Six factors supporting success for care leavers in higher education

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There has long been a social policy concern about groups of young people who do not have ready access to higher education (HE).  Among the lowest participation rates are those for care-experienced young people – i.e. those taken into the care of their local authority, usually due to abuse, neglect or other challenges within their birth family.  Within this group, those still in care at 16 (broadly designated as ‘care leavers’) are the least likely to enter HE.

The publication of the ‘Moving On Up’ report in late 2017 was designed to fill a gap in our understanding about the pathways that care leavers and other care-experienced students take into and through HE in England.  It draws on both national educational data and the accounts of 212 current students.

The report identifies six factors that appear to underpin successful participation in HE – not all of these will apply to all care leavers, but they provide a useful framework for examining their experiences and evaluating policy and practice:

 

  1. Strong attainment at 16

 By some way the strongest predictor for success was attainment at 16 in the shape of GCSEs or other qualifications.  Once this was taken into account, the participation rates for care leavers were only slightly lower than for young people as a whole.  However, the challenges experienced by care leavers meant that they were significantly less likely to achieve highly – around one quarter were not even entered for examination.

This finding reinforces the importance of supporting attainment for children in care, whilst recognising that many will not be in the position to achieve what they are capable of at their first attempt.  What remains unclear is whether it is the embedded knowledge/skills within GCSEs that propel care leavers towards success or whether our education system simply uses (and overuses) them to filter and redirect young people onto the pathway deemed most appropriate for them – see 6 below.

 

  1. A managed transition from care to HE

 For many, the process of transitioning from care into independent living as a student is a significant upheaval.  Financial support needs to be negotiated, appropriate accommodation secured and new friendships forged.  While this is true of all young people, those in care are likely to have more complexity and greater needs, at the same time as less family support on which to draw.

The best accounts of transition were marked by pre-entry collaboration between local authority, university/college and young person, enabling them to navigate changes as painlessly as possible.  Conversely, some ended up having to find their own way in the face of indifference or negativity.  Many reported not being able to attend open days, having difficulty getting forms signed or being forced to move into new housing on their own.

  

  1. Membership of the HE community

 Following on, rapid integration into the HE community was seen as a key element in becoming a successful student.  Those care leavers who had not integrated quickly reported loneliness, isolation and a disempowering feeling of being unsupported.  This not only impacted on their mental health, but also undermined their ability to focus on their studies.

The barriers to joining the HE community were varied.  Some found themselves living too far from the university – especially those who were parents or had remained with their foster family.  Another group reported feeling different to other students and unable to talk about their childhood as part of friendship formation.  Others found that HE staff were uninformed or unsympathetic.

 

 4. Strong disability and mental health support

 The study found that two-thirds of care leavers were deemed to have special educational needs.  Unsurprisingly, emotional and mental health issues were commonplace – many wrote about the continuing legacy of childhood trauma.  Others had specific learning difficulties or other impairments that had influenced their ability to achieve highly.

 Those self-identifying as ‘disabled’ were significantly more likely to have used HE support services and to have considered leaving.  For those with long-term mental health issues, the transition into HE posed new problems, including the end of child-focused therapeutic support.  Several reported that their university/college was unable to provide the form of ongoing support that they needed.

  

  1. Resilience and determination

 A key element in many stories was a strong sense of determination to succeed – as they saw it – against the odds.  They saw HE as a stepping stone to increase their life chances and enable them to transcend the struggles they had undergone, either with their birth families or their later experiences in care.  For some, they saw it is as their only chance to do so.

The other side of this coin was the despair that some expressed.  They were conscious of still struggling through HE, looking to an uncertain future.  It was rarely clear why one student would be resilient and another, ostensibly similar, would be fragile.

 

 6. Recognition for alternative educational pathways

 A distinctive feature of care leavers’ routes into HE was that they tended to start later (around a year, on average) and to take longer to complete than other young people, with changed courses, retakes and periods of dormancy being common.  They were significantly more likely to enter with qualifications that were not A Levels, including Access to HE and work-based learning courses.

Many care leavers are not in a position to attain highly at 16 and they are therefore ‘filtered’ into pathways that led them away from HE – at least initially – including lower-level further education courses or entry into the unskilled labour market.  It was a testament to their resolve that some found their way back into HE; local authorities and universities could do more to valorise these alternative pathways and make them easier to find and traverse.

