Transcript: Widening access to higher education for looked after young people

Review progress in relation to supporting students from a looked after background.

Podcast Episode: Widening access to higher education for looked after young people

Category: Young people 

What follows is a transcription of the audio recording. Due to differences between spoken and written English, the transcript may contain quirks of grammar and syntax.

NM - Neil Maclennan
JG - Jonathan Gray
SM - Susan Mueller
GC - Graham Connolly

Learning Enhancement and Academic Development in supporting students from a looked after background, hosted by Neil Maclennan, Jonathan Gray, Susan Mueller and Graham Connolly

This is, internet radio for Scotland Social Services.

On 25th January 2013, the Centre for Learning Enhancement and Academic Development at Glasgow Caledonian University, and CELCIS, the Centre for Excellent for Looked After Children in Scotland, joined forces to review progress in relation to supporting students from a looked after background. Before the workshops, the scene was set by 4 speakers, Neil Maclennan from the Scottish Government, Jonathan Gray from the Scottish Funding Council, Susan Mueller from Buttle UK and Graham Connolly from CELCIS. First, Neil Maclennan presented an overview of the policy background on the Post 16 education bill currently on its way through parliament.

NM So what I was going to do, what Karen asked me to do was just to give you a bit of an overview in terms of where we are at the moment in terms of policy, the post 16 bill that’s currently going through the parliament is highly relevant in what we are talking about today, it fits in with that. So, the current Scottish Government, -SNP administration - made a commitment to widen access in their 2011 manifesto and the people that this is meant to help can be described in simple terms as those who belong to any social economic group that’s currently underrepresented within universities, or in higher education in Scotland.

Now to illustrate the problem and not withstanding that there is a significant contribution made by colleges to higher education provision, the situation in Scotland today is, for example, that within our universities, only 11% of students come from the 20% poorest postcodes, so that’s a measure of the gap that we are trying to address. And we can break that down further to identify specific anomalies around other groups, to do with gender, to do with other demographics and also such as those in care that we are speaking about today. So, why is the government doing this, why have they made this commitment to widen the access … and the answer is simple, well simple and complicated I suppose, and that’s … I mean it’s fair, it’s fair to the students who have the ability and the potential to relatively better than their peers, but for various reasons have been unable to secure the qualifications that traditionally you need to be assessed ahead of your peers in order to gain entry. It’s also fair for Scotland and our economy because basically we need to encourage those who can make the most of the opportunities that our universities offer, such that they can seize those opportunities and then go on to make their full contribution to society. So we are here today to talk about the underrepresented group that is those who come from a care background and no matter how capable the child and I read some of this in the material that Napier University have left on our chairs today, if the circumstances faced by that child mean that they have had to be placed in care, then those circumstances likely have had some impact on that child’s learning and that brings us back to the sort of attainment and achievements that we are looking for through the traditional admissions process. So we need to recognise that all in the context that those who progress into higher education need to possess not just the qualifications, but also a measure of confidence and ambition, and again if you come from a looked after background, if you have been moved around in the system, it’s reasonable to expect that that confidence has taken a knock and maybe the seeds of that ambition haven’t been sown.

So, widening access is about recognising and accommodating all of this, it’s not about, as some critics would say, it’s not about letting people in who, all things being equal wouldn’t get in otherwise, it’s about recognising basically that all things aren’t equal. And for our part within the government in terms of student support, we have ensured that there’s free tuition in Scotland, higher education for Scots domiciles, which means that all Scottish students, all Scottish domiciles are spared from a huge potential debt burden that if it was the same as that as accrued by students elsewhere, it would be 2 or 3 times that which the average student leaves with today. And the prospect of debt is an important one when we are talking about widening access because there are radically different perspectives on what debt means, depending on your background. In some backgrounds where the culture is, for example, more to do with the payday loan rather than the parents mortgage, then the payday loan brings with it more problems than solutions, and so the perception that those people are going to have of debt is not going to be a positive one and therefore to say that, you know higher education is available to you, but this is the debt that you will end up with: it’s not going to appeal to some groups the same as it would with others. So in addition to the free tuition that has been delivered, from the next academic year we will be delivering what the NUS themselves have described as the best package of student support that’s available anywhere within the UK, it’s never going to be enough and people always want more, but it is, in terms of the money that’s going to be put in the students pockets, it is going to be more than students who are studying elsewhere within the islands. And a relatively bigger proportion of that assistance is going to be provided by way of bursary, that’s a direct, non repayable grant to those from the poorer backgrounds.

