Providing care leavers with the support they need to access educational opportunities that will allow them to reach their potential is one of my main priorities. We have already:
- Launched 3 care leaver social impact bonds (£5 million over 4 years), which use ‘payment by results’ contracts to support care leavers into education, employment or training.
- In August 2018, introduced a £1,000 bursary for care leavers starting an apprenticeship. Local authorities are required to provide a £2,000 bursary for care leavers who go to university; and care leavers are a priority group for the 16-19 bursary (£1,200 a year) if they are studying in further education.
- In 2019, published the care leaver higher education (HE) principles guidance, which identify the areas where care leavers need extra support to access and succeed in HE, with examples of best practice from across the sector.
- In September, my hon. Friend, the Minister of State for Universities, wrote to local authority virtual school heads encouraging them to arrange workshops for care leavers, using free resources designed to help young adults prepare for independent student living.
- Launched the care leaver covenant, which provides a way for organisations from the public, private and voluntary sectors to show their commitment to care leavers through providing concrete offers of support. There are now 155 organisations and around 60 HE institutions who have signed the care leaver covenant and published their ‘offer’ to care leavers.
At the start of the COVID-19 outbreak, my hon. Friend, the Minister of state for Universities, wrote to universities and other HE providers, to highlight the vulnerability of care leavers and estranged students, and asked them to prioritise these groups for additional support. In addition:
- Care leavers were a priority group for the 220,000 laptops that the department provided to local authorities, for disadvantaged children and young people, so they can access education and social care services remotely. This included care leavers who are studying at university.
- The government has worked closely with the Office for Students (OfS) to clarify that providers can draw upon existing funding to increase hardship funds and support disadvantaged students impacted by the COVID-19 outbreak. Providers were able to use OfS Student Premium funding worth around £23 million per month for April to July this year and £256 million, for the academic year 2020/21 starting from August, towards student hardship funds, including the purchase of IT equipment and mental health support, as well as to support providers’ access and participation plans.