'It's part of who I am, and I'm proud of who I am'

12th May 2006 at 01:00
Chris Hoyle, 20, is near the end of his first year studying computational physics at York University. Had it not been for his wilfulness, however, his life might have taken a very different course.

Chris (pictured right) was taken into care at the end of Year 10. "I was sat in social services office, it was 9 o'clock in the evening, and they said, 'We're moving you to Bradford'. I said, 'No, you're not'. If I hadn't been competent to say that, I would have had to move schools halfway through GCSEs."

Chris prevailed and he was placed with a foster family near his existing school, Filey secondary in North Yorkshire. After an unhappy experience with them - he had to be out of the house between 10am and 5pm, and his bedroom had a glass door - he joined his older brother Jonny (see main story) at the home of Trevor and Odette Townsend in Scarborough. He stayed there happily until the age of 18, when he decided it was time to move out.

"There's no better people," he says of the Townsends.

Neither his own mother nor the Townsends went to college, but Chris decided at the age of 12 that he would go to university - encouraged, he says, by teachers. "It's just one of those things they drum into you, if they think you're clever," he says. After taking A-levels in maths, physics and computing (he spent three years in sixth form), Chris began at York last autumn.

His foster parents have been very supportive, he says, first by propelling him out of bed to go to school and encouraging him to revise, and more recently by providing roast dinners and general support when he is back in Scarborough. Trevor Townsend comes to collect him from halls for the vacations; they still treat him like a son.

Chris says he is struggling financially, "but only because I drink too much". Social services helped him apply to a charitable trust, from which he gets pound;1,000 a year while at university. He also receives pound;30 a week from social services, a "leaving care" grant of pound;1,750 is on the way, and he has taken out the maximum student loan. During vacations, he lives with his girlfriend's family in Scarborough; his girlfriend's mother is also a foster carer, and gets an allowance for his keep from social services.

Chris is open with his university friends about his experiences of foster care. "All my friends know," he says. "It's part of who I am, and I'm proud of who I am." He plans to do a PGCE following his degree and one day teach A-level physics.

His financial position is not unusual for undergraduates who have been brought up in care. Almost all of the 129 students tracked for five years by a team from London University's Institute of Education took out the maximum student loan; after three years their average level of debt was around pound;2,000 more than the national average of pound;9,210. They usually worked through the holidays; few could afford to take a break. Lack of money limited social activities.

Many of the students in the sample reported difficulties with coursework and dissertations, often because of earlier gaps in schooling or because they had never had a routine of sitting down to do homework after school.

Those who had been placed in a foster family with a strong commitment to supporting education considered this a key factor in their educational success.

Going to University from Care, by Sonia Jackson, Sarah Ajayi and Margaret Quigley, Institute of Education, pound;9.99

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