Case study: Go Higher West Yorkshire

Go Higher West Yorkshire (GHWY) delivers the Uni Connect programme funded by the OfS. It is a partnership of 13 diverse local higher education providers that seeks to reduce inequalities in higher education access, success and progression.

The partnership is ideally placed to facilitate sustainable cross-sector collaboration and innovation. Local authorities are key partners in widening participation. It's vital that higher education providers work with them to develop evidence-based practice in the interests of care experienced young people.

GHWY has designed a continuous professional development (CPD) programme which is informed by several evidence-based strategic principles. The following related insights from literature demonstrate the situational context of the programme, including the obstacles facing care experienced young people and the opportunities to address these.

  1. Equipping key influencers: Evidence suggests that a proportion of key influencers hold low aspirations for care experienced young people, as well as insufficient knowledge and experience to support them on the path to higher education (The Who Cares? Trust, 2012; ICM Unlimited, 2019).
  2. Contextualised approach: Being care experienced has a significant impact on young people’s circumstances, needs and identity during their transition to higher education (Bluff et al, 2012; O’Neill et al, 2019).
  3. Immersive outreach: Welcoming community influencers into local higher education campuses helps to establish a feeling of belonging and situates these spaces within communities’ sense of place (Formby et al, 2020).

As part of its ‘Care to Go Higher’ work strand, GHWY has worked in partnership with local authorities to deliver an innovative training programme for adults who live or work with care experienced young people. This will help them to support these young people to make informed choices about their educational progression.

Foster carers, children’s home support workers and personal advisors from across West Yorkshire are invited to attend a series of six training sessions held on university and college campuses (when possible).

Participants are introduced to the different types of higher education available on their doorstep and beyond, including colleges and specialist providers as well as more traditional and Russell Group universities.

Delivery of the programme takes place over six months. It combines bespoke classroom-based learning with on-campus experiences to inform first-hand perceptions and perspectives about the higher education experience and its value.

Experiences include meeting care experienced students and support staff, campus tours and ‘graduating’ from the programme. Participants’ learning outcomes are measured by the following indicators:

  • knowledge related to higher education
  • understanding of the experience of care leavers in higher education
  • aspirations for care leavers
  • perceived value of higher education
  • engagement with support role
  • feeling equipped to support choices.

The value of GHWY’s multi-layered local collaborative approach is embedded throughout the programme. Drawing on higher education providers’ diverse environments and expertise without a focus on recruitment to higher education is key to the programme approach.

GHWY employed a ‘mixed methods’ approach to evaluating with the pilot cohort, taking influence from a realist evaluation approach which explores how, why and in what circumstances an intervention works.

The evaluation found that the programme has a strong impact on participants’ knowledge, understanding and perception of higher education – particularly in relation to experience of care.

Furthermore, the evidence shows that participants engage more strongly with the influence they can have over young people, and their ability to advocate for young people’s potential, as a result of participating in the programme.

Four key themes emerged as representative of the greatest programme impact and implications:

  1. As a result of attending the programme, key influencers trust higher education providers to care for their young people.
  2. Key influencers had little prior knowledge of college-based higher education, but assess this option as highly valuable to care experienced young people.
  3. The programme has helped key influencers to recognise and articulate the potential that care experienced young people show.
  4. Foster carers highlight the importance of being equipped to advocate for young people and ask the right questions of other professionals.

The Care to Go Higher programme of CPD has shown that becoming equipped to support young people’s decisions is a multidimensional process, and is therefore best measured by the sum of its parts rather than the whole.

For example, the value of the concept and language of ‘care’ came through strongly in the evaluation, highlighting the lens through which key influencers develop positive responses to all higher education environments.

Addressing care-specific misconceptions, as well as raising awareness of a broad range of routes into higher education and diverse local higher education environments, all contribute to developing a workforce of key influencers that is better informed, experienced and equipped to guide young people’s informed decision making based on their circumstances.

Building on GHWY’s wider approach, which champions community engagement in widening participation, the CPD programme brings widening participation into local, specialised communities and gives well-positioned supporters the tools to harness their influence over young people’s self-efficacy and educational choices.

Higher education providers working together to achieve this ensures exposure to a broad range of local provision, reinforcing key influencers’ ability to support care experienced young people’s informed choices.

Read the full report including GHWY’s recommendations for policy and practice.

The Who Cares? Trust, 2012, ‘Open doors, open minds: Is the care system helping looked-after children progress into further and higher education?’. London, The Who Cares? Trust.

ICM Unlimited, 2019, ‘Perceptions of higher education outreach and access activity’. London, Office for Students.

Bluff, B, King, N, and McMahon, G, 2012, ‘A phenomenological approach to care leavers’ transition to higher education’. Procedia: Social and Behavioral Sciences 69, pp952-959.

O’Neill, L, Harrison, N, Fowler, N, and Connelly, G, 2019, ‘"Being a student with care experience is very daunting”: Findings from a survey of care-experienced students in Scottish colleges and universities’. Glasgow, Centre for Excellence for Children’s Care and Protection.

Formby, A, Woodhouse A, and Basham, J, 2020, ‘Reframing widening participation towards the community: A realist evaluation’, Journal of Widening Participation and Lifelong Learning 22 (2), pp184-201.

Further details

Find out more about the project.

Contact [email protected] for more information.

Published 10 May 2021

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