BACKGROUND TO MENTORING
To understand the concept of ‘mentoring’ it is first necessary to determine what exactly mentoring is. This however seems to be easier said than done with Clutterbuck (1996:1) noting that ‘the biggest problem for researchers into mentoring is still defining what it is’ and Roberts (2000:3) using the term ‘definitional quagmire’. Hall (2003:9) partly explains this by stating ‘Mentoring is not one thing: it is a range of possibilities. Perhaps this goes some way to explaining why there is so little agreement about its definition and why so much of the language used about it seems to lead to confusion rather than clarification’. Philip (1999:6) describes mentoring as follows: ‘Mentoring can hold a range of meanings and the terminology reveals a diverse set of underlying assumptions. A similar range of terms may apply to the mentee, protégé, client, apprentice, aspirant, pupil etc.’
The roots of the term ‘mentor’ are commonly traced back to the figure of mentor in Homer’s Odyssey who was said to be the protective, guiding and supporting figure who acted as a wise and trusted counsellor to Telemachus. However Colley (2000a:1) argues that this is a misreading and if there is any ‘mentoring’ done it is by the goddess Athene. She then goes on to state that the modern associations of ‘mentor’ are held within Fenellon’s Les Adventures de Telemaque from the eighteenth century.
“Mentoring is the ‘in’ thing” (Colley 2000a:1, 2003:1). In her article ‘Exploring myths of mentor’ (2000a:1), she then goes on to document the way that mentoring has become highly popular in the past decade as an ingredient of policy solutions; for example in the fields of teaching, nursing, careers guidance, business and increasingly in compulsory and post compulsory education – particularly within the area of social exclusion. ‘mentoring has become mainstream. It appears in all major new youth transition programmes, such as the New Deal and the Learning Gateway, with their networks of personal advisers and proposals to involve volunteer mentors as well. The Connexions strategy (DfEE 2000)…proposes to create a new profession of learning mentors (for young people in schools) and personal advisers (for those in post-16 transition).’ (Colley, 2000a:1). Volunteer mentors (business mentors, community mentors, intergenerational mentors, university student mentors, mentors with specialist knowledge) and learning mentors.