 

Dr Neil Harrison  , Associate Professor of Education Policy

Twitter: @DrNeilHarrison 

 

Is it time you joined the Revolution?

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The death toll from Bangladesh’s worst industrial accident has passed 1,000 as recovery teams continue to find more bodies in the wreckage.

 …. so read the BBC’s news in May 2013. The collapse of the Rana Plasa garment factory in Bangladesh shook the world with images of the disaster broadcast around the globe. A spot light was focused, not on the high street or cat walk, but on the working conditions of the people who actually make our clothes. Those usually not considered -invisible to the consumer – were brought into focus through the mass media.

In response, Fashion Revolution was born; a global movement calling for greater transparency, sustainability and ethics in the fashion industry. The movement looks to encourage changes to the way our clothes are sourced, produced and purchased, so that we can be confident that what we wear has been made in a safe, clean and fair way.

Five years on from the Rana Plaza disaster and things are changing. The Bangladesh Accord has seen over 200 brands in 20  countries sign up to this legally binding agreement between brands, retailers and trade unions – designed to build a safe and healthy environment for garment workers. Films such as The True Cost have been broadcast to raise awareness and inform consumers of the working conditions many garment workers suffer. Consumers are making more informed decisions about what they buy.

However we have a long way to go.

The Garment Worker Diaries highlight just some of the stories from around the 75 million garment workers worldwide – a majority of these people makes clothes for the global market and are still living in poverty, unable to afford life’s basic necessities. Many are subject to exploitation; verbal and physical abuse, working in unsafe and dirty conditions, with very little pay.

Each year 150 billion items of clothing are delivered out of factories yet Americans alone throw away over 36 kg of clothing each year per person – a vast majority of this going to either a landfill or an incinerator. At the same time, traditional craft industries are being eroded, due in large part to mass manufacturing. Ancient techniques that have been handed down from generation to generation are being lost.

If that wasn’t bad enough, don’t forget that every piece of clothing also has a wider environmental impact. The chemicals used to grow, dye, launder and treat our clothes end up polluting land, rivers and oceans. A huge amount of water is used to produce garments through growing cotton, dyeing and laundering.  In fact, it’s estimated that we need 1,800 gallons of water to make just one pair of jeans.

With such demands, the global necessity for continued work towards change in the fashion industry is brought into focus through the Sustainable Development Goals. Just as the very fibers of our clothing are woven together, so too are the issues; from the female dominated workforce denied an education and fair pay, to garment factories working towards closed loop systems with zero waste, to those working in partnerships with artisans who deliver goods that are kind to both land and sea. Responsible consumption and production are needed.

With this in mind, last year I worked with Prof. Ian Cook (Exeter University) to further raise awareness of the issues Fashion Revolution work towards bringing into focus. We developed a free online course that we hoped would allow people to think through the journeys the clothes in their own wardrobes had made.

We were blown away when over 8,000 people signed up for our three week MOOC (mass online open course) which was supported by the FutureLearn platform. Working as a global learning community we supported participants to become clothes detectives and  unearth the secret stories the fabrics from their wardrobes hold.  As June 25th 2018 approaches we once again ready ourselves for the course to launch its second year.

As an educator, it is so exciting to work with a truly global class about real issues that have a real impact and can be taught at primary, secondary, further and higher education level. We hope you can join us on this year’s course.

Please sign up here or contact me if would like further information.

What people said about the 2017 course:

I have loved every second of this course! It was vastly different from most courses I have taken, both online and offline, because it was interactive on an emotional and intellectual level, instead of being a purely mental task and as a result I enjoyed it far more. I will recommend this course to absolutely anyone, it is incredibly supportive, thought-provoking and provides a fantastic atmosphere for learning.

 

I thoroughly enjoyed this course and want to thank everyone involved for presenting such an important subject in an engaging way. You left us with a lot to think about and I have planned how to take my pledge forward at work so it will go on having an impact past the course end date.
Thank you again, and good luck with the #class of 2018 when you repeat this programme.

