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Support for care-leavers wins national education award

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Published on 12 May 2023

L-R: Matt Western (Shadow Minister for Education), Kate Murray (Head of Collaborative Partnerships, Newcastle University) Louise Harrison (Project Manager, NERAP), Sir Les Ebdon (NEON Chair). Photo courtesy of NEON
L-R: Matt Western (Shadow Minister for Education), Kate Murray (Head of Collaborative Partnerships, Newcastle University) Louise Harrison (Project Manager, NERAP), Sir Les Ebdon (NEON Chair). Photo courtesy of NEON

A project that supports students who have experience of the care system to succeed at university has won a national education award. 

The five north-east universities – Sunderland, Durham, Newcastle, Northumbria and Teesside, who collaboratively form the North East Raising Aspiration Partnership (NERAP) – have won the Widening Access Partnership of the Year at the 2023 National Education Opportunities Network (NEON) awards.

The award recognises NERAP’s work to develop the Regional Care Leaver Covenant core offer. This provides a consistent, whole-institution response to support care experienced students and guarantees the same access to opportunities and support throughout their higher education journey, in areas ranging from finance and accommodation, to wellbeing and employment. This is complemented by additional bespoke support where offered within individual institutions.

The support and interventions offered are aligned to the national Care Leaver Covenant core outcomes, and NERAP recently became the first regional Higher Education partnership to sign up to the agreement. 

At the awards ceremony, the judges praised the strong, committed partnership between the five universities, as well as the dedication to working collaboratively to support underrepresented groups and for being sector-leading in the work with care experienced students.

Wendy Price OBE, Head of Widening Access and Participation at the University of Sunderland, and Chair of the NERAP Regional Care-Experienced Student Steering Group, said: “I’m absolutely delighted that NERAP have received this national award for their innovative and important work supporting care experienced students across our region. This regional higher education commitment to the Care Leaver Covenant is the first in the UK and a fantastic example of universities collaborating to improve social mobility. This national recognition is thoroughly well deserved and credit to the team who have worked so hard to achieve this.”

Professor Jane Robinson, PVC Engagement and Place, Newcastle University and Chair of the NERAP Executive Board said: “We are thrilled to have received national recognition on behalf of our five partner universities for our collaborative approach to widening access to higher education and our long-held commitment to supporting the progression of care experienced students.  Our strong partnership and dedicated project team demonstrates what can be achieved through collaborative approaches to support young people in our region.”

Care experienced students currently form less than 2% of all applications to higher education. However, a recent UCAS report showed that nationally, 60% of students who have spent time in care aspire to go to university or college, yet receive no specific guidance tailored to their needs about applying to higher education. 

To help address this, as part of the Regional Care Leaver Covenant core offer, NERAP also established Choices Together, an intensive programme of activities for care experienced students in years 7 – 13, to support them in thinking about their futures and how higher education can help them reach their goals. 

One of those who have succeeded in coming to university through Choices Together is Eddy Conniff, a University of Sunderland undergraduate and HE Ambassador. He received a commendation from the NEON judges in the Student of the Year category, for his work to inspire and support others to consider university using his own experience of progressing from care.

Eddy said: “It means so much to me to receive this commendation from NEON, an organisation I deeply admire for the impactful work they do nationally for people like myself. Being care experienced and estranged when I was younger, I never imagined that university was a possibility for me. That all changed when I attended the NERAP Choices Together outreach programme while I was at school. For the first time I was encouraged to consider university and believed that I could actually achieve it. Now I’m due to graduate this summer, I’m so grateful to NERAP for believing in me and providing this life-changing opportunity.”

Established in 2011, NERAP is a long-standing collaboration of the five universities in the region who fund and collaborate on pre-16 outreach activity. This includes joint visits to schools to highlight the higher education opportunities in the region, and specific targeted work to support care experienced students and young carers. Led by Newcastle University, the partnership is a core element of each institution’s work to support young people who have the potential to go to university regardless of their background. 

For further information about the support NERAP can offer please email info@nerap.ac.uk or visit:  https://www.nerap.ac.uk/students/