So today is about bringing all of that together as I would see it and sharing best practice to ensure that admissions and teaching practices in Scotland continue to be developed to best meet the needs of those students who come from a care background, recognising the particular demands that those students are going to place on the system. I think the starting point in all of that is, and with widening access generally is to take a more measured review on assessing their potential before then deciding how best to accommodate them within the institutions, and as I have already said it’s not about bumping other people to make room for them - it’s about getting the best candidates, wherever they are from, and however assessed, to make the most of the opportunities that are available, and this is the thing about widening access, that it’s a win, win for universities as well because when universities, when I meet them, will say how proud they are of what they offer and the quality of the teaching that they deliver. It’s clearly in the universities’ interest to get the best people with the most potential to seize those opportunities to come out with the best qualifications, and it’s recognising that ability is equally spread throughout society and its how we assess that ability and potential that’s key.

So in implementing the commitment to widening access, the objectives to better meet the needs of care backgrounds, such as those with the most potential can fully realise it and in doing that, you will have the full support of the Scottish Government in terms of the work that we are doing on widening access.

Jonathan Gray is the Assistant Director of the Scottish Funding Council, he talked about the role of outcome agreements and how they can support improvements in educational outcomes for care leavers in further and higher education.

JG I have been asked, I think, stop me if I am talking about the wrong thing, but I have been asked today to talk about the role of outcome agreements, which is the SFC’s new way, new, it’s been around a bit now, I think, but new way of funding colleges and universities, and to talk about how this new way of funding can support improvements in the educational outcomes of care leavers within further and higher education.

Throughout this brief presentation I will use the term ‘care leaver’, I will use it as shorthand for all those who have been, who are or have been looked after either at home or away from home, and the purpose of my presentation is to highlight the potential benefits and the real risks associated with this new way of funding. Some of you will be aware that around about 5 years ago the SFC committed over £1 million a year for a few years to fund and to pilot new approaches to the engagement of care leavers within further education. The funding was divided into 3 pilots, 1 was in a rural context, 1 was a 3 college partnership in Edinburgh, now 1 college and an initiative in a specific community context at John Wheatley College in the east end of Glasgow. This was very much a traditional model of funding where the aim was to identify and highlight effective local practice in order to inform sector wide improvements.

The projects concluded last academic year, I think, and all the colleges involved have made commitments within their outcome agreements to embed practice and systems, and evident good practice was arguably indeed developed, particularly at Dumfries and Galloway, where the real consequence of the pilot project, a genuine strengthened relationship between the college and the council emerged.

However, the question that I think we should naturally be asking and that naturally follows from this type of pilot initiative is how do we guarantee that the same level of impact and consequence that took place in those individual context is replicated across the sector as a whole, how do we ensure our investment impacts beyond the different experience of the individual college and for the individual learner at that particular place. And at the same time indeed, how do we ensure that the effective practice developed in pilot initiatives is embedded, what does embedded mean, how do we know that a new norm, a new improved form of practice now exists in these 3 colleges once the funding comes to an end. This, you are all no doubt, familiar with as the classic access challenge, any pilot funding initiative, 1 of the recurring challenges it provides only a temporary fix, when the additional money stops, so does the additional activity. Experience does tell us, I think, again I think you can argue that real legacies don’t really emerge from that type of investment. Some people believe the outcome agreements are intended or will resolve this problem. It is important at that point to say that the Funding Council and the college leaver of pilot projects did indeed worry about legacy from the investment and I think it can claim some credit for the establishment of the Buttle UK quality mark for colleges in Scotland and I will attempt to provide some reflections on the role of the quality mark in supporting the outcome agreement process in a moment.

What is an outcome agreement? That’s a good question. It does seem to mean different things to different people, but it is a strategic high level agreement between an institution and the Funding Council, in relation to the outcomes that an institution will deliver towards the achievement of the Scottish Governments priorities in return for the public funding they receive. An outcome agreement should take a 3 to 5 year view in relation to the outcomes to be achieved and it should be reviewed annually with a regard to the outputs that are delivered towards the achievement of outcomes. Clearly if you have looked at any of the outcome agreements that were developed in the first phase, you will wonder where the outcomes are, but you will notice there is a lot of statements around activity. This is a very important point in terms of, it highlights that if we are still doing lots of work to achieve consistent reporting, it means we have got less time to focus on specific issues and if there are a lot of issues to focus on, some of those issues are going to be de-prioritised, and it will mean we have got less time to discuss the detail of the outputs, the things that institutions will deliver each year and it also means are we really reflecting on the quality and nature of the inputs needed and the value for money that that delivers in the process.

