Mini-PATHs: Using future aspirations to re-engage with learning

As part of an evidence-informed approach to needs assessment, staff at our Suffolk academy have observed the powerful role future aspirations play in re-engaging students in learning.

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About Mini-PATHs

The Mini-PATH (planning alternative tomorrows with hope) meeting is a central component of our AP outreach offer in Suffolk. This participatory needs assessment provides an effective way to identify each student’s underlying needs and develop an understanding of their interests, motivations and future aspirations. The summary report sets out positives to build on, challenges to accept and goals to work towards, with both the student and all adults involved committing to support the process. The resulting AP outreach offer can then support the short-term goals, which students recognise are necessary steps towards fulfilling their longer-term ambitions.

OA Sf Mini PATH example
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The following case study demonstrates the power of using mini-PATHs to better understand and connect with students for successful engagement in AP outreach programmes and learner outcomes.


A partnership agreement was made with the home school and staff at Olive AP Academy - Suffolk (OA-Sf) worked with leaders to assess the priority challenges they were facing. The OA-Sf team provided coaching on topics including:

  • approaches to students with SEND;
  • consistent behaviour management;
  • Zones of Regulation.

A priority group of 14 Key Stage 4 students were identified, with the following challenges:

  • They had low school attendance, most being classed as severely absent, and even when at school, went missing from lessons. As a result, these mostly female students were on track to sit few or no GCSEs, which would drastically limit their post-16 options.
  • Mini-PATH meetings made it possible to uncover the reasons for poor attendance and resistance to learning. The challenges that emerged from the 14 meetings was a general cycle of seeing little point in exams, then not attending lessons, which further reduced expectations for exams.
  • In addition to these challenges, the student who is the subject for this case study had difficulty in trusting adults, in particular school staff. The root cause was a safeguarding incident when they were younger. This led her to think few adults had her best interests in mind and she was resistant to offers of support. Her learning had suffered, and she had little ambition for post-16.

The focus of this case study is the second pillar of our outreach continuum:

Continuum for Mini PATH case study
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The solution

  • The student was prone to outbursts and rapid escalation of incidents due to her low level of trust in adults. Her poor attendance and refusal to take part in lessons, meant her confidence as a learner was very low. Through the mini-PATH process, OA-Sf staff found she had an interest in hair and beauty and a wish to work towards a job in that industry. This offered an ambition and helped her motivation to engage.
  • Together with four other students with similar, low levels of confidence and trust in adults, she participated in a part-time AP outreach group at OA-Sf for one day per week for two terms. This intervention aimed to support her to catch-up enough to sit a core set of GCSEs, which would give her the opportunity to pursue her interest in studying hair and beauty.
  • She took part in trust and relationship building activities and practiced the use of Zones of Regulation. Additional tailored support helped her to understand her reactions and manage her anger.
OA Sf Mini PATH case study
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The impacts

By providing a clear understanding of how the short-term goals to engage with AP outreach and sit GCSEs links with the student’s future ambitions of wanting a career in hair and beauty, we were able to interrupt the cycle of disinterest and affect the perceived low importance of exams.

The mini-PATH also enabled us to build a support network around the student to develop wellbeing goals, linked to building trust in adults and gaining in self-confidence, as well as developing learning goals, which was key to the successful outcomes and our ambition to deliver lasting impacts.


  • The student’s overall attendance improved, with 100% attendance for the days at OA-Sf and higher overall attendance at her home school.


  • Her self-confidence grew considerably, so much so that she could approach school staff for support when she needed it.

Emotional regulation:

  • The pastoral leader stated that both her home life and school life were on a much more even keel and she was using Zones of Regulation strategies regularly. These have helped her to remain calmer and to better describe the support she would like.


  • This pupil sat six GCSEs in the summer, including English and maths, achieving a grade 3 or above in all subjects.

Post-16 education:

  • She has enrolled on a level 2 diploma course at an FE college and has settled in well.

Ellen Watson

Head of Academy, Olive AP Academy - Suffolk

This pupil thought educational success was for other people. She didn't see the point of trying because she thought she would fail. We worked closely with her to understand why she held this view so that we could put the right support in place. By teaching her to name her emotions and to self-regulate better, she became more confident and felt positive about what the future could look like, recognising that engaging in education was the way to open doors.

For more information about mini-PATHs or any aspect of Olive Academies' AP outreach offer, please contact us:

T: 01708 982624


Our commitment

In line with the DfE’s SEND and AP Improvement Plan, Olive Academies is committed to working with local mainstream schools to help them better support pupils before exclusion is considered.

Find out more about our approach