There are currently more than 89,000 children in care in Britain, but only 6 per cent of care leavers in England and 2 per cent in Scotland were in higher education by the age of 19 in 2011, according to the report commissioned by Buttle UK, one of the country’s largest children’s charities.
That compares with overall participation rates of 33 per cent and 42 per cent in the two countries respectively, it adds.
Published on 4 June, the report titled Assessing the Impact of the Buttle UK Quality Mark in Higher Education, says poor educational levels of care leavers are the primary cause of their failure to reach higher education.
However, students with the ability to study at university were sometimes put off by other factors, such as a lack of information about financial support available to them.
Many children in care also did not get the encouragement from teachers, social workers or carers to fulfil their aspirations, while they often did not know about the choices available to them, the report says.
Universities could also do more to advise children in care about tertiary education, the study suggests.
Of 9 care leavers in higher education who were contacted, 41 per cent said they had not received any information from universities about the financial support available to them as undergraduates.
Of the 54 per cent of students who did receive advice from universities, almost half (47 per cent) said advice on financial support had made significant impact on their choice of university.
Thirty-six per cent said advice on accommodation had made a significant impact to their choice, while support from students or university advisors had influenced 30 per cent of care leavers who received information.
Gerri McAndrew, chief executive of Buttle UK, which has awarded a quality mark to 88 higher education institutions with a comprehensive policy on recruiting and supporting care leavers, said the sector had massively improved its support since the scheme’s launch in 2006.
However, more progress was needed to be done to help those in care, she said.
“Many [higher education institutions] are proud to achieve the highest ‘exemplary’ level of support which 15 universities currently hold,” he said.
“This best practice must be shared and developed so that more meet the highest standard.
“Similarly, we need to make sure that all young people in care know which institutions offer support that is tailored specifically to their needs.”
The report, which has been launched to coincide with the charity’s fifth annual conference on care leavers in higher and further education in London on 4 June, also finds that local authority support is patchy despite them having a range of legal duties to care leavers at university and discretionary powers to offer a far greater level of support.