The Funding Council, in all of its strategic blurb has said we want universities to play a role in ensuring the efficiency and diversity of routes through the education system. We want universities to support all under graduates to stay within the system and increase their changes of progression and attain their full potential, and in particular in both the college and university sector, or as Neil has pointed out, the University sector this is more of the challenge, we want to see more even patterns of participation by learners from different protected characteristic groups which we would include and have included those from care backgrounds. Both colleges and universities are being asked to increase where they are underrepresented, the proportion of entrants of Scottish domiciled learners by different protected characteristics. So expectations and outcome agreements are very high and they clearly at the moment are being pulled in 2 different directions, 1 direction wants them to be very high level documents, the other has an expectation that they will show the how, the what, the when and the why, so we need to reconcile these 2 different sets of expectations. And we need to do that because we genuinely care about improving the outcomes of care leavers.

Clearly one of the strengths and one of the real opportunities that we need to make the most of is that the outcome agreements do establish access and equality as horizontal themes in each of the strategic priorities that are contained within. So I do believe this is the funding council’s genuine attempt to raise awareness and consideration of specific access issues at all levels within an institution, so if that’s true, and if this approach was working, what might we expect to see in our outcome agreements? Well we should see the visibility of the care leaver cohort within agreements, we should see strategies in relation to care leavers, both in terms of evidence in past investment and how that’s how driving future practice, and also in terms of the emerging future practice from those that have been making progress. We should also see the indicators which allow us to know that we have demonstrably improved access attainment and progression, so how are we doing? We think around about 40% of the sector specifically highlight, universities that is, highlight care leavers within their outcome agreements. Some of those universities, Edinburgh and Glasgow for example, provide detailed information within their agreement or attached to their agreement, Glasgow explains their adjusted offers to care leavers, details on bursaries and provides contextual information in relation to their past success or volumes of care leavers in the institution that are known. From the information provided it’s clear some universities are delivering significant additional support for car leavers, all the universities highlight the need to increase participation amongst this group and in terms of the college sector, all 3 of the college pilot funded projects provide information on how they’re embedding effective practice as part of their ongoing commitments and all of the colleges talk about prioritising those young people who are experiencing social exclusion.

So what do you think? So on the issue of visibility, I think we have made some reasonable progress in this first round of agreements. I would be interested to know whether you think that progress is good enough and what your expectations are for the next round of agreements. In terms of strategies, all universities highlight their aim to increase the number of care leavers recruited, Edinburgh University for example talks about providing information on the proportion of offers that they have made to students from a care background and a proportion have converted into programme starts. Some universities highlight their practice, for example, Stirling University talks about their active partnership with Stirling Corporate Parenting Board, Strathclyde University show off by talking about their strategic centre to support policy development in this area, I think it’s called Celsius, you may have heard of it? Most, if not all of the universities make reference to the Buttle UK quality mark, indeed some universities as a result of the outcome agreement, are now trying to establish the quality mark for the first time, St Andrew’s University, for example, and others are in the process of renewing it, Herriot Watt University for example. So it’s very clear the importance the quality mark makes in institution strategy and clearly currently fulfils a critical role in providing context and establishing consistency in institutional both college and universities development in this area.

I would therefore argue that we do indeed still need the quality mark, but again a question for Susan and for you all is if the quality mark is so significant to the contribution of colleges and universities, are we in safe hands? Should we be reassured by the prevalence of the quality mark? If it isn’t broke, why fix it? Or is it convenient shorthand for institutions which masks the lack of strategies in relation to this group, is reference to the quality mark enough, and how indeed are we continuing to develop practice? Is it through sessions like this, is this enough, more importantly and I think more significantly, what is the relationship between the existence of the quality mark and evidence of improvements in the outcomes of care leavers? Is it about having a quality mark or is it about saying you are going to improve the outcomes by a certain percentage each year and you know why that’s happening, is the cohort too small to do that? Those are the types of issues, I think we should be beginning to explore. And I suppose at the same time, what assessment can you make of those institutions that don’t have the quality mark? How do we consistently and reasonably establish evidence of effective practice in that context? Do you honestly think the Funding Council is equipped to do that? No? So who is and how do we do it? Lots of questions, I am sure Susan has got the answers.

So if I summarise briefly where I think we have got to, I will finish by highlighting some of the things we need to do next. So I think in a short space of time we have moved relatively successfully from a project funding approach to a position that requires institutions to consider care leavers as part of a discussion about all of their funding, we have seen both sectors embrace the Buttle quality mark and the process has really established its importance in Scotland. On a practical level outcome agreements have raised the visibility for the need for additional support within our institutions, certainly at different levels within our institutions, you already knew that. And a number of our institutions as we are seeing today with the Napier, are confidently expressing strategies, we’re not sure how effective they are though.

