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Who Cares? Scotland’s Chloe Dobson looks at some of the specific actions that could improve higher education for care-experienced people and suggests the next steps forward for better support.

What we do – Care-experienced students

At Who Cares? Scotland, we’ve been encouraged by the initiatives put in place across the sector to support the progression of Care Experienced people into higher education.

The latest SFC report on widening access shows positive progress for Care Experienced learners with steps being made in the right direction. The National Ambition for Care Experienced Students, the Guaranteed Offer, the Care Experienced Student Bursary have all been welcomed and, rightly, praised for their ability to create equity for Care Experienced people in education.

But we know, because Care Experienced people tell us, that accessing university isn’t a simple process and unnecessary barriers are still encountered. In addition, once Care Experienced students progress to university, there are significant challenges to staying there and achieving. So, with the ethos of Corporate Parenting fully embedded into university policy and practice and the continued work of individual institutions and the Scottish Funding Council to enhance provision, what else can be done to secure the future of Care Experienced learners seamlessly accessing higher education?

The UCAS report, What is the experience of students from a care background in education?, highlights that receiving advice from a wide variety of trusted people can make a significant difference for Care Experienced applicants. Whilst we know that universities have named contacts for Care Experienced people and are keen to provide quality information, advice and guidance, we also know that Care Experienced people want to receive information and support from those they have trusted, meaningful relationships with. Therefore, a priority must be ensuring that those who hold these relationships have the most up to date information available for Care Experienced students.

Whilst the most recent stats on progression to higher education may seem positive for Care Experienced applicants, it is known that the challenges in accessing university begin much earlier than the completion of a UCAS application. The many initiatives that are in place to increase numbers entering higher education are a direct response to the context in which Care Experienced pupils learn. The National Discussion on Education published its findings, All Learners in Scotland Matter, with no focus on the specifics of support that can, and should, be in place for Care Experienced learners that would enhance their experiences and educational outcomes.

In our evidence submission we provided specific, tangible examples of the supports and interventions that could resolve this – initial teacher training having a focus on knowing and understanding Care Experienced pupils, embedding a child and human rights based approach across education and the importance of developing robust, meaningful relationships between teachers and their pupils. All of which directly responds to the recommendations from The Promise and would support the progression of Care Experienced pupils onto university.

So how does the higher education sector take the next steps to ensure the appropriate support is in place for Care Experienced students and that they continue to meet the National Ambition, or potentially even exceed it? We must acknowledge that policy and practice implementation is only part of the picture and that culture change is key to supporting Care Experienced learners.

Culture change is about recognising that the media churns out narratives surrounding care and Care Experienced people that are inaccurate, that perpetuate the idea that those in care are damaged and ‘lost causes’. These inaccurate portrayals subconsciously influence and tell us that we cannot be ambitious for Care Experienced people. Whereas we know that we can.

We know that with the right support, at the right time, Care Experienced people can flourish. This support could include personalised, meaningful connection that isn’t faceless – a Care Experienced person connects with an individual at the university, whose name is known to them who invites them onto campus and develops a relationship with them. It would mean the end of ‘careleavers@’ email addresses. It could be ensuring support is offered to any Care Experienced person who makes themselves known to the university, no matter what age they are. The impact of care is lifelong, and Care Experienced people may wish to progress to university later in life. This personalised, meaningful support should still exist for them.

We recognise that providing support is not solely the role of universities – universities form part of a scaffolding of support for Care Experienced people and collaboration between all partners named as Corporate Parents is what can achieve change. By working together, creating a supportive structure around people with experience of care, and ensuring that this support is in place for as long as it is needed, we can create even stronger access routes into and through university where Care Experienced people can thrive.

To learn more about the support on offer to Corporate Parents from Who Cares? Scotland, please contact Chloe Dobson, Education and Engagement Manager cdobson@whocaresscotland.org.