Supporting Learners with Extenuating Circumstances – Guidance for Teachers


The path to higher education doesn’t always run smoothly, and you may have learners whose circumstances might mean they need some extra support and guidance to make the leap to higher education. Thankfully, there are plenty of resources out there to support them, and this factsheet aims to provide a ‘one-stop shop’ to help you to point them in the right direction.

Care Leavers

When completing their UCAS application, learners can tick a box to let higher education institutions (HEIs) know that they are, or have been, in local authority care. This is not compulsory but can enable care leavers to access additional support; for example, some HEIs may provide special induction events to help them settle in and form a support network once they arrive on campus. Many HEIs also offer bursaries and other financial aids; for example, the University of Liverpool’s Care Leavers’ Opportunity Bursary is worth £3000 per year and can be taken either as a cash award or a fee waiver.

Ticking the box will also provide admissions tutors with additional contextual information and may enable the learner to access an adjusted offer. At the University of Bristol, for example, applicants who have spent three months or more in local authority care may be eligible for a contextual offer, which is a reduction of up to two grades below the standard offer for the course. Policies will likely vary between HEIs, so it is worth checking with individual institutions.

Care leavers can also visit Propel, a website from the charity Become. It offers a ‘one-stop shop’ search facility which allows learners to search for institutions and clearly see what they can offer care-leavers, from bursaries to year-round accommodation and a named contact. There are also some nice case studies which describe the HE experience from a care leaver’s perspective; these are refreshingly honest and, while positive overall, do not sugar-coat some of the issues that care leavers may face in accessing higher education.

Estranged students

Estranged students are those who do not have the support or approval of a family network. There is an entire section of the UCAS website dedicated to providing specific advice for learners in this situation.

A number of universities and colleges, including local choices such as the University of Derby and Nottingham Trent University, have also taken the Stand Alone Pledge to show their commitment to supporting estranged students. Support can range from helping with the logistical arrangements of moving away to study to providing a named staff contact and a current student ‘buddy’ to provide more informal support. As with all services, this will vary between institutions, but you can take a look at this dedicated page from the University of York as an example.

Young Carers

Learners with caring responsibilities may worry about their ability to juggle their duties at home with the rigours of higher education, but support is available. To get learners started, UCAS has plenty of advice on the considerations they may wish to make in this article.

Some HEIs may offer support to carers even before a formal application has been made. Cardiff University, for example, encourages prospective students to highlight that they are carers when registering for their open day; they then invite them to a breakfast drop-in session, where they can meet key members of staff who can answer any questions and plan their day.

Caring responsibilities may well be highlighted in a reference on a learner’s application (with their permission, of course), but they can also prove a valuable addition to a personal statement. UCAS has a helpful blog which helps young carers to consider the transferable skills they may have gained through their caring responsibilities, and how to highlight these in their application.

Most HEIs will have a dedicated contact for carers, who can answer any queries or issues both pre- and post-enrolment. Some institutions also run a carers’ passport scheme, which saves students with caring responsibilities from repeating their story multiple times across the organisation and can enable them to access additional support.

Refugees & Asylum Seekers

The immigration status of learners who have sought asylum in the UK will affect whether or not they can apply to higher education as a ‘home student’ (instead of paying international fees) and their eligibility for student finance. This can get complicated, so it may be useful to seek further guidance from an organisation which specialises in immigration advice, such as the Citizen’s Advice Bureau, Migrant Help or Refugee Action. Additionally, the Refugee Support Network offers a Thinking Ahead to Higher Education toolkit which can be ordered from their website and may provide a useful reference point for both learners and teachers.

The STAR (Student Action for Refugees) Network provides a list of scholarship schemes offered by UK HEIs. These are usually limited in number and for applicants who cannot access student finance or other standard funding sources due to their immigration status.

UCAS also has a dedicated page on student finance for refugees and asylum seekers. While the information provided here is limited, it does contain plenty of useful links to obtain further information and clarification.

Disabled Students

As individual circumstances for students with disabilities can vary so greatly, it would be near impossible to provide comprehensive advice here. The key guidance is that learners should contact any HEIs they might wish to apply to and speak to them about the provision and support they may need, as facilities and support may vary between institutions. This article from UCAS contains a list of useful questions to ask potential HEIs if learners are unsure where to start.

If you want a comprehensive resource to pass directly onto your learners, look no further than the Complete University Guide. They have produced this useful webpage which summarises considerations for disabled learners to make at each stage of the application process, from choosing the right course and HEI to preparations for transitioning to higher education.

The charity Disability Rights UK has a dedicated helpline which is open to anyone over the age of 16 who is studying, or plans to study, a full- or part-time education or training course in England. Advice can be provided to the learners themselves as well as parents or professionals who work with them, making this a comprehensive resource. The telephone number is 0330 995 0414 and the number is free to call from landlines, but may incur some charges from mobiles. Opening hours are currently limited to 11am-1pm on Tuesdays and Thursdays, but they also provide an email address of which may be able to help outside these hours.

Additionally, the Disability Rights website contains a range of factsheets on various aspects of disability within higher and further education. They are not the most user-friendly resource, as they are quite lengthy, but they do cover topics from benefit entitlement to ‘telling people you’re disabled’ and may be helpful in understanding the finer details.

For learners concerned about the financial side of participating in higher education with a disability, they may be reassured that they can apply for Disabled Students’ Allowance, which can help with the cost of acquiring specialist equipment or funding non-medical help. Further information on entitlements and eligibility can be found here.

Need More Help?

Have you had any more questions from learners that you’d like a helping hand to answer?

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