The Family Support Service’s Mystery Shopper

Buckinghamshire Council’s Family Support Service runs courses for young people on a range of topics. You can read more about these on the Bucks Family Information Service website.

Read more about the Family Support Services’ courses for young people

In November , a young person kindly offered to act as a “mystery shopper” on one of the service’s courses; How to… Build Confidence and Self Esteem. This course is run both in-person and online, and the course the mystery shopper attended was online. The course explores the following topics:

  • Why the media affects how we see ourselves
  • How to cope better with setbacks
  • How to deal with peer pressure
  • How to feel better about ourselves

The course ran for four weeks, with each session lasting one hour and taking place on a weekday evening.  The courses were widely advertised, and young people could sign up for the courses online via the Bucks Family Information Service website.


A mystery shopper is a person who investigates a service in secret. Big shops and restaurants often use mystery shoppers. They hire members of the public to be a customer and report on how good their experience was. The staff in the shop or restaurant that serve the mystery shopper usually don’t know that the person is a mystery shopper, so they provide their usual service, and the mystery shopper can then tell the shop/restaurant’s managers what was good and what might need to improve. So, in our case, the course facilitator did not know that our mystery shopper was going to report on their experience.

At the time of the course, the mystery shopper was 13 years old. Their identity is being kept a secret so that they can act as a mystery shopper again in the future if they would like to!

Our mystery shopper’s feedback on the course is below.



  • Facilitators – Great facilitation! The facilitator role-modelled confidence and got involved with the activities as well. They gently encouraged the young people to put on their cameras and mics and that really worked – towards the end of the course more people had their cameras on.
  • Content – I loved exploring how values and identity affect confidence. This is a clever way of approaching it and not something I had thought of before. I liked that there was no homework to do! And I liked the social media content.
  • Environment – The environment was very inclusive. People were not put on the spot.
  • I appreciate that the facilitator sent an email with the content after the session.
  • I would definitely recommend it to other people! I am going to include a report on the course in my school newsletter 🙂
  • The virtual course is really good for people who would not have the confidence to walk into a face-to-face course.


Areas to develop:


  • Four sessions were not enough.
  • The videos were good, but they took up a lot of valuable time.
  • Could the sessions be 1.5 hours?
  • The course could have covered practical skills like how to make conversation with people. We spent two sessions looking at body confidence – this could be cut down to one session.

As a result of this feedback, the service will extend our courses to six weeks (where possible) and recommend to the group facilitators that they reduce the video lengths and include content on practical skills.

“We are very pleased to have this feedback from a young person who has attended one of our courses which is meaningful and helpful.
We are going to review all of our courses in early 2023.
We will review the sessions length and also the course content to make it more practical.”

– Jane, Lead Practitioner (Youth) in the Family Support Service

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How did we listen, act and respond?


The Family Support Service got in touch with the CAMHS Article 12 Forum to invite one of their members to act as a mystery shopper. The young person who acted as a mystery shopper volunteered to take part.
After our mystery shopper attended all of the course sessions, Jane from the Family Support Service met with them, at a time that suited the young person, to discuss their experience and recommendations.


The mystery shopper’s feedback will contribute to a review of the content of the Family Support Service’s youth courses and will be shared at a strategic meeting so that lots of managers in the service can hear about it. The people in charge of the youth courses will make some decisions based on the review. We will know the outcome of the review and decisions in February 2023.
In the meantime, the recommendation for the videos to be cut down and for practical skills to be covered during the sessions have been passed on to the course facilitators, who will put this into effect from now on.


The Family Support Services responded to the mystery shopper by emailing some information about what will change as a result of their feedback being shared, including that we will avoid delivering the course in four sessions and that facilitators will be asked to reduce the video length and include content about practical skills.
Jane will also get back in touch with the mystery shopper in February, after the review of the courses has been done and the changes have been made.


The mystery shopper said this about their experience:

“The experience was valuable and taught me a lot I did not know.
I attended as a mystery shopper but the course itself provided me with thoughts and ideas that I could use personally.
I would recommend this to anyone and everyone, as being someone who is already confident even I learnt something new.
I also really appreciate that my feedback was taken away and worked on and it is lovely to see.”

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Jennie, a Service Manager in the Family Support Service, said the following:

“This is really brilliant feedback.
Thank you to all involved!
Great support and impact for our mystery shopper and a really valuable example of the importance of youth participation in our development.”

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Impact and learning

The impact for children and young people:

  • Our mystery shopper has gained skills through the course and their participation experience
  • The young person’s feedback has been used for staff development, improving future staff practice
  • Our mystery shopper has promoted our FSS courses to their peers at school
  • The service has found a youth participation model that can be replicated, enhancing youth participation in the future

To be realised:

  • Improving the experiences of young people on the courses will improve outcomes
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