Supporting vulnerable students to thrive

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Supporting vulnerable students to thriveSupporting vulnerable students to thrive
Date14th Jun 2021AuthorGuest AuthorCategoriesStudent Life

The educational outcomes and destination measures for Looked After Children and young carers sadly continue to lag behind their peers. About 30% of 18 year old care leavers are NEET and The Children’s Society has reported that these vulnerable groups are also impacted in several different domains, including health, education and their social life. 

At Blackpool Sixth, we are proud that we dramatically buck that depressing trend, and the outcomes of our Looked After Children, care leavers and young carers are in line with, or in the case of Looked after Children, better than their peers. In 2020, 100% of upper sixth students in these vulnerable groups progressed to HE or apprenticeships at the end of their level 3 studies and 75% of those progressing to HE progressed to Russell Group universities. So how did we support our students to achieve such positive outcomes? We used the following six steps:

  1. Early identification of needs
  2. Collaboration with schools and other agencies
  3. Personalised support put in place prior to enrolment
  4. Rigorous monitoring of progress with swift action taken to address any concerns
  5. Regular reviews with students, carers, support workers and other professionals
  6. Recognise and celebrate successes

A key element of improving the support we provide is the links we have forged with social workers, Virtual School Heads (who work for a local authority to promote educational attainment for all looked-after children), and other agencies. This has allowed us to identify potential applicants earlier so we can better plan transition and the support these students may require when they start at college. We have developed strong links with Blackpool Young Carers, a charity who provide specialist support and respite, and they now regularly attend our college open days and other events. 

Prior to enrolment, a key support worker is allocated to each individual student. Having one named member of staff responsible for ensuring students in the vulnerable cohort are progressing well throughout their time at college is crucial. The key support workers work closely with students, parents/carers, pastoral mentors, teachers, and social workers, so we are able to support students through transition and then monitor their progress closely once on-programme at the college. 

To support progression and to raise aspirations, each of our vulnerable young people have access to one-to-one support from a careers advisor at college at least three times a year. I believe that this regular focus on next steps has been a significant factor in our students’ success. 

In summary, my ‘top tips’ would be:

  • Forge strong links with the Heads of the Virtual School, social workers and other agencies.
  • Identify, and have regular contact, with applicants who are Looked After Children or have caring responsibilities at the earliest possible opportunity.
  • Have a dedicated member of staff responsible for ensuring students in the vulnerable cohort are progressing well throughout their time at college.
  • Coordinated support - all staff that are working with the students share information in order to provide targeted support, where it is needed.
  • Target careers events to support the vulnerable cohort with progression and monitor participation.

We are by no means perfect in the way we support our vulnerable students. Many students in these groups continue to face difficult personal circumstances throughout their time at the college and it can be challenging, at times, to meet their individual needs. However, we are relentless in our pursuit to offer the very best learning experience and support for these vulnerable students.  

It would be interesting to know more about the approaches others have taken to support Children Looked After, young carers and other vulnerable groups; if you are an SFCA member, do share your experiences on Hub 6, or say hello at a conference.

Stuart Ormson is assistant principal for student support at The Blackpool Sixth Form College.

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