London Higher’s diverse group of member institutions in the capital welcome the opportunity to respond to the government’s consultation addressing the reform of children’s social care. London’s higher education (HE) sector can play an instrumental role in this reform by supporting care experienced students to lead fulfilling lives through good outcomes in higher education.
Firstly, we welcome the government’s call for more opportunities to be created for children in care and care leavers, to help them achieve their potential through education, employment, and training. We believe that an increase in Pupil Premium Plus funding goes some way in supporting this, allowing children in care and care leavers to access well-evidenced programmes in tuition and mentoring. Effective inter-agency working is a strength of the London HE sector, however for the reform to be a success in creating more opportunities for care experienced students, work is needed to strengthen partnership working, ensuring stakeholders have up to date contact details and are well informed of opportunities such as outreach and attainment raising programmes delivered by higher education institutions (HEIs), Uni Connect partnerships and charities.
We support proposals to widen corporate parenting responsibilities; however, it is crucial that when considering extending responsibilities to HEIs, for example with mental health and accommodation support, the higher education sector is closely consulted with to ensure HEIs are well-equipped and funded to perform the role of a compassionate, and competent corporate parent.
Consultation with the sector will be essential to ensure the success of an extension of corporate parenting responsibilities, evidenced through the example of student accommodation. London Higher welcomes the long-term goal of making the Staying Close programme a national entitlement, and an increase in the number of young people accessing the Staying Close and Staying Put programmes. There is a challenge, however, in how care experienced students would benefit from the Staying Put and Staying Close programmes and be supported by the HEIs they attend, dependent on specific accommodation support offers from individual HEIs and Local Authorities. To achieve the consultation’s goal of a fair distribution of resources, differences in local offers to care leavers across the country need to be considered.
While we welcome the government’s call to ensure further education (FE) and HE providers work towards a gold standard accreditation scheme, setting a high standard in how providers support care experienced students, greater clarity is needed on how this will complement, and not duplicate the existing NNECL quality mark.
We are disappointed to learn that proposals to make care experience a protected characteristic are not being taken forward at this time, as making care experience a protected characteristic would support HEIs to identify and provide the holistic support care experienced students may need throughout their higher education journey. We hope that the government can reconsider their position on this matter.
We propose that the higher education sector and other education stakeholders are consulted before significant changes are introduced. We believe it is critical that the risk of increasing corporate parenting responsibilities doesn’t outweigh the enormous opportunity there is to improve the outcomes of care experienced students. We invite the government to have this conversation with London Higher.
Our full consultation response is available to download on the London Higher website.