How kitemark sees surge in students from care

Jo Stephenson
Monday, June 11, 2012

More care leavers are in further education since the introduction of the quality mark
More care leavers are in further education since the introduction of the quality mark

Project: Quality Mark for Care Leavers

Funding: Funders include Buttle UK, Esmée Fairbairn Foundation, Sylvia Adams Charitable Trust, and the Scottish Funding Council. The scheme costs £1,000 for higher education institutions and £300 for further education colleges

Purpose: To improve support in further and higher education for young people leaving care

Background: In 2000, Buttle UK commissioned a five-year research project by the Institute of Education to examine the experiences of the minority of students in higher education who came from care. The By Degrees study revealed an underestimation of care leavers’ ability and potential and found they were “being deprived of most educational opportunities open to other people”. “When we presented the findings to university vice chancellors, many didn’t even know they had young people from care in their universities,” says Buttle UK chief executive Gerri McAndrew.

Action: Buttle UK went on to develop the Quality Mark for Care Leavers, which launched in 2006 for universities and was recently extended to further education colleges. “The quality mark is recognition of a commitment to improve practice in relation to care leavers,” explains McAndrew.

To gain the quality mark, which is awarded for a three-year period, institutions must show they have a robust strategy to support students with a care background. “It isn’t like some kitemark schemes where it’s one-size-fits-all,” says McAndrew. “The strategy is particular to each place.”

The scheme has helped boost partnership work between education and social care. However, McAndrew says there is more work to be done to raise awareness among local authority leaving care and education welfare teams.

Currently, 88 universities – more than half of all universities in the UK – have the quality mark, with 36 further education colleges set to come on board following a pilot.

Outcome: Since the launch of the By Degrees report in 2005 and development of the quality mark, the proportion of university students who are care leavers has risen from one per cent to around six per cent. The quality mark has led to a huge increase in the services and support available to young care leavers going to university, says McAndrew. Of the 88 universities with the quality mark, 70 offer accommodation 365 days a year and the majority now have admissions procedures that take account of care leavers’ needs. More now offer summer schools, buddying and mentoring schemes, special open days and bursaries. Seventy-three per cent of care leavers choose quality mark institutions when choosing universities according to the applications body Ucas.

One college reported a retention rate of about 40 per cent for care leavers in 2008/09, which soared to 72 per cent the following year after the quality mark process.

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