(Stilt) walking towards success - Harry’s journey with West London Zone

  • Harry was struggling academically as well as in his confidence, and found himself on a path to low grades, poor attendance, and low self-belief
  • West London Zone, together with Jessica, his Link Worker, created a two-year tailor-made programme which focused on raising his confidence – and his grades
  • This programme brought in local activities and support groups which taught him life lessons through some unlikely ways

What does stilt walking have to do with improved academic grades? 

Sometimes, the way we feel about ourselves can have a trickle-down effect, a downward spiral where low esteem stops us from fulfilling our potential.

Take Harry, who joined the West London Zone programme at the beginning of Year 3, thanks to a combination of teacher and parental insights and data collected through our Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire – a wellbeing measurement tool used to identify children struggling with their social and emotional wellbeing. He was identified as being high risk in academics, working far below age expected levels in reading, writing and maths, but also at risk in confidence. From conversations with teachers, parents and Harry himself, it became evident that his low academic attainment related very much to his behaviour towards learning, which in turn led from his lack of confidence, rather than any lack of academic ability.

This manifested itself when Harry made a mistake; he grew overly concerned, found it challenging to stay calm, and to persevere when he found something difficult. Trying to manage these feelings in class was a big barrier to his learning, and he would become fundamental to the tailor-made programme that he embarked upon, with West London Zone and Jessica, his Link Worker. 

Linking up support

Integral to the West London Zone programme, the Link Worker acts as champion, mentor, and programme facilitator, exploring all angles and taking the time to gain insight in order to create a bespoke two-year plan. Crucially, they can introduce a child to local opportunities from West London Zone Delivery Partners, from art therapy to academic tuition, which can be the difference in getting a child back on track. These local opportunities will already exist, but barriers such as lack of awareness, community linking, or understanding mean that not all young people are able to access them. 

Jessica built a picture of the type of support that Harry needed across the two years

After looking at the quantitative data collected from Harry’s school, Gateway Academy, and speaking with his teachers, parents, and Harry himself, Jessica built a picture of the type of support that he needed across the two years. Specifically for Harry, this meant pushing his confidence and linking his goals around aiming high and staying positive. 

Starting the steps towards success

Starting out on the West London Zone programme, Harry took part in a number of support sessions organised by Jessica, all focused towards developing strategies to cope when facing something difficult – as well as identifying and celebrating when he was doing something well. For example, Jessica ran support sessions using Matthew Syed’s ‘You Are Awesome’ journal, to explore themes such as success and failure, motivation, goal-setting and confidence. Harry made good progress in these sessions, and they set the groundwork for all the other activities as Jessica could regularly refer back to the strategies that they worked on together.

Skills on stilts - a life lesson in perseverance

Jessica then coordinated support sessions with a number of our Delivery Partners. In Harry’s case, these included circus skills training workshops with And Circus; drama workshops with Tie Dye Drama; arts and craft workshops with Kite Studios; street dance lessons with Arch 197, and sessions with Hackney Speech and Language Therapy. Jessica remained a constant presence throughout, ensuring they all furthered Harry’s bespoke goals of improving confidence, staying positive and aiming high. 

During And Circus sessions, Harry initially found the stilts difficult to master – perhaps not unreasonably – but with the support of Jessica and the workshop facilitator, Harry did not give up! He was eventually able to take his first steps unaided; a huge accomplishment not only physically, but a demonstrable life lesson in the art of perseverance. Similarly, while at Tie Dye Drama, Harry was steered by them towards taking pride in his successes, especially after initially finding something challenging. This change in his mindset gradually became increasingly noticeable inside the classroom. Indeed, Harry began recognising this himself, telling Jessica that he had started to put his hand up more in class – a huge change in his behaviour.


Delivery Partners like And Circus & Tie Dye Drama encourage young people to come out of their comfort zones and try new things

Family support is key

Over the course of the two-year programme, Jessica ensured she built and maintained a positive and trusted relationship with Harry’s mother, either through phone calls or informal texts, or else catching up at the school gates. This family involvement is key, and is something identified in the recently published Independent Review of Children’s Social Care, which quoted parents frustrated at the revolving door nature of other programmes. Harry’s mother was involved in it all – the support sessions, the classes, and the goals – as well as being kept abreast with Harry’s progress.


Building a trusted relationship with his parents was key to Harry's progress

Jessica could also then further the support network of organisations within their community. Harry joined online Science Museum activities, as well as an after school programme at the Grand Junction, an arts venue offering an eclectic programme of music, arts and performance for young people and families. Harry also attended several activities during the school holidays; his newfound passion for creativity meant Jessica found plenty of opportunities to engage him, from dance to drama. 

Laying the foundations - for Harry the sky’s the limit

At the end of the programme, Harry is now no longer at risk academically, having made good progress in reading, writing, and maths. But fundamental to this was that his confidence grew, in part thanks to the support and activities he became involved in. His mindset towards challenges had shifted – no longer did he retreat into himself, but used techniques to overcome. This is exemplified in his dance classes with Arch 197; Harry ended his course by volunteering for solo freestyle opportunities, and his newfound positivity was infectious – he had become a reliable role model to others. 

The progress that Harry made means that he entered Year 5 as a more confident young person, academically on track, and able to tackle challenges with a much more positive mindset.

And with a new lifelong skill of stilt walking under his belt!

together, every child and young person can flourish.