Supporting Hands

Learners with experience of children’s social care (CSC-experienced learners)[1] need more effective support to access and succeed in higher education, according to a new report from the Centre for Access and Student Outcomes in Higher Education (TASO). 

The report finds scant robust evidence on the best ways to support CSC-experienced learners in higher education, despite efforts from universities and colleges over recent years. However, a few promising approaches are identified, such as Go Higher West Yorkshire’s innovative training programme, co-developed with virtual schools to support young people’s decision-making.

Dr Omar Khan, Director of TASO said:

“Learners with experience of children’s social care are less likely to progress to higher education, and when they do, they face more challenges than their peers. This report highlights where the higher education sector needs to focus more attention to support these students and reveals the barriers that currently prevent them from doing so.

“We need more collaboration between local authorities, schools and higher education providers. Universities and colleges also need to adopt holistic approaches to tackling inequalities and acknowledge intersecting barriers between different student groups, such as learners with experience of children’s social care and mature learners.”

Dr Michael Sanders, Chief Executive of What Works for Children’s Social Care said:

“As our recent Springboard collaboration with TASO and Become has shown, young people who have had social care experience can bring a great deal to universities, and offer many unique perspectives. This paper shows that there is a large evidence gap on how we can best support these students to attend higher education and thrive there if that is the best route for them. I am pleased to see TASO’s commitment to this important and too often overlooked group of young people.”

Helen Sykes, Manager of Go Higher West Yorkshire said:

“As part of our long-standing commitment to working in partnership to reduce inequalities in access to, success in and progression from higher education for care-experienced young people, Go Higher West Yorkshire is pleased to contribute promising new evidence to TASO’s review. Collaboration, including bringing together evidence from across the sector on initiatives and approaches to support young people with experience of Children’s Social Care as in TASO’s report, is key to understanding what works and why in our work to support successful outcomes for this group.”

The report summarises the findings of a literature review, which was supplemented by interviews with staff and experts across the non-profit, post-secondary education, and education policy sectors.

The report analyses 57 studies. Roughly half of these studies focused on the evaluation of support activities and the other half explored potential barriers and facilitators affecting this group’s trajectory into post-secondary education.

The evidence review uses the terms ‘experience of children’s social care’, or ‘CSC-experienced’ to include all those who have or have had experience with children’s social care at some point before they turned 18.

Report’s recommendations:  

  • To ensure effective allocation of support for learners with experience of children’s social care more causal studies investigating the actual efficacy of the interventions on the aspirations, enrolment and success are needed.
  • Higher education providers need to work more closely with external staff in local authorities and virtual schools to facilitate closer channels of communication and foster collaboration in their respective work.
  • Learners with experience of children’s social care are more likely to enter higher education as mature learners and not have standard entry qualifications. Providers should ensure that staff and activities that support mature learners are better linked up with staff and activities that support learners with experience of children’s social care, and vice-versa, and evaluate these efforts where possible.
  • More research on the effectiveness of designated members of staff within providers and their impact on the retention and success rates of learners with experience of children’s social care should be carried out. Robust monitoring and evaluation should be built into their work from the start.
  • More research is also needed on the link between experience of children’s social care and mental health, and its impact on access and success in higher education.
  • The Department for Education and its delivery bodies must place a greater emphasis on facilitating an inclusive understanding of definitions and a more consistent and easily-available tracking of care-experienced individuals and their outcomes over time and between the school, college and the higher education sectors.
  • To ensure the most effective targeting, monitoring and supporting of relevant sub-groups, the inclusion of voices from learners with experience of children’s social care in the conception, dissemination and interpretation of research projects is strongly recommended.

[1] ‘Experience of children’s social care’, or ‘CSC-experienced’ includes all those who have or have had experience with children’s social care at some point before they turned 18. Our scope includes those learners who have or have had a Child in Need Plan or a Child Protection Plan, as well as those who are or have been in care (‘care-experienced’ or ‘care leavers’).

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