Dr Verity Jones, Senior Lecturer in Global and Sustainable Education

Twitter: @VerityJones_edu 

English as an Additional Language and Creativity Conference 2018

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EAL and Creativity – Using Arts-Based Methods for Supporting Learners of English as an Additional Language

Thursday 12th July 2018 9.00 – 4:00 pm

The University of the West of England, Coldharbour Lane, Bristol, BS16 1QY

CWLE team at the Department of Education and Childhood, the University of West England in collaboration with Integra Schools is pleased to invite practitioners to a one day conference.

Keynote speakers:

 

Professor Alison Phipps, Glasgow University:

“The Well in Welcome: Creating Welcoming Environments for All”.

Dr Mary Carol Combs, University of Arizona.

Learning in the Third Space: Pedagogies of Hope and Resistance

Programme Highlights

Creative art workshops

  • Adinkra Creative Links – Naa Densua Tordzro and Gameli Tordzro
  • Spoken Word, Broken Silence – Tawona Sitholé and Alison Phipps
  • Film-making and EAL Learners – Maryam Almohammad
  • Craft-making with EAL Learners – Jane Andrews

 Teachmeet:

  • Judith Prosser, Cotham School, Bristol
  • Karen Thomas (Portsmouth EMTAS) and Rebecca Reeve

The conference is free but please make a booking here so we can organise catering and transport.

For inquiries please contact Dr Jane Andrews  jane.andrewsedu@uwe.ac.uk and Dr Maryam Almohammad Maryam.Almohammad@uwe.ac.uk

Follow us on Tiwtter: @CWLE_EAL 

 

Engineering Science Education: Teaching Science Through Engineering

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In UK primary schools there are very few teachers who have any scientific qualifications above GCSE level.  Many also report that they struggle with science subject knowledge and that this causes them to feel less confident about teaching science.  Unfortunately we know that these aspects can have a negative impact on children’s learning and attitudes to science.

Our work, supported by a grant from the Engineer’s Professors Council and a UWE Spur 6 grant, aimed to address this by using engineering as an alternative approach to teaching science.  UWE trainee primary school teachers (ITE students) were paired with UWE undergraduate engineering students working together within a knowledge exchange framework to design and deliver engineering activities to local primary school children.  The pairs of students worked together to challenge children to design and make solutions to ‘real-life’ problems such as designing and building a machine to clear up after a class party; a floating device to enable you to take your phone swimming with you and a device to carry secret messages to a friend.

Research findings have shown that rather than de-skilling the pre-service teachers, pairing them with an ‘expert’ engineering student appeared to be a vital contributor to the positive outcomes of the project.  Working as paired peers significantly increased the trainee teacher’s confidence in both engineering and science subject knowledge as well as their confidence in their ability to teach these subjects well which can directly contribute to positive outcomes for children.  The engineers reported that they were more likely to take part in public engagement activities in the future as a result of participation in the project.

Over 800 local primary school children have also had the opportunity to become engineers for the day at our ‘Children as Engineers’ conferences run jointly by the Departments of Engineering and Education and Childhood.   For the children who have participated in the project using an engineering approach to teaching and learning science has supported their scientific understanding, as well as helping them to engage with the engineering design process.  The children were more positive about science, and future career plans in science and engineering, and they demonstrated a much greater and more accurate awareness about engineers and engineering.

As a result of this work a toolkit for training teachers and engineers to jointly teach science through engineering has been developed. This has now been embedded into the undergraduate programmes for ITE and engineering students.  This work is being supported by a HEFCE (now Office for Students) grant which will help us to evaluate longer term, sustainable impact.  The development of a tool-kit which can be used by other higher education institutions is our long-term goal.

Enabling the students and children to work together challenges children’s preconceptions about engineers and the role that they play, supports engineering students in their public engagement skills and develops the subject knowledge of the trainee teachers.  In the words of teachers from the schools involved ‘The engineering project was amazing!!  The children gained so much’ ‘the whole school is absolutely buzzing’.

In the words of the students themselves…..

Engineering student participant- “working with the teaching students was sublime.  I was amazed at their skills in the classroom.”

 

ITE student participant- “I really enjoyed the day, it was extremely useful to work with the engineers.  I was surprised at how we were able to share ideas so well.  I learnt so much.”

 

ITE student participant- “I was amazed at how doing the practical work revealed so much about the children’s learning and understanding.  It has really made me think about the types of lessons I will do in the future.”

