Looked-after children less likely to attend higher education, study shows

Nina Jacobs
Wednesday, May 20, 2020

Young people in care or those who experienced care at 13 or 14 have significantly lower expectations of attending higher education than their peers, new research shows.

Universities have been urged to support potential students with care experience. Picture: Adobe Stock
Universities have been urged to support potential students with care experience. Picture: Adobe Stock

A report, produced by Cardiff University research centre CASCADE in collaboration with the What Works for Children’s Social Care (WWCSC) initiative, found expectations of higher education attendance decreased as these care experienced young people got older.

The new analysis of the Next Steps data, which follows the progress of a group of young people born between 1989 and 1990 in England, was supplemented by face-to-face interviews with 23 care-experienced young people.

The research reveals those young people who thought in Year 9 they were likely to apply to a higher education provider (HEP) were much less likely to be in higher education aged 20 if they were care-experienced.

These lower expectations and gap in higher education attendance remained even when the young people’s special educational needs status, history of school exclusions and family benefit levels were taken into account, the report explains.

The findings show young people’s expectations for their own future are shaped by others’ expectations for them, including support offered by their schools and teachers, the priority social workers give to their education and the support of their carers.

The role of HEPs was also important in terms of encouraging these young people to apply and attend, the report states.

However, it uncovers variable levels of support for young people, with some local authorities not giving enough attention to young people’s transition to higher education or wellbeing during their time there.

The study found that when HEPs did offer support to care-experienced young people, it met their needs and reduced anxiety about transitions to higher education.

But the investigation highlights support was not provided by all of the HEPs attended by participants in the study.

Despite the report’s conclusions that many care-experienced young people’s expectations of higher education lower throughout their educational journey, it says there are many individuals and organisations that can bring about positive change.

“The qualitative findings show that social workers, teachers, and higher education providers can all contribute to ensure that young people believe in themselves, in their chances for the future, and are given every tool and opportunity to achieve what they set out to,” it states.

WWCSC said it had launched a call for evidence and practice from HEPs, local authorities, charities and other organisations to better its understanding of how they supported care-experienced young people to access and succeed in higher education.

The evaluation, in partnership with the Centre for Transforming Access and Student Outcomes in Higher Education (TASO), will feed into a report to be published later this year.

Dr Michael Sanders, WWCSC’s chief executive, said often when care experienced young people progressed to higher education, they had a different experience to their peers.

“This report helps shine a light on differences in students’ expectations, how these change over time, and what young people themselves say is important in encouraging and supporting them,” he said.

Susannah Hume, TASO’s establishing director, said the centre strived to improve the lives of young people through evidence-based practice in higher education.

“This report makes an important contribution to understanding the barriers faced by care experienced young people in accessing and succeeding in higher education,” she said.



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