Further Education and Higher Education: Children in Care

Department for Education written question – answered on 19 April 2021.

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Photo of Dan Jarvis Dan Jarvis Labour, Barnsley Central

To ask the Secretary of State for Education, what support he is providing to help looked after children secure a place in (a) higher and (b) further education.

Photo of Vicky Ford Vicky Ford The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education

Improving the academic attainment of looked after children in school is vital to increasing their subsequent participation in further and higher education. Every local authority in England must appoint a Virtual School Head, who has a statutory duty to promote the educational achievement of all children in their care up to the age of 18. Virtual School Heads have made a significant impact since they were introduced by statute in 2014, bringing expert leadership to the system that has seen a very significant reduction in permanent expulsions and absenteeism and improved educational progress. All looked after children, up to age 18, must also have a personal education plan. This should include careers advice and financial information about further and higher education, training, and employment.

Children in care and care leavers are a priority group for receipt of the 16 to 19 bursary, which provides up to £1,200 a year to help meet the financial costs of participating in further education.

If care leavers attend university, local authorities are required to provide a minimum £2,000 bursary and provide, or meet the costs of, accommodation during non-term times. As with other students, care leavers can request a maintenance loan to cover their living costs and a student loan to cover their course fees. In addition, many universities provide additional support for care leavers. In 2019, the department published the care leaver higher education principles for higher education institutions, which identify the areas where care leavers need extra support to access and succeed in higher education, with examples of best practice from across the sector. Further information on these is available here: https://mycovenant.org.uk/offers/educational/.

We have also 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. In total, 67 further education colleges and higher education institutions 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 providers of higher education to highlight the vulnerability of care leavers and estranged students and asked them to prioritise these groups for additional support. We have also prioritised care leavers for the receipt of laptops and data packages, distributed to local authorities in summer 2020 to allocate to vulnerable children and young people in their local areas, to help them to access education online and keep in touch with their support networks.

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