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Assessing the impact of the Buttle UK Quailty Mark in Education

In 2000, Buttle UK embarked upon a five-year action research study to explore the experiences of care leavers at university. We were supporting some young care leavers through our student grants programme and wanted to find out more about why so few were reaching and succeeding in higher education. Out of the recommendations of the study ‘By Degrees: From Care to University’ came the Quality Mark, which has been awarded to universities championing the needs of care leavers since 2006. Little did we think that seven years on we would see such a dramatic change in awareness of the barriers that care leavers face and the provision in place for them within the higher education sector. We are delighted to have been able to build and maintain the momentum for this invaluable work, which has taken place alongside the main thrust of our work which is grant giving.

We have had phenomenal support from all four governments and professional umbrella organisations across the UK. The access and widening participation agenda that has developed in all four nations and the resulting support we have received from national agencies, has been instrumental in facilitating the growth of the Quality Mark in both the HE and FE sector. In combination with such valuable strategic support, it has been an absolute privilege to work with practitioners within the higher education sector, who demonstrate such passion and enthusiasm for this agenda, carrying it from strength to strength. Remarkable policies and practices have been put in place within these institutions and it has advanced the agenda more than I ever imagined.

Nevertheless, there is still a lot more to be done to ensure care leavers’ needs are kept on the agenda. This report highlights the difference in support from the institutions that we, at Buttle UK, rate on renewal at ‘minimum’ compared to ‘exemplary’; therefore, institutions must continue to share and develop best practice so that all meet the ‘exemplary’ standard. Now that the Quality Mark is available to the further education sector, partnership working between colleges and universities will be vital to ensuring fluidity in care leavers’ transitions post-16. This can only be achieved through the support of local authorities and Health and Social Care Trusts, which must have an identified position open to communication with Quality Mark colleges and universities.

Student engagement is key to the continued success of this work and there is still work to do to ensure looked after children and care leavers are aware of the support on offer and understand what the Quality Mark means, so that they are in a position to ask for support when they need it. I would like to see specialist voluntary organisations for looked after children and care leavers continuing to work with us in raising awareness about the barriers these students encounter and in moving the agenda forward. As the commitment  becomes increasingly embedded within the further and higher education sector, we will be looking to the UK governments and umbrella organisations to take over the monitoring of support for this specific cohort through their funding conditionality arrangements. It is vital that the further and higher education sectors support each other to ensure we do not give up on these young adults.