Topic briefing: Care leavers
Questions for universities and colleges to consider:
1. How are you collecting evidence to enable you to develop a strategic understanding of the challenges faced by care leavers and looked-after young people in the areas of access, student success, and progression?
How do you contribute to the overall support care leavers and looked-after young people receive to help to progress at every stage of the student lifecycle?
2. How do you robustly evaluate the impact of your work with care leavers and looked-after young people?
How will you contribute to national evidence by sharing these findings to help inform effective practice?
How will you engage with further research being undertaken to enhance policy development and improve practice concerning care leavers and looked-after young people across the country?
3. How could you better listen to and engage with care leavers and looked-after young learners, individually and collectively, so that you can provide effective support and address any barriers facing them?
For example, do you have a named point of contact for care leavers to get in touch with?
Do you provide clear, accessible and timely information to care leavers about the support available to them?
Do you engage with the Who Cares? Trust interactive website which outlines the support available to care leavers within higher education?
4. How do staff members at your institution work flexibly and collaboratively with others at all levels across the institution to support care leavers? You may wish to consider:
- providing regular working groups involving representative from across different departments
- taking a consistent approach to the delivery of support to care leavers across the institution
5. How do you work with external partners to support care leavers?
How are you collaborating with Local Authorities and networks such as the National Network for the Education of Care Leaversto provide sustained pathways of support for care leavers?
What systems do you have in place to monitor and evaluate collaborative activity to ensure that your collective resources are having impact?
6. What mechanisms do you have in place to develop and test new, impactful approaches to target care leavers and looked-after young people in your unique institutional context?
Building on the legacy of Buttle UK’s Quality Mark, which recognised and celebrated activities undertaken by institutions to support care leavers, how will you develop new and impactful approaches, both individually and collaboratively, to ensure care leavers remain supported at your institution?
About this briefing
This briefing gives an overview of the current challenges around access, success and progression for care leavers and how, through their access agreements, universities and colleges are working to support students who have previously been in care. It also suggests questions that institutions might wish to consider when developing their work in this area.
We hope this briefing will stimulate thinking and discussion about how care leavers and looked-after young people could be supported more effectively by universities and colleges, using evidence-led, focused approaches.
How do we define care leavers?
A care leaver is often defined by higher education providers as someone aged between 18 and 21 (or beyond if being helped with education or training) who, immediately before turning 18, was under the care of a Local Authority or a Health and Social Care Trust. We suggest using a wider definition – to include all those who have experienced care at any stage in their lives. This reflects the fact that there are profound differences in outcomes for people who have experience of being in care compared with those who do not.
What do we know about the participation of care leavers in higher education?
Statistics show that people who have experienced being in care have significantly worse outcomes across a wide range of measures compared to those who have not been in care. The graph below shows the very low proportion of care leavers entering higher education. In 2012 only 5.6 per cent of care leavers entered higher education, compared to 59.6 per cent of young people from the most advantaged areas and 20.4 per cent of young people from the most disadvantaged areas.
In response to this worryingly low participation rate, OFFA is placing greater emphasis on supporting care leavers in our access agreement guidance. OFFA has also worked closely with the Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA) to include a marker for institutions to identify care leavers in their statistical returns to enable more robust monitoring of sector performance in supporting care leavers.
Figure 1: Participation rate of young undergraduate entrants to higher education
Source: Children looked after in England (including adoption and care leavers) year ending 31 March 2014: additional tables. Table F2, National tables FSR36/2013.
Note: The latest available data for care leaver participation covers the 2012-13 cohort. The latest available comparable analysis on the participation rate of young entrants from most advantaged and disadvantaged backgrounds covers the 2011-12 cohort (see HEFCE’s Trends in young participation in higher education report).
The importance of tailored information
It is important that care leavers have access to clear information. Their status as care-leavers should be handled carefully and with discretion.
