“We’ve experienced so much more reality than other students”

13 October 2020

Today we’ve launched a new project, “Springboard”. Through it, we’re hoping to bust some myths, and to help care experienced young people to grapple with some of the most important decisions they face for their future – their next steps in education.

The project, which is in association with Become; the national charity for care leavers, the National Association of Virtual School Heads (NAVSH), and the Centre for Transforming Access and Student Outcomes (TASO), the what works centre for higher education, draws on the strength of the whole partnership. 

Today’s launch sees the release of the first of a series of videos from care leavers talking about their experiences of higher and further education. Fatimah, a student of Philosophy, Politics and Economics at Brasenose College Oxford, talks about her experience in applying for university, and the support she received from her local authority. 

What resonates most powerfully, though, is her message that care leavers have experienced “so much more reality than other students”, which gives them “something extra to offer the university”. This kind of message is exactly why we embarked on this journey. Care leavers have such a diversity of experience, and those that I’ve had the good fortune to meet and speak with bring an enormous contribution to whatever context they’re in. This isn’t to say that there aren’t challenges as well, but a strengths-based approach demands that we see the huge value that students like Fatimah bring to a university community, and that universities feel the need to recruit and support these students for the benefit to their whole community, as well as for the students themselves. 

Over the coming weeks and months we’ll be releasing more videos drawing on the experiences of care leavers in further and higher education, and some of the same care leavers will be writing letters to care-experienced young people, again sharing their experiences and hopes for the future. Alongside this, we’re really pleased to be supporting Become’s work by funding a new post offering support and guidance to people with care experience contemplating their educational future. 

Although we will of course be evaluating the impacts of this campaign as best we can, there are two reasons that really spurred us to action. First; there is a body of research showing that providing role models to students from groups that are less likely to attend university makes them move likely to apply and go to university; and that the closeness of this role model to their own experiences is important. It’s therefore important that care leavers see others whose experiences they can relate to more closely.

The second reason is that care experienced young people in university can be invisible. It has been said that only 6% of care leavers go to university; something which research by Neil Harrison from the University of Oxford shows isn’t true. The real figure is closer to 12%, which Dr Harrison acknowledges is likely an underestimate itself. Similarly, Harrison has articulately taken apart the truism that care leavers are more likely to go to prison than to university. This matters for public perception of care leavers, as well as care leavers’ own perceptions of themselves. We recognise, though, that statistics and research must be supplemented by a positive, truthful narrative, and we hope that this project can help achieve a change in our conversation and impression of care leavers’ educational journeys.

Express your interest in participating in Project Springboard