So what do we do next? I think today is about everyone attempting to answer some of the questions that have been posed, I do think we need to be able to measure the improvement that we want to see, it isn’t simply about numbers accessing something, it’s the quality of the outcomes that are attained by those individuals. What do we want to achieve therefore over the next 5 years? I don’t think there should be any excuses any more for institutions not knowing who the majority of their care leavers are, as a consequence of regionalisation in a college sector, data should easily or more easily be shared between local authorities, schools and colleges, and the SFC should be interested in recording this cohort specifically. Every college region perhaps should know what proportion of care leavers are in the throughcare system or leaving care each year and should establish targets and participation with local authority partners. For Universities we know that the task of identification is more of a challenge, but I think all institutions should follow the lead of Edinburgh and Glasgow, whereby they are attempting to report on and measure the cohort that’s visible and identify them within their institution and making plans around that cohort. To support the outcome agreement process we need to not be complacent and we need a strategy developed and agreed with the sectors in relation to leadership, curriculum design, transition arrangements and student support, all the stuff you know about already, all the stuff that’s always been an issue, but we need to work out the mechanisms that are around, how do we engage with ourselves and with the sector to improve practice and how would we know? Should every college region for example have to have a plan for care leavers which sets out a population data, participation targets, expected outcomes alongside detail on the join strategies of support, because you all know you can’t do this work on your own, and at a national level I think we need to agree the improvement we want to see, participation isn’t good enough, and we should quantify that improvement because that’s the way it will work best with an outcome agreement process.

We do need to continue to work with Buttle UK and Celsius to develop the standards and expectations around effective practice, I think you need to do that as a sector and as a sector you need to agree you want to do that, and you become the tool of examining and engaging with each other to develop that practice. In Scotland at this time I strongly believe we should all be supporting Buttle UK, I think it’s essential at the moment in where we are with outcome agreements, and to finish I think you can say that we have made progress in raising the profile of this issue. I think we have now got to build on this process and seize the opportunity afforded by outcome agreements and the commitments of the Government. I would hope institutions will continue to make the most of the support available through Buttle UK and that the institutions support the SFC in doing more on this issue in the future.

Susan Mueller of Buttle UK, formerly the Frank Buttle Trust, describes the particular problems that care leavers face in higher and further education and explains the continuing need for the quality mark which is awarded to further and higher education providers who demonstrate their commitment to young people in and leaving care, not just at the point of entry, but throughout the student life cycle.

SM Right, so the quality mark, well how did we get to the quality mark if the main work of the organisation is grant giving? Well what happened in 2000, I don’t know if you have … you may well know about the study that was undertaken by Buttle, which we have called ‘By Degrees’ or ‘Going to University from Care.’ Now this came about because through the grant giving work that the organisation was doing, they found that a lot of young people who were in care or had left care were applying to Buttle for financial support, so they thought well what’s al this about, why is it that these young people are in such need, and especially for what is called the Student and Trainees Programme that supports young people going into college or training or education or university. And Buttle decided out of that to look at why it was that there was so little support around going through education into university and they undertook or commissioned this study, By Degrees, Going to University from Care, which was a 5 year study, and out of this there was a series obviously of recommendations, and out of these recommendations was then formed the quality mark for the HE sector in 2006. So that’s how it all started, and in 2010/11, Buttle was sort of, I suppose slightly pushed into looking at well how about a quality mark for the FE sector, and they underwent a pilot study because they thought, well we don’t really know much about the FE sector, we have to have a look whether it will work, and a couple of the colleges here in Scotland were involved: the 3 Edinburgh colleges at the time, John Wheatley and I think Dumfries and Galloway as well. So they looked at the feasibility and basically there was at the time a lot of support for quality mark for the FE sector and obviously a report was written, etc, and then the decision was taken to go for it in the FE sector. And as part of that, the organisation really felt, well if we want to do this, both for HE and FE, we have got to do it properly, so we need a few more people to come and help us do that, and this is why I am, or I have been with Buttle now for a little bit more than a year and also my colleague, Amy, who you might also have had contact with. So that’s where we are. So where are we in Scotland? In Scotland we have got 7 universities that currently hold the quality mark, going strong I think with the work that they are doing, and at the moment we have got 2 that are currently applying for the quality mark as we are going forward. The Further Education colleges is a really exciting picture, we have got 9 that recently came on board with … in addition the ones that we have had from the pilot study, and we have got a further 9 colleges that are in the process of applying. A little bit of … sort of difficulties I think with merger situations going on, not quite sure where that’s going to go and how to look at the provision in the current college and the merger colleges. We are really, really grateful for the strong support, both from the SFC in Scotland and from Scotland’s colleges, who we work with to try and get as much information and support out to those who are interested in supporting this group of students.

