Aiming to understand Higher Education Institutions’ interventions in Wales that target care-experienced young people and assess the success or otherwise of these interventions in order to develop a model of best practice


Care-experienced young people in Wales and the UK more widely experience poorer outcomes in a wide range of factors than their peers who do not have experience of social care. These factors include health, poverty and early pregnancy, as well as education. The disparity in educational outcomes is being tackled in various ways. As a result of educational research such as the Diamond Review, Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) are providing more support to care leavers in order to improve their access to university.

As a result of the 2016 Diamond Review, care leavers were specifically recognised as a group under-represented in HE, and recommendations were put forward that care-experienced young people should be considered as one of the three groups eligible for additional support, both financial and personal (Welsh Government, 2016). Additionally, following the Higher Education (Wales) Act 2015, the Higher Education Funding Council for Wales established a requirement that HEIs promote “Equality of opportunity to support groups under-represented in higher education” (including care-experienced young people), through attraction and retention of such groups alongside raising aspirations and tailored support (HEFCW, 2018). This has, in turn, led to HEIs increasing their focus on such support, yet there has been little research into the success or otherwise of such interventions.

This Fellowship aims to understand HEI interventions in Wales that target care-experienced young people and assess the success or otherwise of these interventions in order to develop a model of best practice. These findings will then be linked with data regarding numbers of care leavers attending Welsh HEIs. Importantly, the Fellowship aims to understand and give voice to the experiences of care-experienced young people who have been through the process of making decisions about their continued education.

The primary aim of this research is to understand what Welsh HEIs are doing to improve access to, and success in, HE for care leavers (and care-experienced young people more broadly), and to assess the effectiveness of these activities in order to produce a model of best practice. Specifically, the Fellowship will:

  • Gather evidence of programmes related to care-experienced young people at all Welsh HEIs;
  • Consider this alongside statistics related to acceptance and retention of care leavers at these HEIs;
  • Look at care-experienced young people’s own experiences of HE;
  • Use this information to produce a best practice model.

To achieve the overall aim, the following objectives will be met:

  • A rapid review of literature relating to care-experienced young people and HE;
  • An exploration of Welsh HEIs’ policies and programmes related to care-experienced young people and care leavers (pre- and post-entry);
  • An analysis of these which will be compared to care leavers’ rates of entry to, and retention in, these institutions;
  • The development of an understanding of the barriers that care-experienced young people face continuing in education, based on their own experiences;
  • A series of policy and practice suggestions that could improve care leavers’ access to, and success in HE;
  • The development of a working model of best practice in HEI interventions for care-experienced young people.

This research will take a pan-Wales approach, exploring the initiatives that HEIs put in place to reduce the barriers care-experienced young people face in post-compulsory education. The research will be produced in collaboration with care-experienced young people and practitioners in order to ensure a full understanding of young people’s needs.

Activities and Methods

The Fellowship will utilise a mixture of methods, including interviews, focus groups and creative and participatory research techniques. Additionally, statistics related to Welsh care leavers’ progression to higher education will be analysed and mapped to give a visual representation of their engagement in HE. In the first instance, interviews will be conducted with relevant staff in Wales’ 8 HEIs, primarily those working in Widening Participation (WP) teams and Student Services. These interviews will give details of each HEI’s work with care-experienced young people. Additionally, individuals from the Welsh Government’s Social Services and Education Directorates will be approached in order to learn more about HE interventions for care leavers on a national level.

Following this, care-experienced young people from across Wales will be identified through HEI staff, local authority staff responsible for working with care-experienced young people, and designated coordinators for care-experienced young people in Welsh secondary schools. Interviews will then take place with care-experienced young people in order to gain greater knowledge of their experiences of education, particularly their thoughts and feelings on, and experiences of, HE. It will be ensured that some of these young people have experience of WP interventions offered by HEIs, and some have gone on to attend HE.

The pan-Wales approach of this Fellowship means that research will be conducted across the country, in particular in each of Wales’ HEIs: three within Cardiff, two in Swansea, and one in each of Aberystwyth, Bangor, and Wrexham, with the potential additions of Trefforest (home of one University of South Wales campus), Lampeter and Carmarthen (both of which are locations of University of Wales Trinity Saint David campuses).

The data gathered during these phases will comprise of documentary evidence of support programmes from HEIs, recordings from approximately 40 interviews and 3 focus groups, and statistical information from HEFCW. The findings gained from this synthesis of data will be used to establish suggestions for best practice that HEIs can use in their engagement with care-experienced young people.

Lead Person

Principal InvestigatorHannah Bayfield
Related SchoolsSchool of Social Sciences; Widening Participation and Outreach