St Mary’s University, Twickenham won the Best Prospective Student Engagement Award at the annual Whatuni? Student Choice Awards (WUSCAs) on 19th April.
Hosted at a ceremony in London, the WUSCAs recognise the top performing higher education institutions across a range of categories based entirely on student feedback.
St Mary’s won the award for Best Prospective Student Engagement for its work with the First Star Academy, which helps young people in foster care from local authorities across London gain access to and flourish in higher education. For four years, students will spend one day a month and four weeks each summer on St Mary’s Strawberry Hill campus.
During their time at St Mary’s, the young people receive academic support, to achieve good GCSE and A level results and to prepare them for higher education, life skills training, including financial management, healthy living, risk reduction and confidence building, and help with emotional resilience, including social engagement skills. There is also a support programme for foster carers to improve foster placement stability.
The St Mary’s First Star Academy was established in the spring of 2017 and the first residential summer school was held in August. The four-week residential programme is intended to make sure those attending are as prepared as possible for higher education. It helps them decide the type of university they may want to attend through visits to other campuses, the course they want to study, and to explore financial support options available to them.
The submission was chosen from among thirty others by the Whatuni? Student Advisory Panel. Impressed with the work of the academy, they noted “It really reaches out to students” and “it’s clearly had a big impact on students’ lives.”
Speaking of the Award, St Mary’s Pro Vice-Chancellor for Research and Enterprise Rt Hon Ruth Kelly said, “It is a great honour to have received this award and to be able to work with such inspiring young people. This is a fantastic recognition of the work of everyone involved in the First Star Academy at St Mary’s, which wouldn’t be possible without the support of the Sir John Cass Foundation and our other benefactors.”
Director of the St Mary’s First Star Academy Nick Turk added, “We are over the moon to receive this award, especially as a sector-wide panel voted for it. It’s really heartening to see that Higher Education as a whole values a programme designed specifically to facilitate young people in care going on to university. Our current cohort will be applying to universities who are clearly already rooting for them.”
The need for an intervention like First Star is stark. Only 6% of care leavers currently attend a higher education institution, compared with 41% of the general population. 55% of non-looked-after children achieve five A*-C grades at GCSE, but that figure is only 14% of those in the care system.
Teenagers in care face a 50% risk of foster placement breakdown in any twelve-month period and around one third of young care leavers experience homelessness within two years of leaving the system. Perhaps most appalling of all, almost 40% of those in prison aged under 21 are from the care system.
Results from the USA, where the academy programme was established in 2011, have been extraordinary. There are now over 350 students in thirteen US universities across the country. Of those students who have completed the programme, 99% graduated from high school (compared to national rate of 50% of care leavers) and 91% continued into higher education (compared with 10% of US care leavers). The remaining 9% are all in employment or have joined the military.