Education Sector Engagement

Further and higher education can be transformative for care leavers and the institutions that make up this sector can lead the way in care leaver engagement.

Whole Institution Approach

Whole Institution Approach is the strategic idea that care leaver outreach should not only be a widening access/participation activity – rather education institutions should also consider their role as employers and community hubs when thinking about care leaver support.

For ideas and inspiration on what your institution could offer, read about the three pillars of the Whole Institution Approach – StudentEmployment and Community – and check out FAQs below.

You can also view all existing Covenant offers from Education Institutions in the Care Leavers Opportunities Area.

Get Involved

Get involved and collaborate with the Covenant.

We encourage all education institutions to adopt all three pillars of the Whole Institution Approach to provide as much care leaver support as possible.

For more information and support, email

The 3 Pillars of the Whole Institution Approach

01. Student

Student is the focus on the student lifecycle – widening access, participation and inclusion elements.

For HEIs, based around the expectations of the OfS, the DfE Principles and aligned with developments of the NNECL’s Quality Mark and the recent Pathways to University from Care report from Sheffield University.

For Colleges this would be linked to the requirements of Ofsted as well as the OfS.

This pillar invites institutions to look at their current provision for care leavers (care experienced), build from the excellent work of initiatives like ButtleQM and academics such as Dr Neil Harrison to develop new approaches from this information, advice and guidance.

02. Employment

Employment is the way in which institutions should be able to creatively respond as an employer for care leaver employees.

From application support, or adapted application processes and mentoring – should an individual self-declare – to specific internships, work experience, apprenticeships or traineeships for care leavers.

This is very much open for institutional specific responses, but we believe that every institution is in a position through supporting care leavers as students, to translate aspects of this to offering opportunities to current and potential employees.

We are conscious of the financial constraints on the sector and recognise that different sized institutions could offer more or less than others, but we are inviting intuitions to think creatively about solutions.

Please do note, that a response to this pillar in terms of planned, ongoing activity and a proposed timeline will be seen as a constructive response

03. Community

Community takes the focus slightly outside of the organisation and looks to the relationship and engagement within the local community.

We are suggesting that many HEIs / FECs already link with their local communities in terms of active engagement and partnership working, but this is not mapped out and promoted to the care leaving community in an accessible way.

This activity could be in the form of student clinics – medical or law in universities for example, to health and beauty, culinary school or sports coaching in colleges, or information on talk series and open events etc.

The Covenant is asking you to consider how this information is publicised to a care leaving audience and how this might be augmented to enhance the reach and ultimately access – we are not asking for new initiatives, but a focus on what is already there and how we can support the care leaving audience to access this.

This pillar also links positively with the development of the Civic University Agreement and the necessary mapping exercise highlights the enhanced way that institutions work and partner with the local community, isolated and marginalised groups.

Education Institution FAQs

What timeframe should our institution be working towards?

The Care Leaver Covenant is updating the app / website with all institutional commitments when they are submitted. We are hoping to raise the profile and publicise all commitments frequently through the year, but would hope that throughout care leavers week (October 2019), which also coincides with the new academic year, we would have a strong focus on the excellent commitments and response of this sector. With that in mind we have created a draft timeline which an institutions might like to consider.

Proposed Action Plan

June 2019

  • Secure senior management buy-in for the Care Leaver Covenant
  • Complete Care Leaver Covenant SOI through senior management or the Vice Chancellor / Principal’s office
  • Establish a whole institution working group including ‘student voice’
  • Review and audit current care leaver commitments
  • Consider the institutional response under the three pillars
  • Consult with care leavers, charities, care leaving teams and appropriate documentation (DfE HE Principles)

By September 2019

  • Develop Covenant offer and new opportunities to fill gaps in provision
  • Develop employment plan / opportunities and augmented HR processed for care leavers as employees, those in the community and student care leavers.
  • Liaise with Spectra First over marketing your offer on the Care Leaver Covenant website and app.

By October 2019

  • Market and celebrate new and revised offer during national Care Leavers’ Week.

By March 2020

  • Monitor implementation of the offer.
We have the Frank Buttle Kitemark - do we need to sign up to the CLC too?

In 2014, Buttle UK recognised that the successful Quality Mark had achieved its goal in raising awareness of looked after children and care leavers among universities and colleges. In 2015, Buttle UK made the decision to discontinue the scheme. The last awards were made in 2015 and all have now expired.

The Care Leaver Covenant has a different remit to the Frank Buttle Kitemark. However, it also stands as a badge of recognition.

"We" have already signed, where does this leave us?

We are incredibly grateful to those early signatories for their support and encouragement of the Care Leaver Covenant, particularly when this approach was gathering momentum and coming into being.

We hope those institutions who are already signatory members might revisit their initial offers, and to take into consideration the Covenant’s developed approach (and current research) along with the baseline expectations from overarching bodies in supporting care leavers in further and higher education.

We invite organisations to explore pillars two and three and to start thinking about how your signature to the Covenant could be enhanced to reach out to all members of the care leaving community.

We already reach out to schools to raise aspirations and encourage care leavers to visit the HEI / FEC. Could we include this as a specific demonstration under the Care Leaver Covenant?

Yes. This could be a way of highlighting and publicising what your institution is currently undertaking to support underrepresented groups. However, we would encourage you to think about how you currently do this. Evidence suggests that long term sustained engagement from an early age is most effective and best practice models link closely with Local Authority Virtual schools to identify pupils and develop effective informed strategies.