Dr Fay Lewis ,Senior Lecturer in Primary Math and Science Education

Jamie, joy and learning to read

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You may have heard the expression “never work with children or animals” and having been a primary school teacher and now a lecturer in Primary Education I have always felt that this is rather an unfair maxim. From my experience, it is often children that offer a more insightful view of the world we have created rather than the adults who created it. Children are able to reflect on the world from their unique vantage point, unburdened by big picture pressures of the big ‘p’ and small ‘p’ politics of daily life: the politics of party political education policy and its ramifications in schools and classrooms.  However, working with children does offer an element of unpredictability, surprise and unplanned for diversions – and perhaps this is what the expression is hinting at. As a researcher at UWE Bristol, these are the qualities that make researching with children so powerful and engaging.

I have just completed my Doctoral studies researching the Year 1 Phonics Screening Check and drawing on the voices of teachers and children to evaluate the Check in its widest sense. Kushner identified evaluation as a social service and the data that it generates as representing “the people – their hopes, fears, aspirations and failures.” Children, in their open and generous responses provided just this and so giving a momentary insight into the world of children aged 5 and 6, in Year 1.

One child, let’s call him Jamie, left a particular impression. The struggle to become a reader was etched on his face and clearly, reading was a real challenge. In fact when introducing the research to the children and asking if they were happy to be part of it, he immediately volunteered “I’m no good at reading, it’s really hard,” suggesting he was therefore not suitable to be part of such a research study. Jamie repeated through the session that the only way to get better was to practice – every day. His ideas of perseverance and practice seemed to be, in part, repeated tropes from teachers and parents. He offered this as the way to learn to read but without any joy or delight in the process or even a sense of any satisfaction in the final destination. Jamie knew reading was important: he made this clear – he mentioned the need to read as an adult, to get a job, to find your way “around London” as he put it. Jamie seemed to have internalised a fear of not being able to read and a keen knowledge that his friends could. Jamie expressed how he was not as good as others at reading and his face seemed to express how tired he was by this constant ‘practice’ that he seemed to suggest was his ‘lot’ for some time to come. Jamie, whilst being only six was no longer a primary school child but, as described by his teachers, ‘a student’ ripe for intervention. How is it that this term ‘student’ has come to be used with reference to all school aged children where once it was only used to identify learners at University? Have we lost the fact that Jamie is a child and that he won’t recapture these years as a child at primary school?

Jamie expressed an almost treadmill approach to developing as a reader – learning sounds; being tested on sounds; reading allocated books; moving through the book levels until one day in the future moving to that enviable position of being a free reader. Each step will be marked out by daily practice. Not only that, but Jamie expressed what seemed to be an ‘obstacle race’ view of the process – adults putting unnecessary additional hurdles in the way of the drudgery. “We have to read alien words,” he said – words that don’t make sense to children “only aliens”.  Lucy piped up at this point to correct him:

“Miss Honey said that, um they are just to help you with your sounds they are not for any other use they just help with sounds – um, a bit of a waste of time.”

These children are taught by fabulous teachers who inspire and enthuse their classes and there were many children that reflected this as part of my research. It is the voice of Jamie though that is the voice that sticks with me. In the introduction I talked about the warning that you should “never work with children or animals” and Jamie is perhaps one of those children, not because he is difficult or disruptive but because of the uncomfortable truths he expresses. Yes, we do want to teach Jamie to read and for some children, like Jamie, it won’t always be easy. However we do need to learn how best to make this a joyful process and one that doesn’t become so focused on the mechanics of practice that we lose sight of the child ‘in the student’.

Jane Carter ,Senior Lecturer in Primary Education

A Working-Class Feminist’s Perspective of Navigating the ‘Classed’ Higher Education System

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After being invited to contribute to the Think Human Festival, organised by Professor Simon Kövesi, Laura Baldock and their colleagues at Oxford Brookes University, a familiar resurgence of anxiety momentarily flooded me.

Not only did I face the usual worries over whether I’d pronounce words ‘correctly’ or whether I’d be perceived as a ‘caricature’ (as I have heard other working-class female academics being described), I was instantly reminded of the previous time I spoke on a similar theme to that which I was invited to speak on at Brookes.

