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Pilot project to support our ‘care experienced’ students

students in library

The Faculty of Business and Law (FBL) has an extended pilot to offer greater support to students who were once in the care system starting today (Monday 29 November).

The number of children in care continues to rise across the UK, exacerbated by the pandemic. ‘Care leavers’ are one of the most under-represented groups within higher education according to the Office for Students with just 13% known to access higher education (and half of these withdrawing from their studies) compared to 43% of non-care leavers.

With many of our students aged 25 and over, the OU is using the term ‘care experienced’ rather than ‘care leaver’ to be inclusive of those who have had experiences in the care system while growing up, no matter how long ago. Since 2015-16, 525 FBL students have declared themselves as being ‘care experienced’ with 130 of these students currently studying – it is expected the actual figures are higher due to low declaration rates for various reasons.

A project team, comprising Lecturers and Student Experience Managers from across both the Business and Law Schools and Apprenticeships team, has been considering the appropriate additional support for ‘care experienced’ students, regardless of whether they have made a declaration. Three workshops, supported by The Care Leavers’ Association (CLA), initially focused on developing a stronger understanding of the needs of students who have experienced care.

Three Associate Lecturers (tutors) – Kristina Burton, Mary Shek and Rose Stringer – are pivotal to the pilot project. The trio will be role models in offering support, guidance and inspiration for students who have experiences within care. There are also a wide range of resources available via dedicated webpages, with 93 students accessing these in the initial pilot from April – June this year, following a social media campaign and direct contact.

An extended pilot service will now be in operation for the remainder of this academic year (ending in July 2022). This will also include an online forum for students to connect and a dedicated online space for virtual networking sessions.

I have very little faith in the system and people in positions of authority. Can you ever be on the same playing field? Can anywhere replicate that (support) network? Probably not but we have to try to build something different that works instead.

We need to build our own networks and having support groups and clubs in place to support us ensures that we aren’t going through this alone. We can build back stronger and better because, with initiatives like this one, we have found our own network, and it works.

OU 'care experienced' student

We want this project to help support in removing the stigma of having been in care. We’re very keen to raise awareness among all our students and staff, as many will never have previously considered the difficulties experienced by those who have been in care. Although this pilot project has been devised and led by FBL, this is very much in line with the OU’s mission and its targets to support ‘care experienced’ students (laid out within the Access and Participation Plan) and some of the wider ongoing work around the University.

Grace Allen
Member of the FBL project team and Assistant Head of Student Experience, Law

Further information is available on each of our student websites