Industry News: Government policies on access to further and higher education abandon care leavers to the whims of localism, says report
Research published by The Who Cares? Trust today reveals that key Government policies intended to support looked-after children’s participation in further and higher education are failing to make an impact because a fragmentary, localist approach has confused young people and the professionals who work with them.
The report, Open Doors, Open Minds, found evidence that while three recent Government policies – the Pupil Premium, 16-19 bursary and new tuition fee arrangements – have theoretically delivered more financial support for looked-after children and care leavers, the Government has not sufficiently helped young people and those on the frontline understand this. The implementation of these schemes has been left to local bodies (schools, colleges or universities), who were given too little guidance and are subject to minimal central scrutiny of how they spend the money. This has resulted in a wide variety of practice and a confusing picture on the ground - meaning that many young people in care are missing out on what they’re entitled to, the report says.
Open Doors, Open Minds found that half of professionals working with looked-after children and care leavers had not heard of the Pupil Premium1. Professionals also expressed concerns that the Pupil Premium did not effe ctively engage with those who have day-to-day responsibility for the care of looked-after children, and gave anecdotal evidence of some schools using the money for non-targeted purposes.
Unlike the Pupil Premium, the report identified a relatively high level of awareness among professionals of the new 16-19 Bursary2; 76% of professionals who completed the survey said they had heard about the changes to the EMA. However, very few professionals (12%) thought that looked-after children and care leavers in their local area had had enough information about the changes. The guidance placed a large amount of responsibility on further education institutions to determine the conditions for bursaries, meaning that two colleges, at different ends of the same local authority, could offer vastly different levels of support to care leavers, the report found.
The Government introduced Access Agreements3 to ensure that vulnerable groups, including care leavers, could still access university despite higher fees. However Open Doors, Open Minds found that there was extremely wide variation in the support for care leavers provided by universities. An analysis of Access Agreements, undertaken as part of the project, revealed that the top ten universities in England (according to Guardian league tables) were less likely than other universities to say that they provided support for care leavers. It also found that a lack of data about recruitment and retention of care leavers prevented some universities from setting meaningful targets for improving access.
Open Doors, Open Minds calls for greater clarity and information about funding for further and higher education for young people and those that work with them. It appeals for the Government to abandon its localist approach to funding for looked-after children and care leavers and instead to provide centrally directed consistency. This should involve strengthening guidance and the collection of better data on the progress of looked-after children and care leavers in further and higher education, the report says.
Commenting on the findings of the report, Natasha Finlayson, Chief Executive of The Who Cares? Trust, said:
‘This research has confirmed that care leavers still face real challenges getting into college and university. The Government has brought in a range of policies that aim to help open up opportunities for these young people, but unfortunately a misplaced determination to leave everything to individual schools, colleges and universities has undermined their efforts, exacerbated the postcode lottery of care and created new barriers to learning.
‘We want to see swift action to ensure that the additional resources in the system are put to effective use so that being in care doesn’t mean failing in education.’
1 The Pupil Premium is an additional payment made to schools to support vulnerable pupils. Looked-after children are a target group for this funding. In 2012/13, schools will receive £600 for every looked-after child (who has been in care for more than six months) on their school roll. This money is distributed via local authorities, and can be spent at the school’s discretion.
2 After the abolition of the Education Maintenance Allowance (EMA), the Government announced that a replacement, the 16-19 Bursary would be available in its place. This would be guaranteed to looked-after children and care leavers and would be worth £1,200 (more than the maximum entitlement under EMA).
3 In 2010, the Government tripled the amount universities are allowed to charge undergraduate students to a maximum of £9,000 per year. The Government made efforts to ensure that this rise would not deter young people from vulnerable groups progressing into higher education. One of the vulnerable groups identified was young people leaving care. The Office for Fair Access (OFFA) requires all universities to state what they intend to do to support looked-after young people in annually submitted Access Agreements.
Download the full report
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