Topic briefing

Care experienced students and looked after children

Last updated: 31 January 2022

Effective practice advice

We would encourage providers to prioritise the needs of this group to ensure they have the best possible opportunity to access higher education.

Providers should also ensure that students who have been in care have access to high quality pastoral and emotional support, to help them successfully complete their studies and move into employment or further study.

Some suggestions on how to improve support for care leavers are detailed below.

1. Improve data on care leavers

Providers should improve the collection, accuracy and evaluation of care leaver data for prospective and current students.

To do this they will need to engage with those with care experience and local authorities.

Providers can use the data which UCAS collects in the application process to identify care leavers before they enrol.

2. Focus on each stage of the student lifecycle

Studies show that barriers exist for this group at each stage of the student lifecycle, with non-continuation rates being particularly high.

Providers should therefore focus their efforts across each stage of the lifecycle. Suggestions for support at each stage could include:

  • Run attainment raising activities targeted at care leavers, looked after young people and their carers. Virtual schools (local authority teams responsible for the educational achievement of the children in care in their area) can help identify these students.
  • Improve relationships or increasing contact with local authorities and/or virtual schools.
  • Send regular communications to build relationships with applicants.
  • Run tailored open day visits.
  • Offer transport funding to enable travel to events.
  • Establish a dedicated care leaver champion at your provider.
  • Train staff around understanding care experiences.
  • Ensure all care leaver support is published on Propel, enabling care leavers to compare your institution’s offer with others.
  • Provide tailored information, advice and guidance for care leavers, ensuring these are accessible to all students regardless of whether they have disclosed a care leaver status.
  • Promote appropriate alternative routes into higher education for care leavers who apply when they are mature students, or have non-traditional or no qualifications.
  • Offer mentoring and peer-assisted learning schemes.
  • Ask students to review and improve current provision to ensure a student-focused approach.
  • Improve mental health support for care leavers, which could include general emotional and settling in support and as well as working with local authorities to support long-term therapeutic support.
  • Offer care leavers a guaranteed interview for student ambassador and mentor posts.
  • Offer care leavers additional support to participate in placement and year abroad schemes.
  • Offer support at graduation, such as sending a known member of staff to attend graduation, paying for gowns and photos and providing short-term accommodation prior to graduation.
  • Consider how you can better support care leavers to prepare for life beyond their course of study (i.e. accommodation and employment), by working with local authorities, personal advisers and employers.

3. Offer financial support

Under the Children and Young Persons Act 2008, care leavers starting a recognised higher education course may be entitled to a minimum one-off bursary of £2,000 from their local authority. 

We encourage providers to supplement this support. Examples include:

  • targeted fee waivers, bursaries or scholarships, and priority access to hardship funds
  • year-round accommodation
  • support for care leavers liaising with local authorities and the Student Loans Company.

4. Sign up to the Care Leaver Covenant

The Care Leaver Covenant is a cross-governmental pledge to support young people transitioning from care to independence.

We encourage providers to sign up to the covenant to help ensure that students who have been in care receive the best possible support to access and succeed in higher education.

Find out more about the covenant

5. Use the government’s guidance

The Department for Education has published principles to guide higher education providers on improving care leaver’s access and participation in higher education. 

The information is most relevant for senior leaders, widening participation and student support teams.

See the principles

Published 27 July 2020

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