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UCAS called on to count care leavers

The body responsible for handling university applications has been criticised for failing to gather statistics on the number of care leavers applying to Scottish universities.

Since 2008, care leavers have been able to identify themselves on UCAS forms as having been in care. But UCAS, which publishes a range of information about applicants, including their age, gender and location, refuses to publish the figures.

A spokesman argues that, because care leavers are not obliged to identify themselves, the data would be unreliable.

However, an expert in the education of looked-after children says the statistics would allow Scotland to see year-on-year if applications from the group were increasing or decreasing and, therefore, whether initiatives to encourage care leavers into university were succeeding.

Currently, only 2.6 per cent of care leavers go on to higher education, compared with 35.5 per cent of youngsters living with their own families.

Graham Connelly, a senior lecturer in education at Strathclyde University, said: "We just don't know what proportion of applications to Scottish universities come from people who have been in care."

Even if the information was flawed, it was better than nothing, he argued. "We might not know exactly how accurate it is, but it would tell us if there was an upward or a downward trend in applications and the statisticians could write qualifying comments beside the figures."

UCAS added the tick-box to identify applicants from a care background in the wake of research carried out by the Frank Buttle Trust into the barriers facing care leavers keen to move on to higher education. The report, Going from University to Care, found those who succeeded, did so against considerable odds. One of the report's 20 main recommendations was that university application forms should allow looked-after children to identify themselves so extra resources and information could be supplied for those in care or who had left care.

Seventy-seven per cent of the research participants said they would have been willing to tick a box on the UCAS form.

Widening access for children in care, page 19

emma.seith@tes.co.uk.

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