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Helping disadvantaged students: Pulling down the barriers for care leavers and carers

Students in library low resCare leavers are poorly represented in higher education in the UK with only 6% at the age of 19 progressing to university.

The University of Salford has an excellent track record in working with charities in the field, developing new strategies and encouraging school and college leavers to consider going on to higher education.

The university began monitoring the number of care leavers during the 2011/12  academic year when only 27 students were registered at level 4.  Due to the work it has been doing in this area, this has increased to 146 students from across all levels by the current academic year (2016-17)

The foundations for this success were established in 2010/2011 when Salford CAN (Community Action Network) was established. One of the first activities was the Care Experienced Mentoring Programme supporting children in care in Salford Schools and Children’s Homes. Looked after children are mentored by Salford students who are either care-experienced, students on the MA Social Work programme, or both.

The university also leads on the training of foster carers in Greater Manchester providing training to foster carers in Salford, Manchester, Trafford, Bolton and Tameside local authorities.

Collaborations with BAM Construction, National Care Advisory Service, and the Construction Industry Training Board help NEET (Not in education, employment or training) care leavers in Children’s Homes gain apprenticeships in construction. School leavers considering employment in the construction industry may be more attracted to an apprenticeship, with the option to consider university education at a later stage.

The university’s Student and Graduate Diversity Officer also chairs the National Network for the Education of Care Leavers – and secured funding to establish a website and project manager to drive this work forward.

As well as care leavers, the university introduced Carer Policy and Care Support Plans in 2014. One in ten people have a caring role in the UK. Students at Salford who have caring responsibilities are now able to discuss their needs with the Student and Graduate Diversity Officer so that a support plan can be compiled to allow them the best possible university experience.

It started monitoring the number of carers it provided support for from 2014/15 and expect that by 2015/16, the university will be supporting around 100 students, juggling their caring responsibilities with their university life.  To help raise the aspirations of young carers, the university hosted an Open Day for Carers from the Salford Young Carers’ Centre.