Outline of the WebWheel approach
Key principles of the WebWheel form of learner support are the integration of support provision into the core work of centres for education and training for early school leavers, the adoption of a developmental approach over time and the paying of attention to the social ethos and context of the centre. Members of staff show flexibility and responsiveness to the individual needs of their learners by engaging in mentoring, profiling and individual programme planning processes with them. Profiling is holistic and multi-factorial with attention paid to the learner’s educational and vocational learning, to their personal and social development and to any practical factors acting as barriers to their full participation in the centre. Where necessary the staff engage in inter-agency work with services outside of the centre. Increasing the capacity of a centre to support its learners is achieved through the provision of a programme of staff training and support.
Learner engagement with the centre programme is encouraged through the establishment of a formal mentoring process. Staff members are assigned to learners as their “key workers” and time is set aside each week or fortnight for the key workers to engage in mentoring sessions with their learners. The key worker acts as the first point of contact with the staff team and engages with the learner in an individual profiling and planning process. Mentoring is a form of pastoral care – it is not counselling. Its focus is on the development of a good relationship through which the learner can acquire the confidence and motivation to move forward.
A form of learner assessment is done using the Wheel profiling tool, and this can be considered to represent a form of support intervention in itself. The Wheel examines sixteen factor areas, taking the form of a series of interviews between key worker and learner. The learner is invited to reflect on themselves under each of the factor headings, to rate their situation in terms of whether they perceive it as positive or negative and to identify goals for themselves in relation to that aspect of their lives.
The learner chooses from a five-point scale how they want to rate their situation. This rating is meant to be subjective and has no objective reference point. The purpose of the rating is to help the learner to make an evaluation of their situation and to distinguish between an area of positive strength (5), a situation that is not causing problems (4), a mild problem (3), a relatively serious problem (2) and a situation that is critical and needs urgent action (1).
The ratings are more problem- than strength-focused, but that doesn’t mean the learner shouldn’t be encouraged to identify their strengths, coping strategies and resources and the situations that are working well for them during the profiling sessions. Building on strengths and developing resilience is central to support work. Goals and plans can therefore arise in factors that are rated above or at the line (5 and 4) as well as those that are rated below it (3, 2 and 1).
The mentoring process involved when using the Wheel draws on an adaptation of Gerard Egan’s Skilled Helper Model. This entails bringing the learner through a three-stage process where they are invited 1) to talk about an aspect of their life and to evaluate how happy or otherwise they are with it; 2) to think about how else it might be, if it were to be better, and thus to identify goals; and 3) to plan how, with the support of their key worker, the other staff in the centre and possible services in the community, they will make things better for themselves.
Individual action plans
The individual action plan that is developed out of the Wheel process is thus informed by the learner’s own perceptions of their strengths and needs and is based on their own expressed personal, educational and vocational goals. The plan describes the actions that will be taken in pursuit of these goals. It identifies clearly
the academic or vocational options that will be chosen, covering the subjects / modules to be studied, activities (e.g. sports, music) that will be engaged in and the teaching methodologies that will be used in the various subject areas (e.g. group work, individual attention, visual or tactile approaches, etc.);
the supports to be provided in the centre (e.g. one-to-one literacy, individual counselling, group work, guidance, work experience);
any local services or agencies that will be worked with (e.g. garda liaison, HSE, addiction counselling, money management, etc.).
Many of the problems the learners have are outside the remit of the centre but impact significantly on their participation and progression in the programme. These problems act as barriers to their progress and undermine what can be achieved by the centre. Although there are locally-based agencies and services whose function it is to offer help or support in relation to many of these problem areas learners may fail to engage with them. The key worker however can act as the point of contact between the learner and these services and can facilitate them to access and benefit from the supports available outside of the centre. Inter-agency working is an inherent part of the WebWheel approach.