A little quote here from a student, it’s actually one of the Scottish Universities, because we do some feedback, we try and get feedback from the students as well, I don’t know if anybody can read that? But it says, “The University offers a support network that replaces the support of family and friends that an ordinary student will have. Having someone to offload the pressures of Uni work to is sometimes all it takes, and for so many care leavers who do not have a family, this can make all the difference.” And this was in relation to the person who we call the ‘key worker’ or the ‘key person’, the key contact in the institution for a student who is coming to the university with a care background, and really what we have really heard from both colleges and universities, how important that is to have that in place.

We have talked a little bit already about why we still need it, as in the quality mark. I certainly think we certainly do still need it, and others do too. I think it’s fair to say that generally speaking the educational progression of those from a care background is still lower than your average student. And this is just really to pull out some statistics from Scotland in 2011, which really all I wanted to show with this is the difference between the percentage of those young people eligible for after care services who are either in education or training, which is around about 20%, and then around about 80% of those who are basically not, so there’s a huge discrepancy there and I think that just sort of highlights what the situation is in summary.

And another little quote here from a student … “I believe the support offered by the University is fantastic and will, or could make a real difference to allowing care leavers to be supported on their courses, and so allowing them to complete them.” Again this was a student from one of the Scottish Universities that hold the quality mark.

Right, the other reason, why do we still need it? Well if we just sort of cast our minds back to the By Degrees study, just looking at some of the problems that the participants who were students at University identified, things like lack of information and advice when choosing universities and courses: changing of placement during preparations for examinations. This is something we come across a lot and I am sure you do too, we are very aware, children who are looked after can be moved around in schools during their education quite substantially, which they feel, and I think that’s quite clear, can well affect their levels of attainment and achievement. Uncertainty about financial support, we talked today already this morning about being in debt, about financial support going to college and university. Anxiety about other accommodation in term time and vacation. I think these are all still very relevant. This is another thing that we have come across certainly, is students who are allocated council flats or council accommodation through their local authority on leaving care, tend to be reluctant to then go and study elsewhere because they are so glad they have actually got somewhere to live, somewhere they can settle in, which is for them, if they give that up to go to University miles and miles away, what’s going to happen to them when they leave university, where do they go? So that could well mean that they are actually, they are quite limited or they’re restricted in their choice of course and their choice of University, which means they might not be doing the right course for them at the right University for them. So those are the kinds of things they are looking at.

Students without supportive foster carers often felt very alone during their early weeks at university - I think that’s quite understandable. Mental health problems arising from care and pre-care experiences, isolation and lack of emotional support is what came up quite a lot in that as well, and I think to summarise, it says in the report that the research provides clear evidence that their ability, i.e. those of looked after children and care leavers, and their potential are systematically underestimated and that they are deprived of most educational opportunities open to children growing up in their own families. It all sounds really quite harsh, but I think we can all agree and I am sure you will through your work, recognise that these things are still out there. I mean this was 2005 - I think we have come quite a long way but there is still a lot of work to be done. And really this is where the quality mark comes in and this is what the quality mark picked up at the time. And what does it actually do? Well first of all we have certainly found, and by talking to colleagues like yourselves, we know that it keeps this issue on the agenda and it raises awareness of the difficulties that those who have been in care face when progressing through education, and this means both inside an institution, but also externally. So for example, those colleagues who are working to support students from a care background, I am going to say they get a bit of clout if it’s about, you know we have got the quality mark or we want to go for the quality mark, this is actually something that we, as an institution, are taking seriously and I need time to be able to do that. So it does really keep it on the agenda and gives it, I think, some standing within the institution.

Because a lot of the time, and you will know this as well, we are very often only talking about very, very small numbers of students and there are universities who maybe have a handful of students from a care background, and then obviously there’s always the question well how much resource are we going to put in to widen the number of students from that background who come to us as an institution and to support them while they are here? It does provide a framework, or if you like a tool, to assess your provision to validate what you are doing and I think really importantly to develop what you are doing. Because the quality mark is very much set out as a 3 year project, so you start off with where you are at the moment, what you want to do and where you want to develop your provision over the period of the 3 years. There is a monitoring process obviously that we do and those people that get the e-mail from us about ‘your monitoring report is due’ or ‘your implementation report is due’, I bet they give a big sigh, but it’s a way of for yourselves as an institution to look at what it is that you are doing, how have you progressed since you first started with your original plan, and we can have a look and say well are you still doing what you think you are doing, are you still developing in the way that you set out to develop, and are you still meeting a certain sort of quality of provision that we would expect under the quality mark?

