NEWS FLASH 2019-05-07T21:53:44+00:00

First Star Academies UK and Sir John Cass’s Foundation unite to champion higher education for care leavers

The State of the Nation Report from the Centre for Social Justice “12by24” commissioned by First Star UK and funded by Sir John Cass’s Foundation, recognises the important role that a university education has on the lifelong social, economic and educational outcomes of care leavers.

Peter Samuelson, Founder and Chair of First Star urged universities, local authorities, social workers, carers and the government to take note – describing the report as“ground-breaking work, that advocates for looked-after children the educational and life opportunities we should want for all our young people. Our national focus quite rightly has been for several years to investigate, arrest and convict the perpetrators of child abuse and neglect. It is time we also applied equal energy to supporting the victims as they build better lives.”

The report acknowledges the often-traumatic lives many looked after young people experience; their heightened risks of incarceration, homelessness and mental health disorders and the impact this has on their educational outcomes. Government initiatives have recognised the need for action and include a number of approaches to helping care leavers overcome the barriers they face and promote high aspirations. Yet this report highlights the continuing and disproportionate gap between 19-21-year-old care leavers (6%) and their peers (34%) entering higher education (CSJ, 2019); a figure that has not changed in over a decade.

Family breakdown, placement moves, and disrupted education all have roles to play in these appalling statistics – nevertheless, the report is clear that Universities need to do more. Going to university is a life changing experience and remains an aspiration for many young people looking to build a better future for themselves. Evidence from this report shows it is an aspiration for young people in care too.

With 40% of jobs requiring a university level education university graduates are better off in the labour market, earn 55% more in their working lives than those entering employment at 18 and have a higher rate of employment (87.5%) than non-graduates (71.1%).  If we want an education system that promotes social mobility and tackles long standing disadvantage then it shouldn’t matter where you’ve come from, but where you’re going.

Simply finishing school shouldn’t be the only aspiration looked after young people. For many it’s an incredible achievement in the circumstances but for those who want it higher education should be a realistic ambition. The message from a roundtable of experts conducted during this report was clear: If we want to see more children from disadvantaged backgrounds accessing university and higher education, we need to engage our young people in care much earlier to ensure that where they have fallen behind, they are given the help they need to catch up.


First Star recognises that it may not be possible for universities to identify all care leavers since some prefer anonymity and a fresh start – nevertheless this report highlights the opportunity for universities to make a difference now – offering a ‘Gold Standard’framework modelling good practice and melding a good course with good support. Financial support, contextual admissions, partnership working and raising staff awareness and student aspirations should all be deemed essential by universities.

First Star, as the UK’s only long-term university preparatory programme for looked after children, is already breaking the mould – establishing new ways of working with looked after young people to ensure they have the highest aspirations and the support to achieve them. In collaboration with Sir John Cass’s Foundation and universities nationwide, First Star aims to ensure looked after young people successfully progress through GCSE and A’ Levelto higher education and adulthood.

Sir John Cass’s Foundation Chief Executive, Richard Foley, hopes this report and the ‘Gold Standard’ framework will prove seminal in increasing the number of young people from care backgrounds accessing higher education. “The Foundation is proud to have funded this important research. We see our role in the third sector as facilitating a national debate to bring about improvements to the education and life chances of care-experienced young people. Widening participation of disadvantaged young people in higher education is a priority for the Foundation and this report highlights the need for much more work in this area.”

Notes for Editors

For further information, contact:

Dr Lorna Goodwin

Executive Director

First Star Academies UK


Sir John Cass’s Foundation

Founded in 1748, The Foundation takes its name from Sir John Cass (1661-1718) who was a City of London politician and philanthropist. The Foundation is one of London’s largest and oldest independent education charities which supports young people in inner London through its grant funding to schools, organisations and individuals. It has a history of supporting pioneering initiatives to promote participation and achievement for the most disadvantaged young people in the capital. By establishing innovative partnerships with educational bodies to improve attainment and access to opportunity for young Londoners, the Foundation also focuses on how successful interventions can be scaled at a national level.

Sir John Cass’s Foundation awarded funding to First Star Academies UK who commissioned this piece of research, as part of a larger grant of £219,000 over three years. This grant follows from its support of the First Star Academy programme at St Mary’s University, the first in the UK, to which the Foundation awarded £400,000 over four years in 2016. Sir John Cass’s Foundation firmly believes that First Star offers a unique and effective model for supporting Looked After Children to progress into higher education.


Care leavers more likely to end up in prison than university, warns leading think tank

Ambitious new study by the Centre for Social Justice and First Star UK sets out blueprint for doubling the number of care leavers at university by 2024

Research on care leavers in education, published today by an influential think tank chaired by a former Tory leader, has received cross-party support.

Among its proposals, the CSJ’s policy paper ‘12by24’ aims to address the alarming finding that a care leaver is more likely to end up in a prison cell than a lecture hall.

Liberal Democrat leader Vince Cable MP, former Children’s Minister Tim Loughton MP and Labour MP Steve McCabe have all written in support of the CSJ’s latest findings.

At the forefront of the report is a pledge to double the number of 19-21-year-old care leavers going to university from the current 6 per cent to 12 per cent by 2024. By comparison 34 per cent of 19-21-year-olds in the general population attend higher education.

