ESTIMATES of the proportion of children in care who end up going to university could be vastly misrepresenting the true numbers, according to a new report.

The study, by the Centre for Excellence for Looked After Children in Scotland (Celcis) disputes the suggestion that fewer than one in 15 children who have spent time in care goes on to higher education.

Official figures count the number of young people of school leaving age who go to university, but only those who are still in care when they reach school leaving age.

But researchers say care leavers often go to higher education later, or take further education access courses first.

Those who are no longer in care by the time they leave school may not be counted. Meanwhile children who have spent time in care tend to leave school earlier on average – often before the age at which university would normally be a consideration, and are more likely to move and become unknown to the authorities at this point.

The report calls for more efforts to track the outcomes for young people who have spent time in care. However as some do not make a habit of talking about their care experience, it also calls for more students to come forward and “claim” their past.

It is commonly claimed that outcomes for young people who grew up in care are routinely poor - young people who are “looked after” by local authorities are more likely to end up inprison or homeless, addicted or with mental health problems.

Another commonly-cited figure is that only 6-7 per cent of care leavers end up in higher education, compared with around 40 per cent of the general population.

However the report says the figure could be much higher. It also says college is an important stepping stone for many children in care towards university and 40 per cent of the 506 school leavers who had spent the whole year in care last year took up an FE course, much higher than the general population of school leavers where it was 27 per cent.

The report says it remains important for universities and colleges to do more to support young people who have been in care, but data needs to be improved.

Students may choose not to declare their care background or may not realise that a part of their childhood qualifies them as “care experienced.”

“Universities and colleges ... are encouraging self-declaration of care identity as a positive action that can lead to additional financial and other support,” the authors add.

A spokesman for Celcis said it was not necessarily helpful to overstate the problems and barriers such children face.

He said using a single headline figure was not giving a reliable or clear picture of the true experience of care experienced young people, and ignored the considerable “school leaving age gap” between care experienced young people and their peers.

“ Care experienced young people face real personal and financial barriers to fulfilling their potential.

but this paper highlights that what is out there isn’t the complete picture,” he added.

Read the report: Going to University from Care - beyond the headlines