To access Government financial support or tailored support packages from institutions, students must disclose the fact that they have experience of care. However, not all young people want to disclose this information for a variety of reasons. Better information about the support available to care leavers and looked-after young people, disseminated to all potential students, may encourage care leavers to disclose their status and receive the support to which they are entitled.
How are care leavers being supported?
What we are seeing in access agreements, and how this work can be developed further
About 80 per cent of institutions refer to care leavers in their 2015-16 access agreements. Some institutions have comprehensive and holistic support mechanisms in place to support care leavers across the whole student lifecycle. However the majority of activities outlined in 2015-16 access agreements focus on the access stage of the student lifecycle.
- There is a particular focus on supporting care leavers during the admissions process.
- Access activities referred to by institutions concerning care leavers include subject-specific activities, pre-entry visits to the institution, taster sessions, summer schools and pre-entry attainment raising.
- A third of institutions refer to undertaking long-term outreach activity with care leavers and looked-after children.
- 8 per cent of institutions specifically mention outreach work with the Virtual Schools local authorities have established to monitor and accelerate the progress of children in care.
- About 7 per cent of institutions provide awareness-raising activities for foster families and carers. For example, York St John University works with the professional support workers, foster carers and other influencers of looked-after children in two Virtual Schools in York and North Yorkshire.
- Only 10 per cent of institutions mention targeted transition support for care leavers in their 2015-16 access agreements. As highlighted by the 2013 Care Leaver Strategy, the transition to adulthood is a critical point in the lives of care leavers. We therefore encourage institutions to consider how they can best support care leavers at this important stage, and tell us about planned activities in their access agreements.
- Progress from further education is a common route into higher education for care leavers. Effectively supporting this transition is important. At Newman University, care leavers receive targeted support from pre-application and whilst on course. Care leavers have the opportunity to attend pre-induction events to assist with the smooth transition into university life, such as meeting key university staff and familiarising themselves with the campus. They also receive priority acceptance on Newman’s pre-entry course for undergraduates.
- Almost 40 per cent of institutions mention activities aimed at supporting student success outcomes for learners who have experience of being in care.
- Of these activities, mentoring and peer-assisted learning schemes for care leavers are the most frequently mentioned, with around a quarter of institutions referring to them in access agreements. For example, Bishop Grosseteste University run the Joint Universities Mentoring Project (JUMP), which operates in collaboration with local authority, community and university partners to provide care leavers with a mentoring scheme.
- Newman University give care leavers guaranteed access to year-round accommodation as well as specialist student support to enable them to reach their academic potential.
- Some institutions tell us that they provide a named contact and designated and sustained programmes of pastoral support for care leavers. We will continue to encourage institutions to articulate initiatives such as these in their access agreements in future.
- Only 6 per cent of institutions tell us that they are providing support to care leavers to progress into employment and/or further study through their access agreements. We encourage institutions to consider how they could better support care leavers to prepare for life beyond their course of study, by working with local authorities and employers.
- Care leavers are still likely to need support as they prepare to progress into employment or further study alongside other groups of students from disadvantaged backgrounds. It is important that institutions planning progression activities consider the specific needs of care leavers (for example, around accommodation immediately following graduation).
- There is a role for institutions to play in developing the sector’s understanding of effective practice in this area.
- There are many sources of financial support available to care leavers entering higher education, some of which is funded by institutions through access agreements. Other sources of funding include Government, local authorities and charities such as The Care Leavers’ Foundation.
- Care leavers are entitled to a minimum bursary of £2,000 from their local authority (funded by the Department for Education) up to the age of 25. Most local authorities also offer additional support, for example including accommodation during holidays.
- Almost 60 per cent of institutions provide additional financial support for care leavers either on entry or across the whole student lifecycle through their access agreements. This includes additional accommodation provision, hardship funds, and re-directed National Scholarship Programme support. For example, when applying for accommodation, students at the University of Leeds who can demonstrate that they are leaving public care will have their upfront security deposit waived and can request year-round accommodation.
