Supporting service children in their progression to Higher Education
‘Service children’ or children from ‘military families’ are the terms used to refer to children in schools or colleges with a parent or parents who currently serve in the armed forces or have served in the last six years.
Service children face many challenges from being separated from their parent(s) for long periods of time due to deployment, to frequently moving houses and schools. This leads to difficulties with school admissions and causes disruptions in the students’ learning. As a result, service children have to adjust to new settings, make friends all over again and this probably won’t be the only time they have had to do this.
Whilst many reports detail how schools and colleges can best support service students when starting a new school, through counselling provisions and using creative ways to maintain communication with their parent(s), there appears to be a gap in the information provided to teachers and careers advisers. Unfortunately these reports don’t offer detailed advice about supporting students with their higher education choices or later, how to help them with their UCAS applications.
Available financial support for schools:
Financial support is available for schools in England who register service children. Schools are entitled to receive the Service Pupil Premium (SPP) – this differs to the Pupil Premium which is targeted at disadvantaged students only. The purpose of the SPP is to ‘enable schools to provide extra, mainly pastoral support for children with parents in the Armed Forces’.1 It can support students from Reception to Year 11 and it equates to approximately £300 per child.
In order to receive the SPP, children must meet the following criteria:
> One of their parents is serving in the regular armed forces
> They have been registered as a ‘service child’ on the January school census at any point since 2015
> One of their parents died whilst serving in the armed forces and the pupil receives a pension under the Armed Forces Compensation Scheme or the War Pensions Scheme
> Pupils with a parent who is on full commitment as part of the full time reserve service are classed as service children2
Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have their own administrations and therefore have different arrangements for service children.3 For instance, in Wales, there is the Ministry of Defence Education Support Fund which assists publicly funded schools4 and in Scotland, there is the Royal Caledonian Education Trust (RCET) which supports the children of Scots who are serving, or have served, in the British Armed Forces, as well as other charities.5
Financial support for students:
Whilst it is difficult to find specific bursaries and other scholarships available for service children studying at university, in 2019, following guidance from the Office for Students, English universities agreed new plans to boost access and support successful participation for disadvantaged and under-represented students over a five-year period’.6 Specifically, one of the plans for Russell Group Universities is ‘targeted support to improve access, continuation, attainment and/or progression for disabled and mature students, care leavers, students from military families, and many other specific groups’.7 Therefore, we can expect universities to offer further support for service children in the near future.
As it stands, there is an Armed Forces Bereavement Scholarship Scheme (AFBSS) available to those children whose parent’s death is attributed to Service. It is intended to enable service children to progress in their post-16 education and it is granted to those who wish to stay in further education or higher education. In order to receive this scholarship, the applicant must be due to start or have already started the FE course while still in compulsory education or within 3 years from finishing school education. If it has been more than 3 years, the applicant must provide justification for why the education has been delayed.8 If this funding is used for higher education then it will help towards the tuition fees and maintenance costs of university. However, it is only available to those studying in the UK and the payments will be made yearly either to the student or their parent/guardian. For more details relating to the eligibility of the scheme and how to apply, please refer to this document.
How can you help service students prepare for university?
As service children may only have one parent supporting them through school, providing extra support to these students is vital, especially as they are starting to consider their post-16 options. According to a report from 2016, ‘up to 4 out of 10 children who, if in the general population would go to university, do not go if they are from a military family’.9 This under-represented group therefore needs further support from schools in helping these students achieve their potential and continue with their studies. Specifically, teacher support is vital when they are making their application to university. It is important that the student is aware of where to include this contextual information about their family when applying to university. As there is no place on the UCAS application form to include this information, there is all the more reason for the student to draw upon their experiences in the personal statement. In order to speak about this, you could discuss with the student their childhood and school experiences and together, you could make a list of their strengths and how these experiences have prepared them for university study. For instance, service children typically:
> Have a strengthened resilience and are familiar with adapting to new surroundings and environments
> Have developed advanced social skills
> Potentially have experience of foreign languages and different cultures
> Have experience of travel
> Compared to most students, they will have a greater sense of independence and self-confidence from these experiences
These notes, along with academic interest, could then be used by the student to write a draft of their personal statement for you to review. If the student consents, this contextual information should be corroborated in the teacher reference as this will verify their situation and again, can be drawn upon to highlight their academic achievement and perseverance. As some universities may not read the references until a later date, we would also suggest that you contact the admissions teams at the chosen universities to inform them of their circumstances - informing them early on will ensure that nothing has been missed.
As with other students, speaking to them about the UCAS application process, including which courses require interviews or tests, as well as student finance and attending open days, will help them make an informed choice. If students are unable to attend open days, there are many virtual tours of universities on their websites and you could refer to Advancing Access’s collection of case study videos from each Russell Group university which will help them gain an insight into different universities and courses.
If a service child changes school whilst they are in the process of writing their personal statement and selecting universities, please try to ensure adequate communication between your school/college and the new institution. Whilst this may be difficult, informing them of the student’s progress will help the transition and it will hopefully guarantee support at the new institution. The student may already be aware of their next steps from your meetings but speaking to them about where they are and what comes next will ensure they are prepared and informed before they leave.
We will be keeping an eye out for any further support which is made available for service children in the future and we will let you know what’s available as soon as we can.
6 Russell Group: “Supporting under-represented students to access and succeed in higher education”. https://russellgroup.ac.uk/media/5820/supporting-under-represented-students-december-2019.pdf
9 University of Winchester, Further and Higher Progression for Service Children: Research Paper: https://www.scipalliance.org/assets/files/UoW-research-paper_Further-and-Higher-Progression-for-Service-Children.pdf
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