Young people in the care system deserve help to enter university

29 July 2019

Topic: Education, Throughcare and aftercare
Author: Iain MacRitchie

Iain MacRitchie is the founder of MCR Pathways, a school-based mentoring programme which supports young people in or on the edges of the care system to realise their full potential through education.

A version of this article was first published in The Times on 26 July 2019.

Okay, I wasn't quite a straight A student, but not far off. Glasgow born, but West End. Parents who hadn't gone to university, but really wanted me to and encouraged me every step of the way. Why do I think it is fantastic news that care experienced young people are getting an additional helping hand to get a uni place? There are many reasons, but I'll start with three simple ones. These are taken from the MCR Pathways experience of supporting over 2,000 disadvantaged and care experienced young people each week in the secondary school system.

It isn't just about doing the right thing to help a section of our community who are denied the opportunity. Despite more Scottish young people attending university - now at 40% of school leavers - the rates for care-experienced young people are only 4%. This isn't because these young people are less intelligent or have less potential. It's because being removed from families, the death of guardians, homelessness, poverty, neglect or abuse makes survival more urgent than exam results.

Another simple way of understanding the issue is personal. When we have personal problems, they sabotage our ability to concentrate. These are young people who experience prolonged disruption and trauma and have no choice or control. How can we expect them to concentrate in school. I couldn't. Instability at home doesn't magically stop at the school door. The grades they achieve grossly understate their capability. The change to Scotland's university admission policy is a great first step to make the system fairer.

My second reason betrays my past business life. This decision make huge economic sense. With MCR mentoring, where before only 54% of Glasgow's care-experienced young people progressed to employment, college or university, now 83% do. For those that do have the education outcomes, job choices flow and ultimately life chances. Do we really want an alternative where young people don't realise what they are capable of through no fault of their own. We allow it to happen or we change it and avoid picking up the social cost and consequences.

The third reason is about what version of a future we want. One that is increasingly divided or one more cohesive, with understanding and mutual respect? I would far rather have the next generation of business leaders, professionals, politicians and civil servants to be representative of every life experience, ability to relate and resilience. Take a young person I mentor. A young carer, then placed into a homeless unit whilst trying to study, estranged from her family and having to deal daily with issues way beyond her years. She is now flourishing at Medical School. What kind of doctor will she make? One who relates, empathises, understands and is extraordinarily resilient. In my old age, I know who I would want looking after me, our institutions, running our services and country.

Iain MacRitchie is a social entrepreneur who founded MCR Pathways and has dedicated 5 years as a full-time volunteer to establish MCR Pathways nationally. Iain was awarded the Glasgow St Mungo Medal and was more recently named by AACSB International — the world's largest business education alliance – as one of the 2019 Class of Influential Leaders for his work supporting the country's most disadvantaged young people.

CELCIS publications on care experienced people going to and being at university

Read our Beyond the Headlines briefing: Going to university from care.

Read our research, produced for the Scottish Funding Council: 'Being a student with care experience is very daunting' Findings from a survey of care experienced students in Scottish colleges and universities.


The views expressed in this blog post are those of the author/s and may not represent the views or opinions of CELCIS or our funders.

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