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Student support

Supporting LGBTQ+ students to progress to selective universities

This article will discuss different barriers which LGBTQ+ students may face, and tools we can effectively use to dismantle these barriers, to support our queer youth and give LGTBQ+ students the best chances at accessing opportunities. (Content warning: this article will briefly discuss statistics and topics surrounding homophobia).

LGBTQ+ Students in the UK

Let’s start with some key definitions. ‘LGBTQ+ students’ encompasses a spectrum of terms and expressions referring to students who could identify as the following: lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer/ questioning, intersex and asexual. Queer is a relatively newer term adopted by the LGBTQ+ community, which has been reclaimed by the community to include any sexuality, sexual identity or gender expression which does not conform to heteronormative(heterosexual or ‘straight’ being the ‘default’ or ‘standard’) ideals. 

Schools, colleges and educational institutions play a vital role in supporting queer youth, as many educational spaces are making advancements in acknowledging their role within this crucial part of development. Our educational spaces should strive to foster a sense of belonging for all students, creating a safe and inclusive environment for everybody. Many schools are now routinely implementing an EDIB (Equality, Diversity, Inclusion and Belonging) strategy, within the guidelines of the 2010 Equality Act. 

So, to learn how we can better support our queer youth, we must first understand what barriers do queer students face? How might this affect their ability to access higher education? And most importantly – how can we help?

Educational barriers

LGBTQ+ students face an increased likelihood of experiencing mental health problems. Students who identify as queer are significantly at higher vulnerability to risk factors of poor mental health, such as feelings of isolation or experiences of bullying [1]. LGBTQ+ students are more likely to experience social isolation or an inability to be able to connect with other queer people.

Queer young people are also at vastly higher risks of experiencing homelessness in their lifetime: “almost one in five LGBTQ+ people have experienced homelessness at some point in their lives” with rates even higher amongst trans people [2].

Additionally, many queer children will lack ‘love and belonging’, being isolated from friendship groups, or generally lacking queer community. They may have fractured relationships with families or loved ones, or just be struggling to connect to others. Beyond this, a large proportion of queer youth will struggle with their self-esteem or personal sense of identity, not feeling heard or seen [3].

How can schools and Higher Education institutions help with this? 

How teachers and advisers can support LGBTQ+ students


Allyship is crucial for fostering inclusion and equality, and a big part of breaking down barriers for queer students to help them have a better chance at accessing opportunities. This may look like amplifying the voices of those who are less able to speak, or educating yourself and others. You could ask yourself - do I know the struggles potentially faced by LGBTQ+ young people? Stonewall has created a fantastic guide aimed at educators on proactive ways to ensure your LGBTQ+ students feel supported. When young people feel supported and safe, they will be significantly more likely to progress to higher education and selective universities. 

2. Representation

Representation is fundamental for personal development and accessing HE. If we can provide role models who young people can see themselves in, we can create a sense of social belonging and how we make spaces truly inclusive. When students see themselves represented in educational spaces, then they are more likely to have the confidence, ambition and self-belief to say “yes, I can go on to achieve”. 

We can do this by implementing queer role models in the curriculum, including those with other protected characteristics such as queer people of colour, LGBTQ+ disabled people, and LGBTQ+ people of faith. Schools with better queer visibility are significantly less likely to experience problems surrounding homophobia and bullying. LGBTQ+ learners in these settings are also more likely to report feeling safe, welcome and happy. [4] 

3. Queer Spaces 

Educational spaces sometimes lack availability of queer-friendly spaces. Staff and schools can support young people to set up equality, diversity or peer support groups in school to enable children and young people to lead their own projects and talk about LGBTQ+ people and their experiences. The implementation of an LGBTQ+ club or society in schools is a great tool to ensure accessible queer spaces. These are great opportunities for queer youth to make friends with other queer students, to build their confidence and self-esteem, and to access important information and guidance from youth professionals or educators. 

These can also be great opportunities to work with students on increasing their aspirations for the future, and to generate networks where students can support one-another with researching options for higher education, writing personal statements, and revising. 

4. Wellbeing

As previously discussed, queer learners may face additional wellbeing and mental health concerns, so it’s important for educators to ensure that all staff feel confident in being able to signpost students to appropriate mental health support, especially for students struggling with queer-related issues.

How Higher Education Institutions support LGBTQ+ students

1.Widening Participation Programmes

Many universities provide support to LGBTQ+ students prior to university through Widening Participation Programmes. These programmes aim to support groups to progress to higher education who are currently underrepresented, and so may prioritise places to LGBTQ+ students. These are often designed for students aged 16-18, and allow students to gain a real sense of student life, what studying at university entails, and can sometimes lead to a reduced grade requirement on their offer to study. Universities will advertise when applications are open for these programmes via their social media and their Outreach website pages, and you can also find those offered by Russell Group institutions on the Advancing Access website

2. Support with applying to university

As we noted, LGBTQ+ young people are at a higher risk of experiencing homelessness, or of having a relationship with their parents or carers which has broken down. If this is the case for any of your students, when they are applying for university, you should encourage them to “Tick the Box” on their UCAS application to indicate that they are estranged from both their parents. This allows the universities that your student is applying to, to connect them with the right support for their needs quickly and easily. 

This support can look like: 

  • Extra information, advice and guidance throughout the application process 
  • Ensuring that contextual or adjusted offers are made if appropriate 
  • Support for the individual through the transition process

You can find out more about UCAS’s “Tick the Box” campaign here.

3. Financial support 

Students who are estranged from both their parents or carers can also access scholarships and bursaries at university to support them with any financial difficulties. You can find out more about the financial support available at Russell Group universities via our “University Admissions and Support for Care Experienced, Care Leaver and Estranged Students” presentation. 

4. Mental Health support

Universities can also offer dedicated mental health support to students, which will be particularly vital for the wellbeing of some LGBTQ+ students. Students can access counselling services, medical support, tools and resources and specific mental health support through the student support team at their university. Russell Group universities invest heavily in support services [5], but mental health support is accessible at most universities.  

5. LGBTQ+ Groups and Community 

Finally, university can be a great place for young people to meet others and generate a sense of community and belonging that they may have lacked earlier in life. Universities have LGBTQ+ Student Networks and Societies, and many Student Unions will host LGBTQ+ and Pride Events. 

Take home messages…

  • LGBTQ+ students can face specific barriers to education, such as homelessness, estrangement from parents and carers, and mental health struggles. 
  • It’s important for educators and higher education institutions alike to recognise these barriers, and to support young people in overcoming them.  
  • As a teacher or careers advisor, you can signpost the support and opportunities that higher education institutions can provide to LGBTQ+ students, to support them in aspiring to and attending more selective universities. 


Further Reading

Mental Health Foundation, ‘LGBTIQ+ people: Statistics’. 

Stonewall, Transgender Report, 

Young Minds, 


[1] Stonewall, LGBT in Britain - Health (2018),life%20in%20the%20last%20year. 

[2] Crisis, ‘Three things you might not know about homelessness in LGBTQ+ History Month’,experienced%20homelessness%20at%20some%20point

[3] Anna Freud Mentally Healthy Schools, LGBTQI+. 

[4] Stonewall, Introduction to Supporting LGBTQ+ Children and Young People. 

[5] Russell Group, How Russell Group universities are supporting students to develop positive mental health and well-being. 


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