There’s a whole area around progression and support Post 16 around Fe and HE in collaboration, and this is why I think, or I was very excited when I heard that Buttle was going for the FE quality mark, because it really does again provide a tool for colleges and universities to work together and to help that progression and that transition, and the sharing of information and the sharing of data between each other. And I think, like John was saying, the regionalisation’s in Scotland I think are really contusive to making that happen.

The one thing I really want to point out as well is that the quality mark really covers the whole student life cycle, it’s not just about outreach and about getting them through the door and increasing the numbers of students from a care background who actually start at your institution, it’s about supporting them throughout, and it also means as a result, that … and this is something that most universities and maybe also colleges find quite difficult, you have got to get the various departments talking to each other, you have got to get missions talking to you, Outreach, widening participation, Student Services, Careers, you name it, you have got to get everybody sort of getting together and working together to make this actually a strategy that works across the university or the college.

What else does it do? Well it gathers data … hmm, that’s a bit of a difficult one, again all of those who have been faced with our November stats returns, including myself, probably don’t want to hear about this, it’s a really, really difficult one to do. How do we identify these students? How do we get the data? We know that the data is probably incomplete - it’s not hugely accurate necessarily but we have got to start somewhere and it depends very much on the young people disclosing and working with us. And I think really, why I have put this here … ’looked after children and care leavers’ specific, everything that you do under the quality mark is around being as specific as possible to meet the needs of this particular cohort. Every now again, or very often we come across an application or an institution saying we want to go for the quality mark. We are outstanding in what we do for student support for this and this and this, and then you start digging and then you say, well what are you doing for those from a care background? Oh well we hadn’t really thought about that, we do this for all vulnerable groups. Yes, great, but what do you do specifically for this cohort, because they do have specific needs and you have got to look at them as an individual cohort, which doesn’t mean that you can then widen that, the provision you put in place and the best practice, into then widening it for other groups as well. Another little quote here, “The Student Advice Team have been invaluable in providing advice on issues such as accommodation and managing my finances”, is what one student said to us.

I was going to go and talk lots and lots about the student lifestyle, but I won’t, what I will do though is just pull up, to make you aware that there’s so much actually going on across, and these are just the Scottish universities and colleges, around what is being done to raise aspirations, to prepare students into getting into the new institution, the first steps in university to help them to acclimatise themselves with that, the moving through the on course support and finally, student success, but also this is something that we have only really recently started looking at. What happens to them afterwards, what kind of careers advice do they get, what kind of post graduation support do they get? The reason why we picked this up is because there are colleagues in other universities who are beginning to look at that, so these areas they develop and they come up and we try and sort of gather that together.

Very, very briefly, what are we doing at Buttle UK? Well we are really trying to raise awareness of the quality mark and this is one of the things that I have really started doing much more and you will have this little leaflet in your pack. This is something that we put together last autumn, because feel it’s really important … you can use this when you have got the quality mark and you can go out when you do your outreach work, your work with local authorities, with schools, with colleges, it’s about making people know that it’s there and what it actually means as well. We are going to be talking about the HE handbook later on, it’s quite nice to flick through it and the logo comes up now on the various pages and you can see which institutions actually have the quality mark, and the NUS, Jane who is here today, this is something that we are beginning to look at how student unions can also work with colleagues under the quality mark to really raise awareness and to see what they can do.

And we do know, at the moment from anecdotal evidence, that students and local authorities will go and have a look and will choose an institution based on the quality mark. Obviously there’s a lot around sharing good practice, great opportunity today for yourselves. We have got the annual Best Practice Conference which I am aware is in London and it’s not ideal for people to travel to. The other thing that I want to do is to try and gather much more of all the best practice, the case studies, the research, there’s an awful lot of research going on around how to support these students. Evaluation of impact - really want to try and gather that together much, much more and use it for yourselves but also generally for information for governments and funding councils etc. Obviously we support regional and local groups across the UK. Yes, this is an important thing, the UCAS tick box. Very quickly, we have had a meeting with UCAS on Monday, because I don’t know if any of you were involved - we did a consultation, because one of the things I picked up when I started was universities saying to me, ‘oh the tick box: that was in relation to our stats. 50% of the students who ticked the box aren’t actually care leavers’, or somebody said 20% or 80%, so they said ‘can’t you go and talk to UCAS again and have another go and see whether we can improve that? We are doing that, they have taken the information on board, they are really interested, so we are hoping they will be able to make some improvements. There are 2 things I think that stand out: 1 is where the tick box or the question is located - it seems to be in an area that’s not very conducive to them actually understanding what it’s about, and the other one is to really describe and identify the benefits for somebody to actually tick that box. So for example if you tick the box you will be contacted by your university in order to see whether you are eligible for financial support, for example. So that’s one of the things we are working on and hopefully that will be going forward.

