Evidence shows that learners with experience of children’s social care (CSC-experienced learners) are less likely to progress to higher education, and when they do, they face more challenges than their peers.

This research project comprises of three smaller projects:

  •  Evidence review and stakeholder consultation
  •  Analysis of pathways into and through higher education for young people in England who have had a social worker
  • Sending letters to looked after young people

1. Evidence review and stakeholder consultation

The purpose of the project was to develop a thorough understanding of the existing evidence on the activities designed to support access and success in post-secondary education for CSC-experienced learners. This report highlights where the higher education (HE) sector needs to focus more attention to support these students and reveals the barriers that currently prevent them from doing so.

The evidence review was published in January 2020.

Download the full report: Supporting access and student success for learners with experience of children’s social care


Our evidence review aimed to:

  • Source and compile a database of evidence on the efficacy of interventions designed to support access, transition or success in HE for children with a social worker.
  •  Identify the strength of evidence, impact and any remaining evidence gaps.
  •  Identify barriers that children with a social worker may experience when entering HE, including HE in a further education setting.
  •  Identify factors affecting student success in HE that children with a social worker may face.

Key findings from our report showed that:

  •  CSC-experienced learners value having a single point of contact within a HE provider for them to access the support they need.
  • HE providers need to build sustainable relationships with local authorities and virtual schools.
  • There is a lack of consistent definitions and data linkage preventing researchers from understanding the impact of activities to address the needs of CSC-experienced learners.
  • CSC-experienced learners are less likely to enter HE at 18 and therefore encounter intersecting barriers experienced by mature learners.


2. Analysis of pathways into and through higher education for young people in England who have had a social worker

Due to the complexity of identifying and matching datasets, we do not have a good understanding of the patterns of progression and success for children with a social worker. This project aims to explore patterns of higher education access and success for young people with a social worker.

What we are doing?

  • Analysing several subgroups of interest for this research project to facilitate a comparison between different relevant groups. These include:

o Care Leavers
o Ever in Care
o Ever classed as children in need
o Ever subject of a child protection plan
o General population

  • The analysis will include individuals in further education colleges.
  • Analysing and exploring the intersection of characteristics and how this impacts outcomes – for example, the intersectionality of gender and ethnicity for the groups of interest.


3. Sending letters to looked after young people

Existing research suggests that simply sending a letter of encouragement from a role model can encourage disadvantaged students to apply to higher education. Therefore, we and What Works for Children’s Social Care (WWCSC) are running a new project to test if a similar approach could encourage looked after children apply to FE/HE.

What are we doing?

  • Sending letters to encourage other looked after learners in post-16 education to apply to FE/HE.
  •  Working with Become (a charity for children in care and young care leavers) to develop letters which are written by looked after children who have progressed to these destinations.
  •  Working with the National Association of Virtual Schools Heads (NAVSH) to distribute the letters.