Smoothing the Path – meet your speakers

Ahead of our conference Smoothing the Path: helping care experienced young people to university, taking place on Thursday 16th May, we asked our speakers on the day to give us an insight about themselves, but also their views on the current landscape for care experienced young people.

This is the perfect opportunity as a professional that works with young people with care experience, and for the young people themselves to hear first-hand from people with care experience and those who work with and support them.

Meet keynote speaker, Lucy Barnes

Lucy is a 27-year-old Future Pupil Barrister at East Anglian Chambers and a Scholar of Middle Temple Inn. She graduated from the University of Surrey in 2018 with a 2:1 in Law (LLB) and has worked her way towards Barrister, receiving an LLM in 2021. In addition to being our keynote speaker, Lucy has also delivered a TEDx talk and appeared on Radio 4.

Lucy is a passionate advocate for care-experienced young people. She was placed into foster care at age 13, following a childhood of domestic abuse and neglect. In foster care, Lucy turned her GCSEs around from predicted Ds and Cs to achieving 14 A*s-C grades. At 16yrs, Lucy fell off the care cliff and endured an unstable situation from before gaining her place at university, since then she has not looked back. She now uses her passion for helping others with similar experiences in her role as a barrister and strongly believes that care-experienced people are assets in society.

Lucy now lives in Norwich with her husband and son.

What is the single most pressing issue for young care-experienced people who want to succeed in education right now?

‘Single most pressing issue’ is a tough one! Stigma and struggles with self-belief are huge, but what I think plays into that is the huge barriers to financial, social and cultural capital for care-experienced young people.

For example, not being able to provide a guarantor for accommodation (which nearly left me homeless), not having the same opportunities for networking (which contributed to me feeling alienated from my profession) and not being taught the unspoken rules or codes of a profession (makes for some awkward looks when you’re the only person to not bow to a judge when you enter court…).

What advice would you give to a young person with care experience who wants to go to university?
  • Discover your unique selling point and believe in yourself. Keep your unique selling point on a post-it-note in-front of your desk and believe it.
  • Know what you have to bring to the table (there will be a lot) and never write yourself off.
  • Overcoming obstacles may form part of your resilience and tenacity, which are huge assets in any career path.
  • Do not let anyone tell you who you are or what you can be. Multiple people tried to lower expectations for me or told me to “be realistic” about becoming a lawyer. It knocked my confidence at times, but I kept rising as I knew myself and what I wanted to do.

Hope was like a candle in the darkness for me. There is always hope if you believe in yourself. And you will find your tribe along the way too!

I always connect back to the 16-year-old girl who was struggling. I never forget my roots. I look back on my video diaries from that time and try to become the person that young girl would have been inspired by at that time. This is what drove me to create and to provide an opportunity for care-experienced aspiring lawyers with the social and cultural capital (as well as sense of community) that I never had.

Lucy BarnesFuture Pupil Barrister

Conference speakers, Claire Cameron and Hanan Hauari, UCL

Claire Cameron is Professor of Social Pedagogy at UCL Institute of Education, where she has been researching issues of care, social pedagogy, gender, the children’s workforce, looked after children and early childhood education and care since the early 1990s. In 2008-2011 she led the first European study of the higher education pathways of young people from public care backgrounds (also known as YiPPEE) with Hanan Hauari. This led to PALAC – a ground-breaking knowledge exchange programme working with schools and colleges to improve education for children in care.

Subsequently, she led on two evaluations with care leavers: one with The Foundling Museum investigating the impact of an arts-based mentoring programme for care leavers; a second with the UCL Widening Participation team on ways to retain care leavers at university, along with Hanan Hauari.

Both Claire and Hanan have also led studies with SOS Children’s Villages International on care leavers and decent employment worldwide.

What is the single most pressing issue for young care experienced people who want to succeed in education right now?

Adequate financial resources.

What is it that drives you forward in your role as an advocate for care experienced young people?

This group challenges orthodoxy every time. Witnessing the immense talent of young people unleashed by educational opportunity coupled with often miraculous ability to believe in oneself in the face of severe disadvantage.

Never give up!

Claire CameronProfessor of Social Pedagogy, UCL

Never give up!

Claire CameronProfessor of Social Pedagogy, UCL

Megan Bastable, Goldsmiths, University of London

Megan first moved to London in 2015 to study BA Drama, Applied Theatre and Education at the Royal Central School of Speech and Drama, where she learnt how to facilitate projects and workshops for vulnerable community groups in a creative capacity.

Megan has now been a Widening Participation and Access Officer at Goldsmiths since October 2022. Before then, they worked at a range of charities including Imperial Health Charity, Middlesex Students Union, and The Winch. Megan specialises in supporting care-experienced students and mature students in her current role, and is also undertaking a part-time masters degree in Education and Social Justice. They have a particular interest in evaluation and impact reporting, believing in the importance of understanding what we do, why we are doing it and how it is working for the students we support.

What is the single most pressing issue for young care experienced people who want to succeed in education right now?

I think one of the most pressing issues, out of many, is feeling supported enough while at university and a part of a community that enables them to thrive during their studies. While access is important, universities and other supporting organisations need to acknowledge that care-experienced students are at risk of dropping out mid-way through their studies, due to not being able to access support quick enough or feeling alienated.

What advice would you give to a young person with care experience who wants to go to university?

Don’t be scared to reach out to the universities you’re applying to! They want to hear from you, and if you’re unclear on anything from the application process to the support that will be available to you, then you should 100% reach out to them via email or phone call. You deserve to have all the information you need to help you make the right decision for you, so go out and get it!

I have always believed that university should be right for everyone who wishes to pursue a degree and I recognise that care-experienced young people are some of the most underrepresented students within higher education. Put simply, a society that does not successfully support care-experienced people to get into higher education is failing at creating a truly inclusive education system.

Mx Megan BastableWidening Participation and Access Officer, Goldsmiths, University of London

Smoothing the Path

Are you a professional working with young people with experience in care, or know a young person that will find this day useful? We encourage you to find out more and register via our Eventbrite page.