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Last Updated: Friday, 18 August 2006, 15:09 GMT 16:09 UK
Pupils in care aim for university
By Katherine Sellgren
BBC News education reporter

Brian Nugent
Brian Nugent plans to study criminology and psychology
A mentoring scheme for children in care has helped dozens of young people in London aim for good A-level results and a place at university.

Last year the London Borough of Ealing saw 30 (12%) of its cared for young people go on to higher education - this compares to a national figure of 5%.

The borough set up the mentoring scheme two years ago to put pupils from Years 10 and 11 in touch with older care leavers who had gone on to university.

The mentors offer the teenagers advice

and personal stories on the issues surrounding higher education.

One of those young people who has benefited from the scheme is 19-year-old Brian Nugent, who plans to take up a place at Middlesex University this autumn to study criminology and psychology.

It's like they are showing you the path
Brian Nugent

Brian went into the care of Ealing social services when he was 15, following family difficulties.

While studying for his A-levels, he attended a weekend workshop where a care leaver talked about the importance of getting an education, as well as the realities of university life.

"It was of great use to me. It gave me an insight into what to expect," said Brian.

"It shows it can be done and you can relate to them [care leavers] more easily. It's like they are showing you the path.

"They were speaking about how no matter what type of background you come from, we've got to do it for ourselves, because no-one else is doing to do it for us.

"You're growing wings - that's the example they gave us."

Brian hopes to pursue in career in the area of mental health, with a particular focus on criminals.

The mentor

Katie Davies, who has just graduated from the University of West England with a degree in English and philosophy, became a mentor because she wanted children in care to raise their aspirations.

Following a family breakdown, Katie went into a children's home in Ealing at the age of 12.

We can talk about the transition from foster care or a children's home to university
Katie Davies

She said mentors like her wanted to provide the information that they themselves would have appreciated.

"We're telling the truth for young people in care - we're not telling it in a teacher/social worker way, but in a real way," she said.

"We can be honest about it. We can create an environment where young people can ask all the questions.

"We can talk about the transition from foster care or a children's home to university."

Katie, who now hopes to study for a PGCE, said young people in care were all too often not given the opportunity to have a "bigger ambition".

Aiming higher

A spokeswoman for Ealing Council said: "Nationally, outcomes for looked-after young people are very poor."

"They are more likely to be excluded from school, experience mental health problems, go on to become homeless, etc.

"The work that Ealing is doing aims to break that cycle by providing practical and emotional support to enable them to aim higher, raise their own expectations and those of the adults around them."

The council gives young people in care financial support of up to 5,500 a year to cover accommodation costs and a weekly allowance.

The scheme is run in partnership with Thames Valley University and the Aim Higher scheme.




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