Obviously we inform governments … in particular we collaborate a lot on this with the Who Cares Trust, because they are much more of a lobbying organisation than we are. We gather the stats via our quality mark institutions for what it’s worth, and we are doing an evaluation at the moment, I am sure you might be aware of that too. It is beginning to show. The results will be out in March, April time and it is beginning to show that universities, some universities, certainly those who have participated, are saying having had the quality mark, or having the quality mark is actually increasing the number of students that we have. Whether it means they are disclosing or they are identifying them more, or whether they are actually getting more is something obviously we don’t know, but this is very positive. And there will be a series of recommendations again for us to take away to see what it is that we need to do to improve and to sort of ask you to do as well.

Finally Graham Connolly of CELCIS introduces the higher education handbook for care leavers which was produced by the Who Cares Trust.

GC Good morning colleagues, my name is Graham Connolly and I am with CELCIS, that’s a mouthful, it’s the Centre for Excellence for Looked After Children In Scotland, we are core funded by Scottish Government, based in the University of Strathclyde to provide research, policy, consultancy, communications and events services. In relation to raising awareness generally and collaborating with stakeholders about looked after children in Scotland. For example we have supported this event, providing event services and we are delighted that Glasgow Caledonian and Carla have hosted this event. But I am not here to talk about CELCIS, I am actually here representing Jack Smith, policy officer of the Who Cares Trust, and I will try do that as best as possible.

Jack originally planned to be here and he sends his apologies and his best wishes to everyone, he has something else that he must deal with in London, and he asked me if I would make the presentation, and I feel able to do that, not because we were centrally involved in developing the handbook, but because we provided advice, particularly about the Scottish context and also a little support in encouraging institutions to collaborate with the Who Cares Trust.

I should say just a little bit about Who Cares Trust. As Susan said, they are a campaigning organisation, for example they have a parliamentary committee that’s based in Westminster: they’re a London based organisation and have mainly been concerned with developments in England, but they have got a good track record in encouraging progression to education and dealing with educational issues, preparing educational materials, and in doing that, collaborating with the other countries of the UK. They are not to be confused with a separate organisation that many of you will know, Who Cares Scotland, it’s a different organisation that operates only in Scotland, and works directly with young people who have workers who provide services directly to young people.

Just say a little bit of background to the HE handbook, which incidentally you will find on the Trust’s website, you can download it, you will find the English version and the Scottish version there. The background to this is that the Trust sponsored some research last year which you will find on their website published as ‘Open Doors, Open Minds’. Essentially that was an analysis of outcome agreements in England and just to kind of summarise the findings of that analysis, what they discovered was what they describe as a kind of mismatch between what institutions were saying about provisions for care leavers and what actually was appearing in the outcome agreements, and that led the Trust to come up with the idea of having an HE handbook. Essentially the handbook provides information for care leavers themselves, in helping them to make decisions about institutions that they will apply to, but I suppose if you look at the handbook in its totality, it’s a useful research tool and it gives us some information about the sector generally.

We had been talking to the Who Cares Trust in providing some information about the Scottish context and they asked us whether we thought it would be useful to have a Scottish version. We supported that idea and we collaborated with them in this second edition. I have taken the liberty of sliding in 2 of my own transparencies here just to say something about he Scottish context, and Susan has said something about this already, but you will probably know that every year Skills Development Scotland conduct, what’s called, a Destination Study, tracking where young people who have left school in that year are in September, so that’s at 3 months and then at 6 months later, and this slide is taken from last years destination survey. What the survey shows is that 64% of looked after children who left school last year were in what SDS call Positive Destinations, you know in a course or in employment, and that’s compared with 89% of all school leavers, so there’s quite a difference there. On the other hand it’s encouraging because it was a 5% increase on the previous year. But when they did the survey 9 months later, the follow up survey, 55% of looked after children were in positive destinations, so it had fallen dramatically, whereas the proportion for all school leavers stays pretty stable. And I think this slide, which is taken from the follow up Destination Study probably tells you some of the reasons for this, the third last bar on the right hand side, the one off bar, shows the comparison in terms of unemployment between looked after and all young people, so a high proportion will be unemployed. I imagine that some of the fall will be to do with young people who take further education courses as part of the Through Care process, they’re short courses and they come to an end and they don’t find another positive destination, and we also know that there’s a fairly high risk of drop outs from courses, so that will be some of the explanation. Other things to notice on this bar I guess is the relative importance of the further education sector for looked after children, and of course we also know about the small proportion that go to University, but the important point to make here is that this is figures for progress directly from school and if I just show you figures that the Buttle Group in Strathclyde University, my own University have been able to provide, these are stats from last year, this is the applicants who declare their looked after background by ticking that UCAS box: 45 of them, but only 10 of those 45 were actually in school, the rest were in some form of post school education, and that’s the important point, looked after children, care leavers, have a more circuitous route into higher education, and I don’t need to tell this group that, but you do need to reinforce that, I think, to others.

