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Text provided in the Teachers' Guide to University brochure. Please see the author below.

posted on 20 Aug '23

A guide to how schools can support young carers to apply to university

Text provided by Andy McGowan for the UniTasterDays Teachers' Guide to University, when in-post as Head of Engagement at Caring Together

In every classroom, every lab, every dance studio, in every college and sixth form across the country, there will be at least 1 or 2 pupils who are constantly juggling their studies with caring responsibilities for ill or disabled family members or friends – young carers.

A young carer is someone aged 18 or under who provides unpaid care to a family member or friend who could not cope without their support. This support may be needed due to illness, disability, a mental illness, or substance misuse, or often a combination of these.

Many of these young carers will have the potential to go onto higher education, and might want to, but will think they ‘can’t’ because of their caring responsibilities. We have spoken to young carers who have successfully progressed to university and asked them what helped them feel able to apply and ultimately go onto higher education. Their advice is below.

1. Make sure there is young carer awareness- raising for staff in college or sixth form and systems to identify young carers

You can only support the young carers who you know about – without awareness-raising and processes to help identify potential young carers, you will struggle to help them.

2. Don’t be afraid to challenge young carers

Some young carers make education or career choices because of their caring role. For some, they think caring is ‘the only thing I know how to do’ or think university isn’t an option because ‘who will look after mum?’ or ‘how could I afford university when dad isn’t well enough to work?’ For other young carers they can struggle with feelings of guilt.

3. Make sure you know what support is available for young carers in your area and that students know what support is on hand both in college/school and outside

If you don’t know who your local young carers organisation is, you can find your nearest service by visiting The Children’s Society.

4. Encourage colleagues, including senior management, to review what support you offer to your young carers

From financial support to flexibility with deadlines, to additional support around next steps after college – having a carer-friendly school or college can make a huge difference for young carers.

“At the application stage, I started to feel a lot of guilt – I knew with the course I’d have to move away from home as my local universities don’t offer it. I experienced a lot of conflict – I was excited about the course, opportunities and student life but it also felt really unfair that I was going away living my best life, leaving more for mum to do. I kept flitting from one extreme to the other – really excited to ‘I’m the worst person’. Luckily, my tutor was really supportive – she actually got quite cross at me when I told her about my guilt – she sorted me out!”
- Holly, 1st year undergraduate

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