How to Improve Access to Higher Education

Former Who Cares? Scotland employee, Robert Foster talks about the importance of widening access to education for Care Experienced people and the responsibilities of Corporate Parents.

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When the Commission on Widening Access published their report with final recommendations on how to improve access to Higher Education, I immediately scanned it to see if they had included anything on the poor outcomes of Care Experienced people. I wasn’t let down.

The Commission did a really important thing before publishing their final report: they listened. They listened to a whole host of Care Experienced young people who told the Commission about their experiences of accessing education and how having experience of being brought up in care had an impacted their chances.

The Commission report comes at a time when the terrible outcomes young people in care face are in the spotlight. On April 1st 2015, every college and university in Scotland became a Corporate Parent to Care Experienced young people. A responsibility that brings new duties and great opportunities.

For the last six months, Who Cares? Scotland has been working in partnership with ten colleges and universities, supporting our further and higher education institutions to listen to care experienced young people in order to be the best Corporate Parent they can be.

For too long the educational outcomes for care experienced young people have been drastically lower than the general population. Only 40% of pupils with care experience gain a National 5 compared to 84% of their non-looked after peers.

7% of Care Experienced young people leave school to take up a place at University. That is an improvement on ten years ago but still a long way from the 39% of the general population who go to University straight from School.

A lack of qualifications is a very obvious barrier to any young person accessing further or higher education but physically not being in school to learn and build relationships could have far wider repercussions.

Almost 80% of Care Experienced young people leave school at 16 and they are also 7 times more likely to be excluded from school. When taking into consideration the upheaval of multiple placement moves and the number of meetings attend meetings during school hours, is it any wonder that only 7% of Scotland’s Care Experienced children are going to University?

I have a five year old son, and I want him to achieve everything he sets out to do in life. Corporate Parents should have the same aspiration for their children. The fact that the education outcomes for this group of young people are so low should be front page news. These are Scotland’s children and they are being let down.

I am really lucky that my job at Who Cares? Scotland allows me to support Care Experienced young people to have their voice heard to ensure corporate parents and groups like the Commission on Widening Access can make the changes that are desperately needed.

Many of the young people I work with don’t have formal qualifications let alone University degrees, but they are amongst the most capable and aspirational young people I have ever met. They want to be estate agents, lawyers, politicians, blacksmiths and singers. If we do not work together to make education more accessible, those aspirations will turn to nothing.

Our work with colleges and universities is something that has never been done before in Scotland. The project, Corporate Parenting and You, is funded by the Scottish Funding Council as they seek to deliver on their national ambition for Care Experienced students.

Five colleges and five universities have been selected to take part in the project with the aim of supporting them to become the best Corporate Parent that they can be. Providing training to staff within these institutions is key to the success of the project and since the launch, we have trained Principals, senior managers, board members and key practitioners, ensuring that the voice of young care experienced people are at the heart of these training sessions.

We want to see colleges and universities take action and stand up for Care Experienced young people. We want to create learning environments that are welcoming, supportive and accessible. That’s why we’re happy that every institution we are training is taking the Pledge to Listen as they develop their Corporate Parenting plan.

The college and university staff that we are training take their new responsibilities seriously. Very few were aware of the issues facing Care Experienced young people or the barriers that stop them from achieving their full potential. We have, however, seen a real willingness across the Post 16 sector to make life better for Care Experienced people. There is recognition that it will be an institution’s people that make the difference.

As well as providing face to face training, we are developing an online training resource for colleges and universities. We want to ensure that all staff have an understanding of the issues faced by Care Experienced young people and know their duties as a Corporate Parent. Who Cares? Scotland will also be hosting the first ever Corporate Parenting in FE/HE conference on June 7th. We’re bringing together staff from every college and university in Scotland to share ideas and give an overview of the work that we have done so far.

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