FE must support students in care, study finds

13th April 2012 at 01:00
Report recommends a focus in colleges on supporting looked-after young people

Colleges should provide targeted support for young people in care to encourage them to stay on in education, a report has recommended.

Research into three different pilot projects by Graham Connelly also calls for specific training to be given to college staff in how to work with looked-after students.

"Colleges can best support looked-after young people when there is awareness of the difficulties and barriers to participation in education that they typically experience," said Dr Connelly of the Centre for Excellence for Looked After Children at the University of Strathclyde.

"Although the young people varied in the amount of pre-course and on- course support they needed, many would not have sustained a college place without additional scaffolding arrangements," said the report, Supporting Care Leavers in Scottish Further Education Colleges.

A disrupted family life, lack of continuity in care placements and schooling, and difficulties with relationships and accommodation could all be contributing factors to a student being at greater risk of dropping out of college, he said.

"Support arrangements, including short orientation courses, summer schools and a champion within the college, are important for helping to boost confidence and keeping students on track," he added.

The research, conducted between August 2009 and June 2011, involved 428 students aged 15 to 19, some returning for their second year at college, and most attending courses equivalent to Highers or below.

The three pilots varied widely in their focus and approach - with Glasgow's John Wheatley and Dumfries and Galloway colleges using specially-constructed programmes with a focus on personal and social development as well as vocational aspects. The Edinburgh pilot - involving Stevenson, Jewel and Esk, and Telford colleges - focused on a wide range of support services and liaison with schools and social services, but offered no specifically-designed courses for looked-after students. The pilot at John Wheatley College also included a large number of students under the age of 16.

All three, however, focused on delivering personal and career guidance alongside other support to sustain attendance and maintain educational progress.

They also highlighted the need to have clear, formalised structures for cooperation with other agencies, such as Skills Development Scotland, which would also aid referral processes and the sharing of confidential information about young people.

Recruitment of young people to the pilot programmes had exceeded targets, suggesting there was a demand for further education among looked-after young people, concluded the report.

Colleges across Scotland should be encouraged to provide similar support for this group, said Dr Connelly.

julia.belgutay@tess.co.uk.

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