Okay just to go back then to the HE handbook, this is the 2013 edition, there is more information in that handbook, there is a Scottish version and there is also a Welsh collection, it’s not a Welsh handbook, but a Welsh collection which has been provided by Reaching Wider at Swansea University.

This is what you get in the handbook, 10 elements, they got a steering committee together which included students and care leavers, and came up with 10 elements which formed the basis of a questionnaire which was sent out to institutions in November last year with, or perhaps it was October I think, with a November return date and December they were pooling this all together and the handbook was published about a week ago on the Trust’s website. I have just taken the liberty of exposing to you Strathclyde’s page, I feel comfortable in doing that, and you can, you won’t be able to see the detail there, but the checklist of support, the 10 areas are … Dedicated Website, Dedicated Outreach Support .. I guess collaboration with local authorities and so on, Pre Application Guidance, Contacting Offer Holders, directly offering support, Offering Funding Opportunities, Financial Advice, All Year Round Accommodation, Careers and Post Graduate Support and Named Officer, a named individual that care leavers can contact, and of course as Susan pointed out, having the quality mark, and where an institution has a quality mark, the logo appears on their page. Just looking at my institution, I can see there are ticks in all the boxes except careers and post qualification advice, and obviously as Chair of our Group, that’s something I need to follow up.

Jack has done some preliminary analysis of the entire sector and here in this rather fussy graph, he is trying to compare Scottish institutions and English institutions. A bit risky to do on a graph because of the different numbers of institutions, just watch the percentages, but if we have that kind of caution, nevertheless there are some interesting comparisons emerging that Jack is pointing out. Jack is saying that in general we appear to be outperforming our southern neighbours in relation to providing pre application guidance and careers and post graduate guidance, but England appears, on the face of it, to be outperforming us in relation to the provision of a dedicated website aimed at care leavers, dedicated outreach, in other words the collaboration with local authorities and leaving care workers, and also in relation to the Buttle quality mark. And Susan has mentioned that the proportion of HE institutions in Scotland with the Buttle quality mark is much lower than is in England and that may be something that we want to discuss today.

A little analysis of funding here, 72% of Scottish institutions offer other bursaries other than the general funding that’s available nationally, 61% of institutions offering bursaries for which they say care leavers are a particular priority. And the conclusion that Jack comes to is that there is a significant amount of money around and there is some evidence that care leavers don’t always apply for the funding that is there. There are 2 slides here about the future, the Trust is committed to producing the handbook in the future and I think it would be useful actually for you to tell me today, so I can pass back to Jack whether you think this is a good thing, whether it provides a service. They’re aware of imperfections. There are particular difficulties I think in relation to funding in the Scottish version of the handbook because the template that they used really was based on the English context, and so when you look through it, it does look as if … and there’s a lot of not applicable, and that’s perhaps off putting, so that was certainly something I think we want to collaborate with the Trust in future to correct. And you can see from the last bullet point, Jack is very interested in having discussions about that.

For the future, the group supporting Jack have a number of ideas, they are interested in having an FE component, specifically FE institutions with significant Higher Education provision, that would be virtually all the institutions in Scotland of course, they want to have 100% coverage of Universities, that’s actually been achieved as far as I can see in Scotland, so that’s really good … better coverage of cross border issues. There’s no version for Northern Ireland yet and that’s something we aim to do and of course more analysis opportunities as well. This slide just records Jack’s thanks, particularly to institutions and people in this room who did a great deal of work in actually providing him with the information and personally I think it’s a good service to the community. If you want to speak to Jack make comments or clarify, I guess, any errors in the handbook, please contact him directly. Thank you very much.

Transcript Copyright:
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License