Group at Homerton

The University of Cambridge is increasing its efforts to support students who have a care background or who are estranged from their families. It’s establishing a panel of care experienced students to advise on ways to ensure proper support is available and will be recruiting a team of mentors to help guide new students through their time at Cambridge.

We are committed to ensuring they thrive while studying here

Jon Datta

Earlier this year, the University hosted an event to celebrate the achievements of students with a care background. The gathering, at Homerton College, included prospective students turning their thoughts to University, their foster carers and current students. The carers said they were impressed with the general desire to see young people develop their skills and achieve their potential.

One of those the group heard from was Robert Barker, a care-experienced student currently studying for a degree in Geography at Fitzwilliam College who encouraged younger students to do whatever they set their minds to achieve:

'Students from care-experienced backgrounds really can go on to do the most amazing things, despite challenging circumstances. Ensuring students from these backgrounds can see that people from similar backgrounds can go on to do great things is crucial and programmes such as the Realise Project do this exceptionally well through celebrating the achievements of students from these backgrounds. Being in care presents many challenges and often at times it is difficult to see the future, but the reality is people with a background in Care can and do go into doing amazing things - the sky really is the limit.’

Student Robert Barker

The University is a signatory to the Care Leaver Covenant which commits it to providing support for those with experience of the care system and ensuring they don’t miss out on opportunities. It’s also signed the Stand Alone pledge demonstrating a similar commitment to those young people who are either estranged from their families or living independently. There are currently more than 150 undergraduate and postgraduate students at Cambridge who have experience of the care system.  Six of the 47 students embarking on the Foundation Year programme this year are also care experienced. Dr Alex Pryce is the Foundation Year Course Director:

“The Cambridge Foundation Year exists to provide a pathway for those whose education has been disrupted or disadvantaged. We know the impact having been in care can have on someone’s educational journey. We are delighted to see 1 in 10 care experienced students in our first cohort and look forward to supporting them - and hopefully many others in the future - to realise their potential at Cambridge.”

The University is working towards further accreditation with a NNECL (National Network for the Education of Care Leavers) Quality Mark for the inclusion and success of care experienced students. To achieve this it will have to demonstrate a continuing commitment to the inclusion of care experienced students. Jon Datta is Deputy Head of Widening Participation at the University:

“We know that care experienced students are less likely to go to University than other groups and we also know that they have lower continuation rates and outcomes. We are committed to ensuring they thrive while studying here and will be establishing a new role within the Widening Participation team to help improve their participation in University life. We are also setting up an advisory panel for care-experienced and estranged students. This will bring together a group of students to share their experiences and offer suggestions to help the University devise new initiatives to support them.”

In May the annual celebration of Foster Care Fortnight was marked by another event at Homerton College. The choice of the College as venue was apposite as its Principal, Lord Woolley, was raised by foster parents. He spoke passionately about his own journey through Higher Education and of his subsequent achievements in life. ‘You’re superheroes without capes’, he told the attendees, stressing the need for those who are care-experienced to ‘drop the impostor syndrome’ and be ambitious about what they wanted to achieve in life.


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