Window of opportunity

17th February 2012 at 00:00
Higher education passes most looked-after children by, but for many young refugees it's a natural ambition - and the obvious route to a better life

Mariam refers to her simply as "The Woman". It was The Woman who abused her for years, beating her and telling her that she was good for nothing. It was The Woman who kept her home from school, forcing her to cook and clean. And it was as The Woman lay unconscious on the floor, blood seeping from her head, that Mariam and her brother knew they would have to leave the country.

In that same moment, 14-year-old Mariam also resolved to go to university, to make a success of herself and to come back one day and prove to The Woman that she could amount to something after all.

Notoriously, children who are placed in foster care in Britain are unlikely to make it to university. Just 7 per cent of looked-after teenagers go on to higher education, compared with 40 per cent of their peers. The inability of teachers, social workers and carers to shift this statistic upwards has been the source of much governmental hand-wringing for decades.

There is, however, a notable exception to this rule of underachievement. In certain boroughs, the proportion of looked-after children going on to university is steadily rising. What these boroughs have in common is a large number of children who arrive in the country as unaccompanied refugees and are subsequently placed in care.

You can read the full article in the February 17 issue of TES.

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