Behind the headlines – what our HEAT data is telling us

Brightside Head of Finance, Rachel who leads on impact measurement, unpicks the findings from the first analysis of the long term outcomes of online mentoring.

The report

This is a big day for Brightside. We are incredibly proud to publish the results from the first longitudinal analysis of our online mentoring programmes.

Over the last 17 years, we have seen and heard the impact that our programmes have had. We hear about the concerns and hopes of students in relation to what they want to do after school and we can see the questions they ask their mentors. We see our mentors sharing their own concerns of going to university, opening up about their experiences and reflecting on the lessons they have learnt along the way. We know that online mentoring can have a positive impact on young people facing key transition points in their own lives.

Today, for the first time, we have data which illustrates the results of our online mentoring programmes, and the links with increased participation in higher education. This robust analysis is based on tracking the trajectories of over 9,000 young people.

There are three key findings

  1. Young people from the least represented groups in higher education that have taken part in an online mentoring are three times more likely to enter higher education than the national average.
  2. Students who took part in online mentoring before they were 16 achieved 6.5 grades higher in their GSCEs than their peers who had similar attainment at Key Stage 2.
  3. There is a reduced participation gap between the most represented and least represented groups in higher education for students who received online mentoring, than between those who did not receive online mentoring.

Reflections on the data

The higher rate of entry into higher education for those students taking part in online mentoring is extraordinary. We believe this is evidence of the power of mentoring. Where young people are given access to role models, can expand their networks and have the opportunity to liaise regularly with a mentor on a 1-2-1 basis, it does result in different outcomes. Even when cutting the data by Index of Multiple Deprivation (IMD) instead of POLAR4, a similar pattern emerges with 79% of young people who have received online mentoring from the most deprived groups (IMD 1 & 2) entering higher education.

Our assumption has always been that mentoring can improve academic attainment. Intuitively, it makes sense. If a young person receives support in setting and achieving goals, then it seems likely to result in higher grades. This HEAT analysis is the first concrete evidence we have of this association and we’re excited to explore it further.

We are also encouraged to see that taking part in online mentoring reduces the participation gap; young people from the least represented groups benefit more from mentoring than those from the most represented groups. Students from POLAR4 Q1 are more likely to be in higher education after Brightside mentoring and show greater engagement with their mentors, with a higher percentage sending more messages than their peers from POLAR4 Q5, the more represented group. This tallies with our anecdotal evidence and as a social mobility charity implies that we’re on the right track.


While the data does show strong correlations between Brightside Mentoring and long term impact, we recognise it does not prove causality. There are many things going on in the lives of these young people and online mentoring will not be solely responsible for the different outcomes. In addition, the size and breadth of the data set means that it includes different types of programmes across many years, working with different age groups. The next stage of our impact journey will be to conduct further granular analysis on this data set.

However, this is a powerful analysis of the association between online mentoring and increased participation in higher education from students in the lowest participation quintiles. It is also an important addition to the evidence on the longer term impacts of mentoring.

You can view the report here.