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Ways to Wellbeing Case Study

A DfE Community Learning | Mental Health Research site 

Our Southend Community College (SACC) DfE Community Learning | Mental Health research phase-1 IAG offer (April 2015-March 2016), was carefully designed at the bid stage of the process, in order to maximise the potential for increasing the capacity for positive behaviour change in our learners.  We wanted to achieve the following through the IAG, where possible.

Positive Role Modelling

Self-efficacy theory[1]as described by the psychologist Albert Bandura (1998), has four domains, one of which is titled vicarious experience – basically if we can see that people similar to us are doing OK, we can develop a growth mindset that we too, despite our challenges, can do the same. In Southend, we therefore recruited people with lived experience of mental health problems, and crucially the right transferable skillset, to deliver IAG.  We trained them in the project values and processes before we went to formal recruitment of research volunteers which meant we invested in people up front, and allowed them to step gradually into recruitment, at their own pace.  The power of the process was shared with the candidate by the prospective employer, and the option of voluntary work remained as stepping stone option towards employment.

Embedding social connection

There is recent evidence that shows better outcomes for people with depression if social connections are present, or boosted.  We tried to embed social connection from the start, calling our IAG providers wellbeing coaches, and making sure their training included experiencing some of the courses they would be enrolling people onto.  We also provided coaches with signposting training, so that we could not only advise on our own course offer (where social connection is embedded in course design) but also encourage and support people to access other local opportunities.

Using a goal-setting structure for IAG

With up to 3 hours of one-to-one IAG mandated for our learners by the research specification, we wanted to make use of the GROW model coaching tool, to support learners to move forward and experience success.  This gave our coaches and learners a structure for their conversations.  We ran workshops on the GROW model so learners could use GROW as a tool for themselves and others in future.

What it looks like in practice

This is how our IAG offer came together from the perspective of the first wellbeing coach we recruited, Nina Dodson.

"Learner A* had anxiety and a lack of confidence when they came to our first 1:1 meeting during which they were frequently tearful.  After reviewing the courses we had on offer they thought mindfulness would be a good choice to help Learner A notice their thought patterns and learn to relax.

Learner A was also on the waiting list for NHS therapy but felt they needed some 1:1 support as soon as possible.  They decided to take up the full offer of our coaching (IAG) sessions of 3 hours. During our first appointment Learner A spoke about patterns of bullying that had reoccurred as a child and young adult.  They felt that a lack of confidence meant they were unable to be assertive and they now tended to presume the worst would happen.

Using our coaching tools we looked at where they would like to be if there were no obstacles. The main goals Learner A had was to be able to manage anxiety, so that they could pass their driving test.  Until now, nerves had got in the way. They also spoke of travelling, but due to bad experiences with it in the past, was fearful to try it again.

Learner A spaced four coaching conversations with me over the course of a few months, whilst they attended learning.  We made links to the learning in the mindfulness course, and the idea that they could observe thoughts, rather than get caught up in them.   To support the development of self-efficacy, we introduced a diary for to write down the things they had done well at the end of each day (mastery experiences domain).  They also used the diary to record things they were thankful for  - another evidence-based strategy used in positive psychology.

Through the on-course mindfulness learning, we worked on shifting the inner dialogue to a more kind and positive one. Learner A began to learn that other people’s opinions were not ‘truth’. The mindfulness course was also teaching Learner A how to observe thoughts and feelings, and that they could choose to step away from these and just be in the moment if anxiety became overwhelming.

On our third session Learner A spoke with great pride and a bit of surprise that during a confrontation involving a friend and someone else they were able to calm the situation and defend the friend. This step made Learner A realise that maybe they could do that for themselves too.

In our final session Learner A walked in, all smiles, told me they had put mascara on today as they knew they wouldn’t cry like they had in our previous meetings. The driving test was booked.  Learner A was feeling confident, and they had been firm but fair with a boss that had been messing them around.  Lastly the big two month trip overseas was finalised.

For Learner A the combination of learning and IAG supported them to become more confident and take charge of life. Being able to talk to someone who understands anxiety, having the space to work through issues, stepping out of the comfort zone and into a learning environment in a supported manner saw Learner A’s anxiety levels decrease and wellbeing rise considerably.

A few months after completing their learning and IAG, Learner A sent me an email.

"Just a quick note to say that I'm back from my big USA and Canada trip and I'm sooo glad I did it! I had an amazing time and enjoyed every place I visited :) and I passed my driving test!! Thank you for your encouragement.

I've also applied for a full time job from May to August and I have an interview next week!"


[1]Self-Efficacy: The Exercise of Control , A. Bandura (1997)


Where next?


Lou Mycroft's picture

Jessica, I have loved reading your case study.

I love how your values are embedded in the small detail of your approach, calling the IAG colleagues Wellbeing Coaches, for example.  What you describe here is truly holistic, with the student's wellbeing right at the centre.  No deficit, no patronising, no needing to mend anyone.  A genuine commitment to each person achieving their potential.

Reading this has been a fabulous start to my day.  Thank you.

Lou x

sallybetts's picture

Hi Jessica

Thank you for sharing both your approach and your learner's journey. What a positive difference to this person's life in such a short space of time. It just shows the true power of really listening to people right at the start, not making decisions on their behalf or brushing aside their anxieties and tears. 

I really like the fact that your IAG Wellbing Coaches, have tried some of the courses too. I think being able to speak about the course knowing exactly what is covered and how is so helpful, they can talk with a passion for the course. For the same reason in a good restaurant a chef would asked the Waitors/Waitresses to taste the dishes prior to a service.

I really look forward to hearing more learner journeys.


Jessica Russell's picture

Thank you Sally and Lou, your words are much appreciated :)

As a counter balance, I will post something where things don't always go so well, which really underlines the importance of IAG.  I hope you are both well :)


Jessica Russell's picture

Nina Dodson, who did the coaching/IAG and initial write-up and Catina saving me from a formatting nightmare. 


Thanks Jessica - this is a really good read and I am aware of Banduras paper so good to see how you are using this in context of the project. Thanks for sharing

Hi Jessica, I can hear the passion in your words. It is a real thrill to see people transform their lives and you have captured that beautifully. Thank you for sharing.

Hi Jessica

this is really interesting and as i'm new to the pilot really enthused me in developing meaningful IAG. I hope to have some intersting case studies to explore with colleagues on this site.

Hi Jessica,

thank you for shring your case study. I have read it with interest and am going to talk to our team in Nottingham about the idea of adopting Wellbeing Coach as a mindset as well as a role title. So much more than IAG can ever be. 

Kind regards