Information, advice and guidance (IAG)
- Just over a third of institutions talk about providing clear and accessible information and guidance for care leavers in their access agreements. We would encourage more institutions to develop tailored IAG packages for care leavers and ensure that they are accessible to all students regardless of whether they have disclosed a care leaver status. Institutions are encouraged to articulate their development of these IAG packages in access agreements. For example, the University of Staffordshire has developed IAG materials for young people currently in local authority care and their carers. The University is also strengthening links with three local authority schools for looked-after children, and has worked collaboratively with other higher education providers to provide taster and IAG sessions for care leavers.
- Almost all access activity targeting care leavers is delivered by institutions collaborating with schools, local authorities and charities. However, under a third of institutions mention working in collaboration with other higher education providers to target care leavers in their access agreements. In order to help continue to grow the evidence around fair access, we would encourage more institutions to articulate any collaborative activity they are doing in this area.
- For example, Buckinghamshire New University works closely with Buckinghamshire County Council’s Education of Children in Public Care (ECPC) team and with Wycombe District Council to identify barriers to employment for children in care. The University is also a member of the Hillingdon Borough Council Young People’s Education and Skills Strategy Group and, along with Brunel University, supports the Borough Council’s work to improve the attainment and progression among its children in care. Through its membership of the Eastern Universities’ Care Leavers’ Group, the university contributes to the sharing of effective practice, communicates changes in provision and seeks to ensure a consistent approach to the delivery of information, advice and guidance (IAG) to potential care leavers across the region.
- Improved data sharing between institutions and local authorities may enable long term outreach activities to be better targeted at care leavers and reduce the onus on care leavers to disclose their status.
- The number of institutions setting targets on activities to support care leavers has increased since 2012-13 access agreements. In those access agreements, 46 per cent of institutions set targets on care leavers. This number has risen to 64 per cent of institutions in 2015-16 access agreements.
How are others supporting care leavers?
In 2013 the Government published a cross-departmental Care Leavers strategy which emphasised the importance of a long-term, sustained approach to supporting care leavers. This strategy builds on previous care acts, including the Children (Leaving Care) Act (2000) and the Children and Young Persons Act (2008). Both these Acts recognise the barriers faced by care leavers when applying to, and succeeding in, higher education, and set out ways in which people leaving care can be supported.
Buttle UK’s Quality Mark for Care Leavers in further and higher education provided a framework to improve support for looked-after children and care leavers and celebrate the work undertaken by institutions to help them access and succeed in college, university and beyond. Since its launch, 193 higher education providers across the UK (112 higher education institutions and 81 further education colleges) have been awarded the Quality Mark.
National Network for the Education of Care Leavers
Although Buttle UK’s Quality Mark is no longer awarded in England, there are other resources available to the sector, ensuring a continued collaborative commitment to supporting care leavers. For example, the National Network for the Education of Care Leavers (NNECL), brings together higher education providers across England and a number of sector bodies, advocacy groups, and local authorities.
NNECL champions access, success and progression for care leavers through a national network of regional groups where professionals can share and discuss effective practice.
The NNECL website helps to promote outreach activities to the Headteachers of Virtual Schools and other local authority and teaching staff. Universities and colleges can use the NNECL’s website to raise the profile of their work with key operational staff across the country, who can in turn help care leavers to access these awareness and attainment raising activities.
The NNECL website is led and operated by the University of Winchester. Contact NNECL via the NNECL National Collaborative Outreach Network Manager, Rachel Lad (01962 827688, email@example.com).
The Who Cares? Trust
The Who Cares? Trust has launched Propel, a fully searchable website that aims to inspire more young people who have been in care to go to university or college. The website provides details about support available to care leavers. The Trust believes that having a named point of contact and tailored support, such as enhanced financial support, including extended accommodation packages, is vital to overcoming the barriers faced by care leavers and looked-after young people both before, and after entering, higher education, improving both their participation in and experience of higher education.
National Union of Students
The NUS has made better information, advice and guidance for care leavers a strategic priority and future area of focus.