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Pioneering project celebrates 10 years of success

Loughborough University, the University of Leicester and De Montfort University are holding their tenth Summer School event to help raise the aspirations of young people in care.

The partnership between the three local universities was developed in 2005 as part of the pioneering project, ‘The Way Ahead’. This project invited the three universities to work together collaboratively with the common aim of improving the life chances of young people in public care (also called Looked After Children).

The project, initially funded by the Higher Education Funding Council for England, was led by Leicestershire Aimhigher and sought to enhance the educational outcomes of children in care of all ages. The three Higher Education institutions continued with the outreach work, embedding their ground-breaking collaborative approach. This work has grown to include campus visit days for both primary and secondary pupils, and a HE awareness raising training day for foster carers, social workers and other care professionals.

The universities, in partnership with local authorities across the East Midlands, are offering their tenth two-day summer school programme to encourage young people in care to participate and engage with the wider opportunities available. Held across the three university campuses, the summer school delivers exciting and inspirational activities that demonstrate the possibilities of studying in Higher Education.

More than 140 attendees aged 16+ have come through the summer school programme over the last decade and the numbers attending each year have increased from nine in year one, to 24 in 2014. Young people have travelled from across the East Midlands (Lincolnshire, Derbyshire, Northamptonshire included) to attend the Summer School, since nothing similar was offered locally. Care experienced students at all three Leicestershire universities have been involved as positive role models for the young people.

Sokol Hoxha, a previous summer school attendee, comments: “The programme was bought to my attention by my social worker and I attended both days at three local universities. They were eye-opening experiences. I never thought I was university material, but those two days gave me the confidence to think that maybe one day, I could be a university student.

“After the summer school event, I began a new course at college and tried hard to gain enough UCAS points to make it to university and I was successful. I later started my degree in International Relations and Politics at De Montfort University and I had three brilliant years.” Sokol returned as a Student Mentor on the Summer School in 2010 and has since graduated and is employed as a Youth Engagement Worker with Leicester City Council.

Former Care leaver and recent Law graduate from the University of Leicester, Brandon Akem, has also been an inspiration to many young people as a care experienced Student Mentor on the Summer School.  Brandon arrived in the UK aged 16 as an unaccompanied asylum seeker and through hard work and sheer determination, achieved his goal of entering a high ranking university to study Law. His journey has encouraged others in a similar position to aim higher and achieve their dreams.

Commenting on his experience, Brandon said: “A young person I encountered on the University Experience summer school told me that before he met me, he hadn't believed someone with my background could be an undergraduate. But, from hearing about my journey, he was determined to aim for his dream - to go to university and become a doctor.”

In 2005, only 1% of care leavers progressed on to higher education compared with 40% of school leavers. Since the project began, the number of looked after children in higher education has increased to 7% and locally, 15 care experienced young people from Leicester City Council and, 12 from Leicestershire County Council, are currently studying at university.

Kay Bridger, Student Ambassador Coordinator and LAC outreach specialist at Loughborough University says: “We have all learnt a lot from the young people themselves and also the social workers and local authority staff who take care of them. By meeting young people who have experienced trauma, we learnt that going to university can give them back a sense of control over their futures.

We have worked together to identify and dissolve the barriers, for example: providing training for foster carers and other professionals who advise young people in care, that clears up misunderstandings about student debt and finance and highlights the wealth of support that exists for care experienced young people.”

This year’s Summer School will be held on 8 July at the University of Leicester and De Montfort University and 9 July at Loughborough University.