when assessing competence and are hesitant when faced with students’ unacceptable performance (Fitzgerald et al., 2010). Being organised as a mentor is key, as you need to:
- keep accurate records of decisions made
- seek guidance
- encourage a network of support when required, such as peer supervision
- encourage a really strong mentorship network in and around your local area, or between trusts and other organisations.
If not, a lack of preparation and experience in not recognising when students are underperforming may prevent the mentor from failing the student.
You will be able to make a ‘fail decision’ with confidence if you have followed a plan of action for any student who is not progressing or failing. The student should not be surprised at being informed that they have failed.
One of the key drivers for developing the role of ‘sign-off’ mentor was that more experienced mentors would be available to support assessment decision making not only at the end of a course or programme but also on the journey to completion. As you commence your mentoring role it is important that you establish what support is available to you through your colleagues, your employing organisation, education providers and national organisations.
If you are studying this provision as part of an NMC mentor preparation programme, you should discuss your reflections from this activity with your mentor and use your learning as a source of evidence in your portfolio.
Familiarising yourself with the NMC requirements for mentoring and keeping accurate records is discussed next. Accurate records will justify the decision made when assessing competence in students. It is therefore important to keep detailed notes of discussions that you have had with the student who has failed to meet the goals agreed.