Education – both formal and informal – is a very important part of individual development as well as access to a whole range of opportunities and resources in both our social and work lives. It is immediately recognizable in the form of certificates and qualifications and can also be recognized through participation and attendance. Our concept of attainment and achievement is somewhat limited at the moment but can be expanded. However, this is an issue for society at large and not just particularly to young people in care and care leavers.
This is an organization I have recently been asked to be involved in.
Since its launch in 2009, The Letterbox Club has aimed to provide enjoyable educational support for children who are looked-after across the country. The programme is dedicated to working alongside participating local authorities, councils and schools in England, Wales, Scotland & Northern Ireland. Letterbox Club now reaches over 11,000 children across the UK each year!
The organization along with the University of Strathclyde fundraises to support, financially and emotionally, up to four young people in care each year to go to Harvard for their exciting summer school in Boston.
Buttle UK have developed a quality mark to award to universities that support care leavers at university.
Over many years, Buttle UK’s grant giving brought to light the difficulties that care leavers faced when going to university. We commissioned a five-year research project looking at the experiences of the small number of care leavers that did manage to attend. It uncovered a systematic underestimation of the ability and potential of care leavers, overcome only by their own resilience and persistence.
The Quality Mark was Buttle UK’s response. Based on the research findings it provided a framework that allowed universities, and later on, further education colleges, to develop their support for children and young people who had experienced care.
In order to be awarded the Buttle UK Quality Mark universities and colleges had to offer a minimum level of support to care leavers, but also demonstrate a commitment to improving their provision further.
Care Leavers and Further Education
In 2010 I was funded, alongside colleagues, to explore the educational experiences of care leavers at five colleges across Scotland which had specific, pilot, programmes of training and support for care leavers. The main findings were:
All three pilots emphasised the importance of having an effective infrastructure: an operational group with clearly defined remit and roles; workable arrangements for referral and sharing confidential information about young people; and a supportive network of partners.
All of the partners could identify significant benefits arising from conducting training for a broad range of college staff about the experiences of looked after children and young people. Although this training was typically conducted by the pilot staff there is no reason why colleges should not invite partners, such as local authority leaving care teams, to provide this service.
The full report can be downloaded here.
I make no bones about it. I believe in formal education. I think that non-traditional routes through education are important and exciting and work for many young people in society. However, I also believe that academic education also has a place within modern training and development - again - for the right young people.
Throughout the eight years I spent in care (not that long ago) I fought to go to mainstream, full time school and I was the only young person I came across in all that time who was in full time, mainstream education. Not an uncommon experience having gone from living to working in the care system; it is an experience I have come across quite often. After missing three years of high school I gained 11 GCSE’s but, yet, I was placed on a “hair and beauty” programme when I started college despite having applied and been interviewed for 4 A Levels – I soon got this rectified!
This research showed me that, as above, there is a real and important place for specific programmes for young people in care and care leavers. I also found, personally through this research, that these programmes are not for everyone. We must not always assume that individuals from a care background are lacking in their capacity for knowledge, learning and formal education. There were many struggles for the young people in this research – finance, emotional support, areas they lived in, isolation etc which were not addressed by the programme, staff or college (as this was not their remit).
(As always, anything written on this website is my own and not representative of anyone else’s views).