How getting back on track academically led to a new direction – Rhiannon pursues her aspirations

  • Rhiannon’s academics was an area of concern which contributed to a lack of confidence and low self-esteem
  • Her Link Worker, Fembe, discovered that many of her issues stemmed from negative secondary school experiences – which were then addressed throughout the programme 
  • Rhiannon opened up to Fembe about her passion for art, which gave her the courage to  pursue a different academic journey  

Feeling like you don't truly fit in can be an experience a lot of teenagers go through as they navigate new changes. This is how Rhiannon felt as she entered William Morris Sixth Form Academy, aged 16, especially as she had had negative experiences when she was in secondary school. On top of this, she also struggled with her English and maths, and was identified as ‘at risk’ in several other areas according to data collected from her My Voice questionnaire. This survey is completed by students who have been identified by teachers as most suitable for the West London Zone programme, and pinpoints areas such as emotional and mental wellbeing, school engagement, peer problems, social support, parental involvement, confidence and so on.

Upon joining the programme, Rhiannon was linked with Fembe, who was to be her Link Worker. Fembe would work with Rhiannon at school so that she could support her in the areas she struggled with, and become a trusted adult that Rhiannon could confide in. Through reviewing all the information, talking to teachers and to Rhiannon herself, Fembe built a picture which would help guide the type of support she would be providing. She learnt that Rhiannon lacked confidence, and had low self-esteem which affected her concentration in lessons. This negative view of herself affected her ability to communicate with others, which made her even more anxious. Fembe discovered that Rhiannon had been bullied in secondary school, which was a root cause of many of these issues.

Building the academic tools to success

With this in mind, Fembe knew that a big part of their work together would be to carefully build her confidence over time, offering a safe environment so that Rhiannon could begin to open up. To encourage this, they had weekly one-to-one sessions where Rhiannon could reflect, feel supported and begin creating goals to work towards. Fembe then began to work on building her academic confidence using the Thinking About Thinking programme, a West London Zone programme that enables students to develop strategies that help build their confidence and solve academic problems. It allowed Rhiannon to find previously unknown strengths, reframe some of her attitudes, and build resilience in the classroom; she was slowly building the tools for success.

Getting further involved in school

Throughout the year, Rhiannon attended weekly maths and English support with West London Zone Delivery Partner, Get Further, a charity which helps students facing challenges in further education to build their skills and realise their aspirations for education and work by delivering high-impact tuition for students re-taking their maths and English GCSEs. 

Rhiannon was concerned about her English GCSE resit in particular, and so Fembe spent additional time – at Rhiannon’s request – to focus on this. They revised key concepts, how to structure an essay, and worked on responses to mock exam papers. Fembe also joined in her sessions with Get Further, so that she could provide further reassurance and support.

“Tutoring has made a difference for me this year. In English, I feel like having a tutor has helped my confidence in reading. In maths, I feel like I am more aware of what’s going on in my school lessons, because I have already covered the content in my tutoring sessions. Working towards an English GCSE qualification will help me build my communication skills and passing my maths GCSE will help to make me more employable in the future”

Academic development is only half the picture 

West London Zone knows that education is so much more than lessons and academics – Rhiannon’s emotional wellbeing needed nurturing. Extra-curricular activities are one way to ensure young people mix in different social circles and discover new opportunities that they may not otherwise have had access to – all of which have a wider benefit on their school experience and academic growth.

To integrate this, Fembe arranged for Rhiannon to attend trips throughout the year, such as activities like outdoor adventure park, Go Ape, and a visit to the Tate Modern museum to see the Yayoi Kusuma Infinity Mirror Room exhibition. Taking part in exciting activities across London was a great opportunity for Rhiannon to step outside of her comfort zone, meet new people and start socialising with peers. 


Rhiannon joined Fembe and other young people on the WLZ programme on a trip to the Tate Modern

Painting a different future 

As the end of Rhiannon’s first year on the programme – and her first year at William Morris – approached, it was important for her to explore her academic options. She had begun her sixth form journey by studying a BTEC in Health and Social Care, and thanks to Fembe’s support and guidance was making good progress. However, she frequently communicated to Fembe that she was passionate about art, but had been worried that pursuing it might limit her career prospects. 

To support her potentially critical decision-making, Fembe organised for Rhiannon to meet with the art department teachers, and to have a painting taster session before exploring a possible subject change for Year 13.  Rhiannon was encouraged to bring in her GCSE art portfolio, and had some positive conversations around her concerns, meaning that she was able to think more positively about her creative abilities. These conversations resulted in a transition from studying BTEC Health and Social Care to BTEC Art.

Rhiannon is excited about her future

Rhiannon ended her first year of the West London Zone programme having taken some courageous steps forwards. Her confidence had grown, as had her overall academic abilities and her engagement at school more generally. She sat all her exams and with the boost to her self-esteem, she was able to start researching careers in creative industries that interested her. Her passion for learning had been ignited! She began to look into becoming a medical photographer, a product designer or an illustrator, and welcomed all the career resources available to her to help her make well-informed decisions as she moved into Year 13. We're sure whatever Rhiannon chooses to do she will be a success.

*Name changed and images unrelated

together, every child and young person can flourish.