Learning new skills to reach academic success – Fatima's journey to smashing her SATs

  • Fatima was fast approaching her SATs exams when she was enrolled on the West London Zone programme but her low confidence was stopping her from excelling academically
  • After understanding more about her needs and speaking with her family and teachers, her Link Worker Thomas was able to design a programme of support to help her achieve
  • Through after-school sessions with WLZ partners and extra support from Thomas, Fatima excelled in her SATs and is excited to take on new challenges in secondary school

When Fatima joined the West London Zone programme in Year 5, her teachers saw that she had the potential to be a great leader and the capabilities to achieve in her SATs but her confidence and lack of self-belief was holding her back. She was initially identified for the programme as a result of being below age-related expectations in maths whilst also finding it difficult to sustain friendships. Through the Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire, a wellbeing measurement tool used to identify which children would most benefit from our support – it was also highlighted that Fatima also had low confidence so a collaborative approach would be vital to get her on track before starting secondary school.

Fatima’s support system 

Together with Fatima’s teacher and her parents, Fatima’s Link Worker, Thomas, was able to understand the specific challenges she was facing. Thomas would work with Fatima for the duration of her time on the programme, getting to know her, tailoring her support and being a constant mentor and champion. A crucial part of the WLZ programme is gaining insights from the child’s support system so that the Link Worker can design a personalised programme of support that fits each child’s needs. Fatima’s mum shared that additional academic support would be particularly beneficial for her as her SATS were approaching and they felt that extra maths support would ensure that she could achieve. Her class teacher also agreed and told Thomas the specific areas she was struggling with.

They also recognized that Fatima had difficulty working effectively with other children and so developing skills in teamwork and positive communication would be another goal for her. Through further observation and close work with Fatima, Thomas was able to identify what he thought was holding her back: dealing with disappointment, lacking confidence in maths and comparing her attainment to others. With this, he was able to put together a personalised support plan for Fatima so she could become the leader her teachers and family recognised her to be. 

Building the programme of support

As Thomas now better understood Fatima’s needs,  he carefully selected Delivery Partner and Link Work support programmes that would best encourage Fatima to develop the skills she needed to reach her goals. These programmes were split into two parts, academic support and confidence building. To first help build her confidence, Fatima began on the You Are Awesome Link Work programme. For 8 weeks, she worked together with other children to complete activities based on Matthew Syed’s confidence-building ‘You are Awesome’ journal. Together, they explored themes such as success and failure, motivation, goal-setting and self-belief. These sessions also allowed for the children to learn new skills such as juggling, timetables and writing Chinese calligraphy, which provided the catalyst to have conversations about building a learning mindset.

The You Are Awesome sessions helped Fatima develop a learning mindset

As Thomas spent more time with Fatima, he noticed that she found it hard to make mistakes and would often compare her achievements to other children which made it difficult for her to work with others. From this, Thomas discussed why it’s important to focus on ourselves first when learning a skill and why mistakes are expected, this lesson in turn, provided the backdrop for the academic support she would go on to receive.  

Becoming a confident role model

Combined with the Link Work support programmes, Thomas also linked Fatima to West London Zone after-school clubs that created opportunities for her to learn new skills, develop her confidence and practice working under pressure. During the spring term, Fatima attended the Hammersmith Community Gardens, a local farm and garden that provides environmental education and helps children build teamwork skills outdoors. In these sessions, Fatima fed chickens, planted and watered plants, created bird feeders and made food from fruit and vegetables harvested from the garden. Her confidence soared, and she began demonstrating good leadership skills and initiative. As one of the eldest children in the group she supported the younger children with their learning about nature, kept them on track with expectations around the farm and role-modelled the behaviours of a “mature” pupil.

Working with multiple Delivery Partners was crucial to helping Fatima build her confidence and give her the opportunity to try a variety of different activities. As Thomas wanted to continue to bring Fatima out of her comfort zone, she also joined partner support group And Circus, a strengths-based organisation that uses circus skills to help build perseverance and resilience. She learned tightrope walking and juggling and despite it being difficult she persistently tried her best to master each skill. A key highlight for Thomas was watching her perform her routine in front of an audience of teachers, children and parents, even incorporating her own self taught gymnastics into the routine. Through all the challenges and conversations that came up in the Delivery Partner and Link Work sessions, Thomas felt that she would be ready to apply the same values and mindset in her academic achievements. 

Supporting Fatima’s maths journey

With Fatima taking on board the lessons from her support programmes, she was assigned a maths tutor from Delivery Partner Tutors Green, who worked one-to-one with her after school to help develop her maths skills. Alongside the one-to-one support, Thomas also ran twice weekly group maths sessions with her and another child on the programme which focused on practising their development areas in maths. To ensure Fatima was developing the key areas, Thomas worked closely with her teacher to tailor the content of support. Fatima’s teacher would send Thomas practice questions for her to complete and would also spend time with her during maths lessons to ensure she understood the lesson.

Fatima became enthusiastic about practicing her new maths skills

Bringing the best out of Fatima

Whilst the programmes created the opportunity for Fatima to develop her maths, they were not without their challenges. At times she felt unmotivated to attend and although it was a challenge for her to engage, it nonetheless provided an opportunity for Thomas to build a stronger relationship with Fatima’s mum. Thomas and Fatima’s mother would regularly discuss her progress, attendance and how best to motivate her, this helped him better understand Fatima so that he and the maths tutor could better engage with her and get the best out of her in their sessions.

“Fatima has all the ability to do really well on her SATs, her main challenge to overcome and perform on the day is to stay focused.”

Tutors Green tutor

Throughout the small group maths sessions, Thomas noticed a change in Fatima’s attitude in the months leading up to her SATs exams. She had taken in all the key messages discussed in the You Are Awesome group and didn’t get disheartened when she got the answers wrong but instead wanted to try again. She was keen to teach her partner concepts that she now understood and was now taking her time with questions. Rather than being quickly distracted, she now saw the value in repetition and practice. Fatima’s mum also shared that she would practise at the weekend and after school so that she would be ready for her exams. After two years on the programme and Fatima’s continued hard work, she performed brilliantly in her SATs exams and scored higher than the age-related expectation in maths – a massive improvement. 

“Fatima smashed her SATs!!! Thanks so much for your hard work with her." 

Fatima’s teacher

Through the work with Fatima’s teacher, mother and Delivery Partners, Fatima learned many important values which she took on board and instilled into her academic efforts. This learning approach is something Fatima plans to continue, and she shared with Thomas that she is excited to learn new and challenging maths concepts when she goes into secondary school.  

*Name changed and images unrelated.

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