Dr Fiona Aldridge, Assistant Director for Research & Development, Learning and Work Institute.

The new Care Leavers bursary – a welcome start in making apprenticeships more accessible

Every year, around 8,000 young people aged 16 and over leave care. Many will have faced very difficult experiences as children and will enter adulthood without the support and security that their peers often take for granted.

At this key point in their lives, it is critical that care leavers receive the right support to make a good transition into further learning and work.

Yet for far too many, this is not the reality:

  • In 2016 only 14% of children in care gained 5 good GCSEs, compared to 53% of all young people.
  • Care leavers are almost three times as likely to be not in education, employment and training (NEET) as other young people.
  • Looked after young people are almost twice as likely to be permanently excluded from school.
  • Only 1 in 14 care leavers go to university, compared to half of all young people.

At Learning and Work Institute, we believe that having appropriate support to access meaningful education, training and work opportunities is key for care leavers to achieve their goals and ambitions in life.

Our Skills Support for Care Leavers website is just one of the resources we have developed to help care leavers navigate the world of learning and work. Alongside this, we’ve developed resources for employers providing guidance on how to support care leavers in the workplace.

We’ve also been working hard to ensure that care leavers are able to benefit from the expansion in apprenticeship opportunities. Last week, DfE published our latest research, Exploring the funding and support for apprentices with additional support needs.

The report shows that although apprentice providers and employers are eligible for a payment of £1000 if they take on an apprentice aged 19-24 who is a care leaver, so far very few have done so. Most providers were aware of the additional funding but had not knowingly enrolled a care leaver.

Much more work is needed, both in promoting apprenticeships as a viable and attractive option to care leavers, and in encouraging them to declare that they have been in care.

One of the key concerns for care leavers is the affordability of apprenticeships. Without a family network to provide additional financial support, many care leavers find that apprenticeships – particularly those paid at the apprenticeship minimum wage – simply aren’t worth it.

Apprenticeships may bring returns in the long-run, but that is little consolation if you can’t pay your bills or afford to travel to work now.

We were therefore pleased to see that, from August 2018, the government will be introducing a £1,000 bursary payment to support care leavers starting an apprenticeship, to help them meet some of the costs of their transition into work.

This mirrors – though is half the value of – the £2,000 bursary available for care leavers who go into Higher Education. Nonetheless it is a welcome start in making apprenticeships more accessible for care leavers.

If we are serious about tackling the under-representation of care leavers in apprenticeships, however, further action will be needed. We have proposed the introduction of an Apprentice Premium, to further focus investment – and thereby attention and support – on those, including care leavers, who need it most.

We have also called for the development of more flexible and part time apprenticeships, which would provide care leavers and others with the flexibility and support to successfully make the transition into work.

Today’s challenge however, is to continue to raise awareness of apprenticeships among care leavers and those who work with them.

In doing this, we need to ensure that they are made aware of the additional support available and are encouraged to declare their experience of care; we know that there can be reluctance to declare having been in care, due to concerns about how employers will react.

We also need to ensure that providers and employers are aware of the financial support currently available to them and how they can best use it to provide a high-quality apprenticeship experience for young care leavers.

Making progress in each of these, will be a firm step in transforming the life chances of some of our young care leavers, helping to set them on the pathway to a great career and a fulfilling future.

Dr Fiona Aldridge, Assistant Director for Research & Development, Learning and Work Institute.

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