We are installing a system to track care leavers’ experiences and progression. Could we include this as a specific action under the Care Leaver Covenant?

Yes. However, your organisation would need to indicate how the outcomes of the data collected is fed back into policy design or targeted support.

Can we use our commitment to the Care Leaver Covenant to support our Access and Participation Plan?

Yes. Through your Access and Participation Agreement, you are required to demonstrate your HEI’s recognition and targeted support of underrepresented groups. As Care Leavers are one of these key groups, by signing the Care Leaver Covenant, your organisation would be demonstrating realistic and achievable offers of commitment for the care leaving community.

How have other institutions responded?

Many HEIs and FECs have put together a working group with representatives from across the organisation – including care leaver representatives – to plan out how the HEI / FEC would like to support the local and national care leaving community.

These groups have put in place a plan of action under each pillar – along with timelines for delivery.

Do we have to have a completed response to students, employment and community in place to sign up to the Care Leaver Covenant?

No. We are asking you to creatively respond under the above areas and although we strongly believe that HEIs (and to a certain extent FECs) should be able to provide opportunities for many different types of care leavers, we appreciate the complexity of this in some institutions.

We suggest that you clearly detail your responses to the particular areas you feel that your institution is able, which we can capture and publicise, but we would also seek to publish suggested timelines from institutions for the development of further opportunities, or proposed plans.

We have created some basic examples below, which might be included as part of your Care Leaver Covenant, for example:


In addition to the current package of support detailed, University of (x) has been selected to take part in the NNECL Quality Mark pilot and upon the outcomes of this activity, our institutional response to supporting care leavers will be adjusted in line with these recommendations.


The University of (x) has set up a working group with a particular remit to support care leavers’ access employment opportunities. We intend to undertake a scoping exercise and hope to implement these outcomes by March 2020. We welcome feedback and questions around this activity. The chair of this group is (x) and can be contacted on (x).

The University of (x) offers employment opportunities to all students who have self-declared as care leavers on our ambassador / mentoring / buddying scheme. Please contact (x) for further information.

The University of (x) is developing its staff mentor scheme to support care experienced staff members. To be launched in (DATE).

The University of (x) is creating a Staff Care Leaver Network. This network will have responsibility for overseeing the employment pillar of the Care Leaver Covenant and will seek to publish a whole institution response by (DATE).

The University of (x) is pleased to offer one six-week paid internship within Human Resources. Should you like to find out more, please send a short email to (x)


Through the establishment of a working group we have required that all schools and colleges within University of (x) send bulletins of community engagement activity, such as law clinics, student optometry appointments, talk series etc. to Student Services so that they can be uploaded on to the care leaver area of the website

Through the establishment of a working group we have asked that all schools and colleges within University of (x) tweet community engagement activity and hashtag the local authority and #careleavercovenant

The university of (x) will create a bulletin to be sent to the Local Authority, which could be sent to care leavers with regular opportunities on campus, such as events and clinics .

…we welcome your innovative support and offers through the Covenant.

We have a comprehensive student and community Covenant and we are committed to developing the employment strand but we aren’t quite there yet, what should we do to sign up to the Covenant?

We would very much like to inform care leavers of your commitment to them not just as an education provider, but also as an employer. We would be pleased to see a plan of action around the employment strand, highlighting your direction, which we would be able to display with your Covenant commitment as an ongoing activity.

We are conscious of the financial constraints on the sector and recognise that different sized institutions could offer more or less than others, but we are inviting intuitions to think creatively about solutions.

Our ongoing work has suggested that there are three particular growth sectors, these being: digital, hospitality and construction, and while we appreciate that some of these opportunities are outsourced within institutions, we believe that there is room and scope for procurement discussions as well as considering CSR priorities, which could include employment / work exposure for care leavers.

We are an FEC and have a closed campus, how do we respond to the community pillar?

Within colleges we have discussed student led services, such as discounted treatments within health, hair and beauty, tasting menus within cooking and culinary schools for example, these could be shared through the Care Leaver Covenant app and with Local Authorities for care leavers to access.

Within universities (and colleges) we have discussed public engagement and how particular information is fed out and what more could be done to target particular audiences.

We are reviewing our student provision; can you give us support or point us in a direction?

The DfE has recently published their “HE Principles” document, which gives a perspective on what an HEI / college with HE provision should be considering through their “student” provision – taking into account the full student life-cycle. NNECL also have a rich back catalogue of research which gives a very insightful perspective on supporting care leavers in HE. We are very supportive of the Centre for Social Justice’s May 2019 publication of “12×24” and we would also suggest using the final resources published as part of the Buttle Quality Mark.

Over the coming weeks we will be populating an area of the Covenant website with interesting practice from various institutions, so I would encourage you to check back here. We will also be running an event early in the summer to consolidate this.

Who is going to hold HEIs / FECs to account?

The oversight and maintenance of each HEIs / FECs commitment to the Covenant is that particular institutions’ responsibility. We would be pleased to see a care leaver forum appointed within each institution which might have the responsibility for oversight, review and “checking in”, or a line within each institutions’ commitment to invite care leavers to “ask about our institution’s commitment to the Care Leaver Covenant”?

Moving forward, we will support the work of NNECL in their Quality Mark Pilot which we would hope to feature a robust evaluative element and would encourage HEIs to consider connecting with NNECL on this following its launch in spring 2020.

Get Involved and Collaborate with the Covenant

We would encourage all education institutions to adopt as many elements of the strategy as possible to support their care leavers in the best way possible.

For more information and support, email