BREAKTHROUGH Dundee launch: Mentors sought to change young people’s lives

© DC Thomson
Some of the audience at the launch of BREAKTHROUGH Dundee on September 12.

A new £1 million mentoring scheme was launched in Dundee on Tuesday evening aimed at boosting the life chances of secondary-school-aged young people who are vulnerable or have experienced care.

BREAKTHROUGH Dundee will provide a 1:1 programme, designed to improve pupils’ academic performance and to support them in achieving a ‘positive destination’ such as work or college after they leave school.

The programme will begin in Morgan Academy this month and will be followed by a second school, St Paul’s RC Academy, in October.

It is intended that all eight of Dundee’s secondary schools will be involved in the programme by 2019, supporting up to 500 young people.

A pool of fully trained mentors will be recruited from local companies and Dundee’s wider community to be matched appropriately to the young people and to support those who sign up to take part.

© DC Thomson
Ellis Watson with the artwork designed by young people for the charity.

Ellis Watson, chairman of BREAKTHROUGH Dundee and executive chairman of DC Thomson Publishing, said: “BREAKTHROUGH is an incredible charitable initiative that specifically targets the 500 care experienced and other vulnerable young people, identified by the social care system, in Dundee’s secondary schools.

“Without radical intervention, statistics demonstrate that some of these young people will falter in life and fail.

“We have spent the last few years developing this programme. From recruiting professional youth workers to planning mentoring from the community and creating powerful work experience sessions, we believe we have devised a potentially life changing programme.

“To achieve this, we have been fortunate to have taken the most effective parts of other schemes both in and out of Scotland, and worked closely with the city council, their social work and education departments and sought input from experts on developing young talent.”

© DC Thomson
The Morgan Freemans band from Morgan Academy entertaining the audience.

The model for BREAKTHROUGH Dundee has been developed by the executive and board of DC Thomson, inspired by the success of MCR Pathways, a similar programme in Glasgow.

The implementation stage of the programme is being fully funded from August 2017 until July 2020 by the Northwood Charitable Trust, which was set up in 1972 and provides financial support annually to hundreds of charitable institutions within and outwith Dundee. The project is also being supported by Dundee City Council.

A dedicated BREAKTHROUGH Dundee co-ordinator will be appointed for each secondary school in Dundee.

In school weekly group sessions will take place for those in S1-S2, with matched 1:1 weekly sessions with mentors from S3 onwards.

Throughout the programme, young people will have opportunities to attend BREAKTHROUGH-2 sessions to gain inspiring mini work, further education, arts and sports experiences.

Dundee City Council leader Councillor John Alexander said: “I am delighted that this exciting new project is being launched to improve chances for some of the most vulnerable young people across the city.

“We hope to harness the energy, talent and enthusiasm of mentors from Dundee to help deliver life changing opportunities for those who volunteer to be part of this initiative.”


“Not a better job in the world”

© DC Thomson
Helen Gray (second from right) at the launch.

As the head teacher at Morgan Academy, the vision Helen Gray has for the school is that every pupil should be employable.

So when Mr Watson approached her last December to sound her out on the project which aimed to support some of the school’s most vulnerable pupils, she was “extremely keen” to get involved.

“Probably about just before Christmas, Ellis Watson contacted myself and said there was an opportunity for DC Thomson to fund a project that would support our most vulnerable pupils and those pupils who are care experienced, and could he come in and meet me,” she said.

“He introduced me to the project which had been based in Glasgow and had been sponsored by an entrepreneur and was involving 15 schools with the hope of a roll-out to 25-plus schools.

© DC Thomson
DC Thomson chairman Andrew Thomson speaks at the launch.

“Statistically there was evidence that with the money the entrepreneur had, he could influence business people to become really good role models and mentors for these young people who didn’t necessarily have that at hand.

“There was a programme then put in educationally to support them which involved a lead-in time for first and second years working with them, working on their self-esteem, their self-worth, their values, where they are building their aspirations.

“And then from third year onwards having this mentor that would be with them throughout the whole of their school career, with the aim being building ambition, better attainment and achievement and a positive destination because statistically we know in Scotland that those most vulnerable pupils don’t necessarily always transfer into a positive destination.”