In 2017, I was invited to speak at the University of Cambridge. The majority of the audience members appeared welcoming of the research that I was there to disseminate from the Paired Peers project and my reflections on how I have navigated the higher education system as a working-class student and academic. Though, as I spoke, I noticed two audience members who were struggling to contain their laughter.

At first, I thought that perhaps I had something on my face or stuck between my teeth. What I soon noticed was that their laughter, which they failed to hide behind their tissues, coincided with some of the words that I was using. As I do in all environments, academic or not, I spoke with my Barnsley accent and dialect. The way in which I pronounced words such as ‘reyt’, made the two audience members widen their eyes while looking towards one another and silently chuckle. I also noticed that they laughed at one of the key suggestions that I proposed: that there should be a working-class association at every UK university, with a particular need for such an association at ‘older’ universities. They found my idea- that students and academics should have space within middle-class dominated university fields to recreate a microcosm based on their own community- laughable.

With this experience nagging at me, I felt doubly anxious to speak about similar matters at Oxford Brookes. However, when I started to present on this occasion, I found myself standing in front of a wholly engaged audience. As I looked around me there was no half-hidden silent laughter, only intrigued faces. As a result, I felt confident to introduce my position that there are three risks faced by working-class students who access higher education, these being: (i) economic, (ii) cultural, and (iii) social risks.

First, I demonstrated the rationale for this position through using data from the Paired Peers research project. I showed that there are class distinctions within university fields between working-class students and their middle-class peers and academic staff. I demonstrated this by showing how working-class and middle-class agents have different social, cultural and economic capital accessible to them and spoke about how these hold different cachets within the university field. Drawing on a variety of student narratives, I was able to explore how different forms of capital were mobilised to mold culture consumption practices which, in turn, differentiated the experiences and graduate outcomes of working-class and middle-class university students.

Second, through reflecting on my own trajectory as a working-class student and academic at university, I explored how I navigated these three risks. I spoke about how I, as an eighteen-year-old undergraduate student, tried to assimilate with the other students that I lived with and the university culture at large. Though, besides meeting three other young working-class women who I studied alongside, I, a working-class girl from ‘Barnslehhhhhhh’, wasn’t successful in assimilating with the hegemonic student population.

I explored how my experiences of social and cultural exclusion were exemplified as I transferred from undergraduate to PhD study. I explained how in response to my lack of ‘fit’ and my observations of those who were proving to be a ‘success’, who were indeed middle-class, I began to question aspects of my identity. I detailed how, as a result of this incessant questioning, I was left with very little: the dominant middle-class culture had pulverised into submission any working-class character that I had. The girl who was known as ‘gob on legs’ throughout her earlier contact with education had become overanalytical of every aspect of herself and, as a result, became subdued. My experiences, and how I embodied these, were misvalued by agents who operated within higher education and thus I jarred with the social and cultural practices which thrived there.

To conclude the talk, I spoke of how I work to find some solutions for these issues for myself and others:

First, I began to observe and read the work published by other working-class women in academia. I watched, listened and drew on their experiences until I was confident enough to share the richness of my own culture: my accent, dialect, sense of humour and style, all of which are considered ‘garish’ when positioned against the backdrop of most universities;

Second, I learned to adore the ‘third space’ that I reside in. I exist here because on the one hand I no longer wholly fit in at home in Barnsley (I am now often perceived as ‘too posh’), and on the other, I do not fit in with academia, not that I have the desire to assimilate with dominant academic culture anyway. Yes, it can be lonely, but I am in the perfect position to achieve my ambitions to teach and work alongside other working-class people who engage with the structures of higher education;

Third, as other academics have done before me, I aim to continue to bring social class- an often-undiscussed or hidden facet of the university experience- to the table, while utilising the tools provided by intersectionality theory. I work to show those who are unrepresented by the prevailing cultures of higher education that they do not have to change to be considered a ‘success’, the definition of which is too often set by a middle-class, white, ableist, male bias.

I will continue to talk about how institutional practices dismiss and ostracize working-class culture and hold up middle-class culture as the archetype of what is deemed successful. I hope that unpicking these via an intersectional approach will help unrepresented students and academics see that it isn’t their fault that they sit on the periphery of these fields. That in fact, our position on the outskirts affords us a unique perspective, one that academia would be foolish to continue to ignore.

Laura Bentley, PhD student, the Paired Peers project 

Twitter: @LauraBentleyPhD 

 

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