Realising her potential – Gabriela redefines her school identity

  • Gabriela’s poor emotional wellbeing meant that she was at risk of being stuck in a self-fulfilling prophecy, which was already impacting her academic progress
  • With the support of her Link Worker, Robyn and the flexible nature of the West London Zone programme, Gabriela began to realise her potential
  • With a more positive outlook on her education, Gabriela is looking forward to taking on new challenges in secondary school

We can all identify with getting stuck in our own heads, worrying about our strengths until we lose sight of what we can achieve. This was what it was like for Gabriela, whose lack of self-belief was greatly affecting her ability to learn. She was diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder and although she was on an Education, Health and Care Plan – meaning she was receiving additional support for her learning needs – Gabriela had a negative view of what she believed she could achieve at school. 

She joined the West London Zone programme in Year 3, following understanding more about her needs through her Strengths and Difficulties questionnaire – a wellbeing measurement tool used to identify children struggling with their social and emotional wellbeing. It highlighted that she was at risk in her academic progress and her emotional wellbeing, and there were also concerns around her school attendance which was at 94% when she joined. 

Breaking the self-fulfilling prophecy

Gabriela was paired with Link Worker, Robyn, who would work with her to gain her trust and be her mentor and champion during her time on the programme. It was clear to Robyn that Gabriela lacked self-belief and was stuck in the mindset of not being an achiever. Gabriela often expressed that she ‘couldn’t read’ and would get upset when asked to write anything. This narrative was so embedded that her first two years on the programme were spent unpicking Gabriela’s own perceptions of herself and what she believed she could achieve. 

Robyn worked with Gabriela every day to gain her trust and build her confidence

Without this long-term work, Gabriela ran the risk of being stuck in a self-fulfilling prophecy that could have major impacts on her later life. Despite the average West London Zone programme spanning two years, it appeared that Gabriela’s unique circumstances called for a longer intervention and as a result of the adaptable nature of the programme, Robyn was able to flex to her needs. In collaboration with the school, her family and the other services involved, it was then decided that Robyn would continue working with Gabriela for four years so that she would be ready for secondary school. 

Supporting Gabriela with a personalised plan 

Understanding Gabriela in more depth allowed Robyn to design an individualised support plan with the aim of boosting Gabriela’s confidence, and her identity as a learner. Robyn introduced her to Kite Studios, a West London Zone Delivery Partner specialising in art therapy that allowed Gabriela to create art she could be proud of and practise positive teamwork. This was then coupled with street dance classes by Arch 197; as Robyn knew Gabriela loved music, these sessions were an outlet for her to try something new and further build her confidence. 

In dance sessions with Arch 197, Gabriela could create routines she could be proud of

Teaming up to encourage Gabriela  

As Gabriela was making good progress building confidence, Robyn knew that it was the right time to lean her into academic support. She took part in Team Up; an academic partner that pairs young volunteers with children for maths and English tuition. 

At first, Gabriela was distracted in the sessions and didn’t want to write, but Robyn and the Team Up facilitators worked together to make sure she could access the learning and was given opportunities to succeed. Over time, Gabriela came to love these sessions and didn’t want them to end – this was a big step for Gabriela! As she continued working with Team Up, Robyn would also join Gabriela twice a week in her English lessons, to ensure she was accessing the learning and engaging in class.

Offering a well-rounded experience – both in and out of school

Alongside partner and Link Work support, Robyn praised Gabriela for her successes and celebrated them with her mum, teachers and senior leaders at school. Ensuring that Gabriela’s network was aware of her progress gave her a much-needed confidence boost in her learning. 

Being a constant presence in Gabriela’s life in and out of the classroom was also key to helping Robyn develop a trusted relationship with her and her family. During the school holidays, Gabriela and her younger brother accessed lots of summer holiday activities so that she could continue to try new things, meet other young people and learn positive communication skills. Gabriela and her brother went to London Zoo, Kew Gardens and even cookery workshops at community kitchen, the Nourish Hub.

“Thank you for inviting them on trips. Thanks to you, they are having a lovely holiday - they’ve enjoyed every bit.” Gabriela’s mother

A huge improvement across the board; attendance, ability, and academic enjoyment 

Gabriela has continued to make progress since starting the programme. Her attendance went up to 98%, she is now achieving age-related expectations in maths and no longer needs Robyn to sit with her during English lessons. Her entire attitude towards learning has shifted. At the start of the programme, Gabriela was reading short books, aimed at younger children, refusing to write, saying she couldn’t read. Now, Gabriela loves chapter books (especially David Walliams) and completes whole sections of her age group’s reading tests — writing pages of text is a major step forward for her confidence and academic progress.

Gabriela received one-to-one literacy tutoring to boost her reading confidence 

“Gabriela’s progress has been fantastic. She went from not engaging in lessons and having no confidence in herself, to now seeing herself as a capable learner. A special moment for me was at the end of the year when Gabriela brought me a handwritten letter. She has gone from crying when asked to write, to voluntarily writing me a letter, and I feel so proud of what she has achieved.” Robyn, Link Worker

“When I first met you, I was nervous, but now I am confident and brave.”                       Gabriela, in a letter to Robyn

After completing the programme, Gabriela is now ready to transition into secondary school. Following receiving one-to-one tutoring for her English to drive progress, as well as more strengths-based support, she now has a more positive outlook on school life in Year 7.

*Name changed and image unrelated

together, every child and young person can flourish.