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New targets have been set for Scotland’s college and university sectors as part of a national ambition to reduce the gap in outcomes between care-experienced students and their peers so that there is parity by 2030.

The Scottish Funding Council’s (SFC) National Ambition for Care-Experienced Students, published at an event to mark the launch of the Action for Children STAY programme, calls for the intake of care-experienced students to be at least 1.6% of the total number of individual students at college, and 1.4% of Scottish-domiciled undergraduate entrants at university by 2022-23.

1.4% of under 18s are care-experienced, yet they only made up 0.9% of Scottish-domiciled undergraduate university entrants in 2017-18, and while they account for 1.6% of total student headcount in FE courses in the college sector, this falls to 0.8% for HE courses) in the college sector in 2017-18.

SFC’s National Ambition also sets targets for reducing the gap in educational outcomes between care-experienced students and those who are not care-experienced.

At all levels, care-experienced students have lower success rates than those who are not care-experienced. In 2017-18 there was a difference of 6.0 percentage points for retention to year two of full-time Undergraduate courses at university, while for full-time FE courses at college the gap in successful completion was 15.6 percentage points. The vision is for equal outcomes by 2030.

SFC Chief Executive Karen Watt said:

“We believe that all of Scotland’s young people should have equal opportunities to access and succeed in further and higher education irrespective of their background. Care-experienced young people and adults include some of the most vulnerable and disadvantaged in our society but they often have the most untapped talent and potential.

“We want to continue to increase the intake of care-experienced students, no matter their age, and improve the positive outcomes of Scotland’s care-experienced students so there is no difference with their peers.

“We look forward to working with our colleges, universities and other corporate parents to achieve the targets and to bring impactful, sustainable and positive change.”

In addition to the National Ambition, SFC also works closely with the college and university sectors, agencies, and organisations such as Who Cares? Scotland to improve the outcomes of care-experienced learners and equality with their peers.

Claudia MacDonald, Director of Influencing at Who Cares? Scotland said:

“We are really delighted to welcome this updated National Ambition for Care-Experienced Students. It is one of a range of positive additional steps towards achieving educational parity between these students and their peers.

“We’re particularly encouraged that targets have now been set on articulation for care-experienced students and we hope to see even more of these students utilising articulation pathways to achieve a degree.

“We know from our members, and the Learner Journey Review, that too often articulation is disjointed and difficult for many care-experienced students to navigate.

“All of us at Who Cares? Scotland look forward to our continued work with SFC, colleges and HEIs to support the achievement of the National Ambition, ensuring that our members are alongside it, guiding and informing it becoming a reality for care-experienced students across the country.”

Care-experienced perspectives

To coincide with the launch of SFC’s National Ambition for Care-Experienced Students, we hear from two care-experienced students about their journey, courtesy of HUB for SUCCESS.

Launched in 2019, HUB for SUCCESS is a partnership of Edinburgh’s universities, colleges and the local authority to increase the educational opportunities open to people who have spent time in care.

The HUB for SUCCESS (Support for University and College for Care-Experienced in South-East Scotland) operates from the City of Edinburgh Council Customer Hub in the Royal Mile. It provides individual information and advice on education opportunities, accommodation and finance, both on a drop-in basis and by making home/campus visits.

Care-experienced student Gary Gallacher’s interest in maths began in primary school.

“I was diagnosed with ADHD and I found an unusual way to settle myself and keep my interest – with a calculator and maths problems.

“Although I found the maths problems easy, it was the other problems I found difficult to manage. Things were tough at home, my Mum worked a lot to keep us afloat, but this meant that she wasn’t home much. In early secondary school I went into informal kinship care, and found myself moving between my Auntie’s, my Mum’s and also my Dad’s.

“This meant that it was difficult for any one person to keep an eye on my education – to spot my interests or encourage me to think about what I was and am capable of. No one ever spoke to me about university as an option or what it was like. Despite showing academic ability in maths I was encouraged to become a bricklayer.

“Moving on from school was not linear. I had personal addiction issues, left school and I ended up moving to England at the age of 16, on my own. School were encouraging and always said that the door was open – this was important. I went through homeless accommodation then back to school for a bit. I had no contact with the local authority but there was a charity worker who turned up at the homeless accommodation to provide some support.

“I ended up very unwell, jumped off cliff and was in coma for 8 – 9 days. I returned to school using a Zimmer frame and was on so much medication that I would fall asleep at the back of the class.

“My guidance teacher was a great support and was happy for me to just fall asleep at school if this meant I was in a safe place. I then went into rehab in 2011 and went back to school for a third time! Unfortunately something happened and I got lifted by police outside school. And that was my final time attending school.

“After another tricky spell things turned around and I studied some Highers, then went on to North Highland College to study HNC Accounting.

“After submitting my UCAS application, Heriot-Watt University gave me a conditional offer – I needed a B in my graded unit, but I got an A.

“After six years of study with Heriot-Watt I have a First-class honours degree BSc (Hons) Maths, Statistics and Actuarial Science. I got an award from the Maths department for exceptional contribution to the department and I am now studying a MSc in Actuarial Management at HW.”

Nicky is a third year student at Edinburgh Napier University studying Disability Nursing.

“My goal is to work with the Looked After and Accommodated Children (LAAC) nursing team in Edinburgh. However, my journey was far from easy.

“Like many Care-Experienced people – I came to education late. Having attended seven secondary schools, I left school with no formal qualifications. I enjoyed drama and music, I am creative, but I also have ADHD and dyslexia which makes academic study so much more challenging.

“After a very challenging childhood, spent being looked after by many other people, I found myself caught in a cycle of addiction , I am however, resilient. I did a counselling course it was here that I found recovery which helped me discover who I am and that gave me confidence to study.

“I started my journey with The Women into Work course and then Access To Industry. The support here allowed me the time and space to start studying – but it also gave me the confidence to believe in myself and continue in my recovery.

“I undertook a placement in a school as a support assistant as part of the Women onto Work course and this added to my thirst for education. Graduating from my other achievements also boosted my confidence and added to my skill set. I went on to take the HNC in Social Services at Edinburgh College and it was here that for the first time in my life, someone spoke to me about University. No one else had ever done this with me – how could that happen?

“I am now in my final year and the biggest thing that drives me and keeps me motivated is for my family to see me studying. Because of this my son is now at college – it gave him hope and I am incredibly proud of that.

“I have often thought about giving up. I really found the financial aspects difficult to manage and it was during my second year I found the HUB for SUCCESS.

“If it wasn’t for them and the additional help they gave me – I honestly don’t think I would be here now. My recovery from addiction continues.

“My dream is to get a job on graduation, buy a house of my own and give my family every opportunity to succeed and be happy.”