The first group of care leavers who took part in the First Star programme, an innovative education and life skills programme at St Mary’s University, Twickenham, have seen their outcomes improved threefold against the national average for young people living in care.
41% of graduates from the St Mary’s First Star programme have progressed to university. This is over three times higher than the national average for care leavers, where 13% on average go to university. Graduates of the programme also outperformed the expected outcomes for the general school leavers population, where 34% progress to university.
A further 14% of the St Mary’s First Star programme have gone on to study at a further education institution, meaning that 55% of graduates from the first cohort of the programme have continued their educational journeys beyond 18.
Children living in care in the UK have far worse outcomes across almost every aspect of their lives. They have worse physical and mental health, worse employment outcomes and are far more likely to end up homeless or in prison than the wider population. First Star is about changing this picture.
As well as it being a great support for my academics, it helped me with understanding what healthy relationships are with friends and family. I’ve made so many memories over the past 5 years and I’m glad that I’m leaving with this family.
Khushi, First Star Graduate
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 second First Star Cohort, who started in 2019, have also seen their outcomes improve as they outperformed the wider school population achieving an 89% pass rate in their recent GCSEs, as compared to 77% for non-looked after young people.
Speaking of the results, St Mary’s Vice-Chancellor Anthony McClaran said, “These results are truly brilliant. First Star is closely aligned with our mission as a university, and I am delighted with its success and, most of all, for the students. The outcomes for care leavers are shocking and I am delighted that St Mary’s, with the financial backing of our amazing supporters, has been able to have such a remarkable impact on our first cohort to leave the First Star Academy. I hope that the results demonstrate to the wider sector that interventions like First Star have a significant impact on the outcomes of looked after young people.”
Graduate of the programme Khushi said, “My experience at First Star was such a rollercoaster, but I mean this in the most positive way. As well as it being a great support for my academics, it helped me with understanding what healthy relationships are with friends and family. I’ve made so many memories over the past 5 years and I’m glad that I’m leaving with this family. I wouldn’t change a single moment of this journey, I loved it.”
The First Star Academies programme began in the US in 2011, with the objective of addressing the low achievement and limited life choices of young care leavers. The programme now runs in 14 US universities, and St Mary’s began piloting a 4-year programme in the UK in 2017, with a second cohort beginning in 2019. First Star has now expanded to include the University of Winchester which started in 2021 and launches a new virtual programme in 2022.
The programme is funded through the generous support of a range of benefactors, and the University has a policy of only recruiting a new cohort when the programme is fully funded for the four years to ensure that the participants are not let down at later date. Fundraising for a new cohort is underway, with the aim that St Mary’s will welcome them in 2022.