Ms Gray explained that Ellis had identified Morgan because he’d spoken to the then Dundee City Council director of education Michael Wood and Morgan had the highest percentage of pupils in care at the time.

© DC Thomson
Deputy Head Teacher Fiona Low at Morgan Academy

“I was new to the school and was extremely keen,” explained Ms Gray, “because one of the areas that we had identified early on since I came was pupil aspiration and how we wanted to build that.”

Ms Gray and the school’s depute head teacher in charge of pupil support Fiona Low, worked closely with Susan Duncan, the newly appointed chief executive of BREAKTHROUGH Dundee, to move the project forward.

Rosie Ivins was then recruited to run the venture in school with groups of pupils  identified who might benefit.

Ms Low added: “When Helen spoke to me about this initially I knew of the MCR Pathways project in Glasgow just having been at a couple of conferences, and read things about it.

“So it was quite exciting to think that something like that could come to Morgan. I went through to Glasgow and met my equivalent in one of the secondary schools there and also had the opportunity to speak to the co-ordinator and to some pupils who were being mentored.

“They weren’t primed prior to me going there. So when I asked the question – what’s it like to have a mentor?, they both came back and said it’s great. They were in fourth  year, talking about coming back to fifth year, yet 18 months before they were hardly in school.

“To me, just hearing that coming from these young people, I thought it does work obviously.”

The commitment for mentors is one school period per week over years.

Initially it’ll be about the pupil getting to know the mentor the mentor getting to know the pupil. For both the mentor and the pupil there will be a matching process made beforehand.

Ms Gray, a trained PE teacher who worked in personnel management with Marks and Spencer before becoming a teacher 26 years ago, insists there’s no better job in the world than teaching  and this project helped drive equal opportunities amongst certain pupils who might need a “boost”..

She added: “It’s about ensuring every single child has the same opportunities to reach their own individual potential.

“And for some of them it’s about making sure they know you are that consistent person and you’ll be there no matter what and it gives you huge challenges and fulfilment every single day.

“There’s not a better job in the world, and I can honestly say that.”

Ms Low agreed, adding: “Sometimes the school and the way you behave with them is the only consistent part of children’s lives. And they need to know they can rely on you.

“Sometimes it’s difficult when they are challenging, but if they know you are going to be there and you are going to be the same and you are going to be caring and you are going to listen, it works. It does make a difference.”



Recruiting 160 ambassadors

BREAKTHROUGH Dundee chief executive Susan Duncan, who is originally from Aberdeen and lives in Broughty Ferry, brings over 30 years of experience in business, education and social care to the project.

© DC Thomson
Susan Duncan speaks at the launch.

The business studies graduate’s background includes 10 years working in blue chip industries; supply teaching in Angus after retraining with a post-graduate diploma in primary education; and 15 years as a Safe Guarder with the Children’s Panel – making independent recommendations on the best course of action for young people presented to the Children’s Panel.

For her the opportunity to bring this experience together in this project is second to none.

She said: “The aim of the launch night is to raise awareness of the project and to create 160 ambassadors for that project to talk about it.

“A secondary aim is to either get people to think about being mentors or allowing people in their company to be mentors in their working day – and possibly they might be able to offer some kind of work experience opportunities.

© DC Thomson
Morgan Academy.

“We are also speaking to the FPs at Morgan to see if they will come in and be mentors.

“The evidence from the project in Glasgow is that children that stay on see improvement in attainment, improvement in behaviour, and positive destinations to further and higher education.”

*What does a mentor need to be?:

  • Someone who is 21+
  • cares about young people and their futures
  • is a good listener
  • is committed and consistent
  • is non judgemental

 What mentors do:

  • Commit to give one hour a week plus travel time to mentor a young person in school during term time , for a minimum of a year, ideally two
  • Build a relationship and be a trusted confidante
  • Share life experiences
  • Identify strengths and explore possibilities
  • Raise aspirations and expectations
  • Empower young people to create the futures they want for themselves

*To participate, all volunteers are required to complete a mentor application form.

This can be done online at or if preferred, a copy of the registration form can be emailed or posted.

To arrange, email or phone 01382 575274.