St Mary’s Pro-Vice Chancellor Rt Hon Ruth Kelly hails pioneering educational programme to improve life chances of children in care
Last night former Education Secretary and St Mary’s University Pro Vice-Chancellor, Rt Hon Ruth Kelly, unveiled a pioneering educational programme recently launched at St Mary’s University, Twickenham, as a means of tackling what has come to be seen as “the virtually intractable problem” of improving outcomes for children in care.
In the Sir John Cass’s Foundation annual lecture, Ruth Kelly told leaders in the field of education and social care that the First Star Academy programme could provide a new approach to addressing the personal and academic development of the 72,000 looked-after children across the country.
St Mary’s is the first UK university to take up First Star and adapt the four-year scheme initiated in the USA by film producer, Peter Samuelson, to meet the academic and emotional needs of children in care.
The Academy will see 30 young people (aged 14-18) currently living in foster care or children’s homes in London boroughs – including Richmond, Hounslow, Ealing, Southwark, Kingston and Wandsworth –spend four residential summers and monthly sessions during term-time on St Mary’s University campus to receive academic tutoring, life skills training, emotional support and experience of campus life, with the joint objectives of helping them to sustain their academic progress and succeed in their exams, and also raising their aspirations to access college or university.
The Academy also offers a programme of support for foster parents aimed at reducing the chances of foster placement breakdown.
In the USA, the First Star programme has achieved impressive results, 99 per cent of First Star Academy pupils who have completed four years of the programme have graduated from high school, and 91 per cent have enrolled in higher education.
If the programme at St Mary’s is able to achieve results that stand comparison with the success achieved by First Star in America, the University hopes the First Star model will be taken up by universities across the country, supported by local authorities and the Government, to transform the educational and employment outcomes for more young people.
Ruth Kelly said, “I believe that this educational project being funded by Sir John Cass’s Foundation and others, with the participation of a number of local authorities in London, could provide a new model for tackling what has sometimes been seen as the virtually intractable problem of how we help to improve the outcomes of children in care and on the edge of care.
“The life chances of youngsters who have been brought up in care are significantly worse than for young people as a whole. We know that educational attainment is closely linked to life outcomes. If we can find a way to provide children in this group with a little more stability and a little more ambition, then we can open new doors for their future that otherwise remain locked.”
The first cohort of St Mary’s academy participants joined the programme in May and while it is too early to judge its success, according to First Star Director at St Mary’s, Nick Turk, the initial response has been extremely positive.
He added, “It is shocking that only 6 per cent of young people in care in the UK go on to study at university, compared to 45 per cent of their age group peers. This certainly isn’t due to any lack of potential on the part of young people in the care system. Our approach is to develop that potential through core academics, life skills and immersion in university life.
“By the time the current participants are of university application age they will have been in the programme for four years and will have developed a profound sense of comfort and belonging in a Higher Education environment. No one will be able to tell them that they don’t belong in university just because they were in care.”
The First Star Academy at St Mary’s University, Twickenham, is funded by the Sir John Cass’s Foundation, the Cundhill Foundation, the MariaMarina Foundation and several individual donors.