A mere one in 2000 students at Oxford are care leavers, and even at the Open University this number rises to only one in 200.

Care leavers make up just 0.1 per cent of all undergraduates. This means you are more likely to bump into an undergraduate from Cyprus than a student who grew up in care.

Yet between 2017 and 2018 there was a 4 per cent increase in the number of children in care, reaching 75,420 as of March 2018.

The CSJ found that the majority enter the care system as a result of abuse and neglect, with many experiencing significant childhood trauma. Almost half have a diagnosable mental health disorder and are four times more likely to have a special educational need than other children.

Experience of care has also been linked to higher risks of homelessness and entering the criminal justice system.

This difficult start to life has serious economic implications further down the line. According to the Department for Education, graduates are better off in the labour market than non-graduates, earning over £10,000 more on average in 2017.

Over their working lives this translates to a staggering 55 per cent more.

Graduates are also more likely to be employed in the first place. In 2017 graduates between the ages of 16 and 64 had an employment rate of 87.5 per cent, compared to 71.1 per cent among non-graduates.

To address this disparity the CSJ’s latest paper makes three broad recommendations.

The first is to promote the ‘Gold Standard’ at universities, a programme delivered by the National Network for the Education of Care Leavers constituting ten aims. Among these are financial support including accommodation, contextual admissions, staff awareness training for those working with care leavers, and mentioning care leavers in access programmes.

Universities that can demonstrate they have met the criteria set out in the ‘Gold Standard’ would be granted a sum of funding by the Department for Education to help them sustain and develop their packages of support.

The CSJ also proposes improving transitional support into university. The Minister for Children and the Office for Students would strongly encourage all higher education institutions to include looked-after children as a priority group within Access and Participation Plans. Additionally, higher education providers would ensure that no care leaver applicant is rejected without extensive investigation into their application and senior oversight.

Finally, the report urges the Department for Education to extend its data collection on care leavers by, for example, monitoring their outcomes up to the age of 25, collecting and publishing data on the number of care leavers and children in care at Key Stage 5, and developing an annual report on the number of care leavers studying on degree-level courses by institution.

The recommendations were based on comprehensive research incorporating a survey of 160 children in care and care leavers, interviews with students and professionals who have experienced care, a roundtable event featuring specialist attendees, and analysis of relevant data provided by the Higher Education Statistical Agency and 102 UK universities.

The CSJ’s conclusions were reached in collaboration with First Star UK and the Sir John Cass’s Foundation, educational charities working to improve the lives of children in care.

First Star is the UK’s only long-term preparatory programme for children in care, and has recently opened its first academy in the UK, at St Mary’s University in Twickenham.

Lorna Goodwin, Executive Director of First Star UK, said:

“It is a worrying statistic that children in care are, at some point in their futures, more likely to come face to face with a prison officer than with a university professor. We can and must change this trend.

“In my experience working with looked-after children, it is precisely a sense of pride in their achievements, particularly academic or professional, that helps them to emerge from their situation with confidence and a willingness to face the challenges life throws at them.”

Andy Cook, Chief Executive of the CSJ, said:

“This report aims to help children and young adults who have experienced care to build their lives with a sense of achievement and with committed support networks behind them. These networks are not only governmental or community-based but personal. Our recent report on family breakdown is no less relevant in addressing the question of care leavers in education.

“A sense of being unwanted or lacking in achievement can lead to a spiral of demoralization, sadness and loneliness. We are working closely with ministers and charities to show the youngest and most vulnerable in our society that, far from being unwanted or unneeded, they can look forward to the future with hope.”

“Active involvement in specialist education and training for a field of work is a crucial way to achieve this.”



Established in 2004, the Centre for Social Justice (CSJ) is an independent think tank that studies the root causes of Britain’s social problems and seeks to address these through innovative policy recommendations to government.

The CSJ has changed the landscape of the political conversation by putting social justice at the heart of British politics. This has led to some of the biggest welfare reforms in a generation.

The majority of the CSJ’s work is organised around five ‘pathways to poverty’, first identified in the ground-breaking 2007 report, Breakthrough Britain. These are: family breakdown; educational failure; economic dependency and worklessness; addiction to drugs and alcohol; and severe personal debt.

CSJ research is informed by experts and, just as importantly, the CSJ Alliance – a unique group of charities, social enterprises and other grass-roots organisations that work with individuals facing some of the most challenging and complex social problems. Their work is fundamental to understanding the issues faced by the poorest communities.


First Star is the UK’s only long-term preparatory programme for children in care. First Star finds local children in care from around the age of 14 and links them to a university where they are given additional academic support alongside a wider curriculum of life skills up to age 18.

This support is provided through monthly campus-based sessions and a summer school all with the aim of preparing young people from care backgrounds to seriously consider higher education as an option for themselves.

The American version of the First Star Academy programme has a 67 per cent success rate in helping foster children into higher education, and a 91 per cent success rate into further and higher education, radically transforming the life chances of participants.

First Star students broadly come from the middle 50 per cent of ability, and are selected through conversations with teachers, heads and social workers to make sure that a young person would benefit from the programme.

The first academy in the UK has opened at St Mary’s University in Twickenham with many more to come.


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