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Students at risk without support

26 October 2017

It’s now less than four weeks until the Chancellor of the Exchequer announces his Autumn Budget. My message to Philip Hammond is simple. What’s needed is fair funding, not only for the high-quality education and training this country needs, but to provide the support services without which could see many of our students slip through the cracks. Below is an example of the support that colleges have to provide to help young people progress through their studies and thus improve their progression opportunities. But this story is not unique to York College. Nor is it unique to any institution in the further or higher education sectors. What it does show is the range of support students require, none of which is fundable activity. Colleges are expected to establish support frameworks and work with external agencies, where they exist and the availability of this help is rapidly reducing. This expectation comes from all sources, including inspectorates, parents and students. Increasingly colleges are being expected to respond ‘on-demand’, whereas in other worlds ‘waiting lists’ of some weeks are the norm. It is an agenda which is growing in importance but becoming increasingly untenable. The Government must do more to help colleges meet this moral duty and the Association of Colleges recommendations to Treasury would help to relieve some of this pressure and allow us to give proper support to those students who, like X below, are clearly dependent upon their colleges for help. Supporting Student X Student X is a 16-year-old, with identified mental health problems as well as being a carer for their mum. In November 2016, one of the college’s Intensive Personal Advisers (IPAs) was invited by a tutor to Student X’s tutorial session, where health and family issues were discussed. Student X was in a lot of pain, attributed to their caring role, and the tutor was concerned about Student X’s disclosure of being a carrier of an infectious disease caused by a bacterial infection. Between November and December, the college supported Student X to help overcome difficulties. This included: Referral to the GP to review pain relief. There was also discussion with Student X’s dad around concerns and support needed to help with doctor’s appointments. Referral to the college’s Safeguarding Officer to discuss the effect of the caring responsibilities on Student X, causing physical and mental health issues and potential infection risk. The decision was made to refer to social care via the local authority’s ‘Front Door’. Referral to Young Carers, to get support and advice on caring for mum and sister (with a disability). Referral to college’s funding team, which helped Student X obtain a bus pass through the Bursary Fund, due to health situation (otherwise not eligible). This support had an immediate impact. During January and February, Student X’s physical health was improving and the situation with mum had calmed slightly. Student X started a part-time job which they really enjoyed. However in early March the tutor raised further concerns about the situation at home. Student X reported increased stress levels due to relationship with mum and the feeling that the extended family were being turning against them. Student X was also suffering from infected eczema. The college continued support, including: Support around accessing health care. Student X was not taking prescribed medication around infection risk and for eczema. The college helped them devise a way of remembering to take medication and assisted with a phone call to doctors to arrange repeat prescription. Follow-up with social care to raise concerns. The social worker met with Student X and helped arrange a doctor’s appointment to follow up on health needs. A support meeting was held with Student X in April, which included an Intensive Personal Adviser, tutors and a pastoral lead. An action plan was formed to support Student X with moving forward. This also led to: Encouragement given by IPAs to get Student X to continue to access counselling as well as emotional support offered in one-to-ones to help Student X deal with ongoing issues from home. Encouragement to get Student X to prioritise their own health and remembering to take medication. Discussions with Learning Support Tutor to ensure a low ratio room and extra time arranged for exams, due to dyslexia. In May, Student X moved out of the family home after issues with their mum and started sofa surfing with friends. The college continued to assist, including: Budgeting work to identify that Student X would be able to afford to live in rented accommodation due to part-time job. This was after a referral to the Youth Homeless Team was refused due to not wanting to live in a hostel. Discussion with the Local Area Support Practitioner who had been given Student X’s case to do a follow-up check. This ensured that Student X was able to access support. Eventually Student X moved in with their dad temporarily. Student X continues to attend college and passed the Level 2 qualification and is scheduled to complete their Level 3 this year. The college continues to provide ongoing support and are hopeful that the student will eventually progress to employment or even HE. Alison Birkinshaw is the Principal and Chief Executive of York College, and President of the Association of Colleges. Graeme Murdoch is the Deputy Principal of York College