Each year more than two million adults and young people at college develop the knowledge and skills they need for work and wider life. Among them are tens of thousands of young adult carers – young people who care and support loved ones, but who, as a result, face significant disadvantage in learning and in work.
There are about 300,000 young adult carers in England. They are aged 16-24 and regularly provide unpaid care, usually for a family member. This is equivalent to about one in 20 young people, so the odds are there is at least one carer in your average college class.
It is estimated that young adult carers provide £5.5 billion worth of unpaid care each year. To put it in context, this is nearly double the adult education budget. Yet, despite their immeasurable contribution to society, they often face significant challenges in pursuing their aspirations and achieving their potential.
On average young adult carers achieve the equivalent of nine lower GCSE grades than their peers. They are three times more likely not to be in education, employment or training (NEET) and – despite the best efforts of teachers and support staff – are four times more likely to drop out of college.
Perhaps we should not be surprised. Young adult carers often miss days at college or have their study time disrupted as a result of caring, and 45 per cent say that their caring responsibilities negatively impact their mental health.
We should be outraged by their plight
But if we are not surprised, we should still be outraged by their plight. All young adult carers deserve the chance to realise their dreams and should be given the very best support to help them to succeed.
That’s why, building on our extensive track record of working with young adult carers, the Learning and Work Institute is delighted to be launching Driving Change, an ambitious new programme to narrow the gap in outcomes between young adult carers and their peers.
Supported by the National Lottery Community Fund, and working with the Carers Federation, the programme will offer free advice and intensive one-to-one support to colleges who wish to improve their support for young adult carers.
Based on a new Quality Standard in the Carers Support framework, participating colleges will be supported to review their current provision for young adult carers, to collaboratively identify and implement improvements, and to evaluate the impact of these changes.
We know the programme makes a difference. Colleges involved in the pilot reported a range of positive outcomes: from increased retention and attainment of young adult carers to stronger relationships with local carers’ services, from increased staff confidence in supporting young adult carers to improved job satisfaction.
And all of this makes a profound difference to the educational outcomes and life chances of young adult carers, such as Emily. Emily left school with few GCSEs, having had to balance schoolwork with caring for her mother, who is bipolar, since she was 11. With support from York College, she went on to gain English, maths and childcare qualifications before progressing on to an access diploma in social care and guidance several years later. Emily now works with young carers to ensure they too have the support they need to succeed.
One of the most inspiring features of Colleges Week has been the use of #loveourcolleges to recognise and celebrate the difference FE makes to individuals, employers and communities.
What better way to mark the celebration of the sector than to re-commit to some of its most vulnerable learners? We want to recruit 12 colleges from across England and Wales to join the programme. It is a fantastic opportunity to improve outcomes for young adult carers and ensure there are even more reasons to #LoveOurColleges!
Colleges interested in being part of the programme should contact Jackie.Woodhours@learningandwork.org.uk by November 12