For Téa Trevarthen, school once felt like a “losing battle”.

The 18-year-old, until recently a pupil at Edinburgh’s Royal High, has lived in a residential unit since the age of around 14. She moved there after social workers decided it would be better for her not to stay with her mother, who was suffering mental ill-health.

“I’m actually in a flat that’s attached to the unit,” she explains. “I do all my own food shopping. Residential units have a pretty substantial emphasis on making sure residents can leave, go right into a flat and be completely independent.

“I think I was kind of an outlier because going into care was very much my choice. I was very enthusiastic to do so. Even when I was younger, I didn’t really have much trouble being like, yeah, let’s get me in there.”

Of course, her circumstances also bring significant challenges, not least when it comes to learning. “I would definitely say that living in a residential unit has its ups and downs,” she tells The Herald. “Being in care definitely doesn’t make school any easier. You have people coming into the unit and they’re here for so many different reasons. It can be a bit of a volatile environment sometimes.

“When I was younger, there would be nights where someone would be kicking off and it was just like, OK, how am I meant to sleep?”

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Despite the difficulties, Téa persevered in her studies and now hopes to enter Edinburgh University’s law faculty. Although confirmation of her place depends on exam results, the fact she has come so far marks a victory against the odds.

There are still huge obstacles that prevent many care-experienced young people in Scotland from progressing through education, employment or training. Figures from 2019-20 show 75 per cent of looked-after school leavers were in positive follow-up destinations. This compares with 92% of all school leavers.

HeraldScotland: The summer school at Harvard University, pictured, is world-famous.The summer school at Harvard University, pictured, is world-famous.

One of the organisations seeking to make a difference is the charity Who Cares? Scotland, which is sending four care-experienced individuals – a record number – to Harvard University’s world-famous summer school. Among those jetting off with backing from Midlothian, East Lothian and South Lanarkshire councils is Téa, who says she cannot wait to begin her courses on superheroes and on power and public speaking.

“I think it will definitely come in handy when it comes to law,” she adds. “I’d like to be a solicitor so that type of thing will be really good. The application process was very rigorous. You get a mid-term and a final exam so, yeah, definitely, I think there will be pressure. It’s still Harvard, even if it’s a summer school.

“This is really taking me out of my comfort zone – going all the way to the States and not knowing anyone besides the other three people who are going with me. So, it’s definitely going to be a real kind of test for my independence.”

Accompanying her is S6 pupil Carys Tulk, 16, who attends North Berwick High in East Lothian and hopes to study English Literature at university. Put up for adoption as soon as she was born in Cape Town, South Africa, the aspiring novelist was raised in a home where foster children were always coming and going.

“It was my mum who heard about the Harvard summer school,” she explains. “She looked at me and said, ‘well, why don’t you apply? You probably don’t want to because I know you, but you have nothing to lose’. And I completely disagreed with her. I said, ‘no, of course I want to apply’.”

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Carys will be studying creative writing and psychology during her time in the US. “I really wasn’t expecting that I’d actually get to go to Harvard, so that was a huge surprise for me,” she says. “But I wanted to have a shot at what I really want to do, which is creative writing. I want to be a novelist. I’m a really passionate writer and reader.

“I imagine saying to people, oh yeah, I went to Harvard summer school to study fiction writing. So, I really do hope to build on my experience and skills for writing while I’m there.”

For bosses at Who Cares? Scotland, the trip is part of “vital” efforts to ensure no-one’s academic potential is wasted. “We believe that everyone should be entitled to the best education possible,” says chief executive Louise Hunter. “There can be barriers for careexperienced people in accessing the education they deserve.

"Although work is being done to address these challenges, such as the care-experienced student bursary and minimum entry requirements for further education institutions, this opportunity can broaden horizons significantly.”