Young People in Supported Accommodation

Understanding the barriers to higher education


The project was in two parts. The first aimed to understand the experiences of homeless young people and those living in supported accommodation in Brighton and Hove when trying to access higher education, and how they are being supported around this. The second adopted a participatory action research approach to support a caseload of young people to access education and, ultimately, higher education.


The two-part project featured semi-structured interviews with 11 key professionals who work with young people in the city (see the list of partners), and then taking a participatory action research approach involving groups of young people living in temporary and supported accommodation services. In addition, four young people were identified for advice about education pathways. They consented to take part in IAG sessions with the lead researcher to establish their needs, get support with their goals, and explore their reasons for being in supported accommodation. They were also asked about what would have improved their experiences of education and any recommendations they had for improving practice.

Researchers also spoke to young people who had entered university after living in supported accommodation. Through this qualitative research, rich and detailed data was generated, and the barriers to education faced by young people in supported accommodation were explored. Before carrying out the interviews, a review of current academic research was conducted to inform the interview schedule.



The research found that the reasons young people are in supported accommodation are many and complex. They include: family breakdown; physical and mental health problems; drug and alcohol misuse; exclusion from school; domestic violence or abuse; trauma; financial hardship; leaving care; anti-social behaviour or crime; or parents/carers no longer willing or able to house the young person. These reasons can often be contributing factors in preventing young people in supported accommodation from accessing and being successful in education. While it is important to consider these factors when making recommendations for improving practice, it will be impossible to find solutions for the long-term, multifarious and complicated issues that have resulted in young people being placed in supported accommodation.  

The young people who took part in the research, and the professionals working with them, identified that negative past experiences of education had an impact on how they see themselves and their future goals. Added to this, the young person’s sense of self-worth and how they value themselves has a profound effect on their ability to access and be successful in higher education.

Researchers identified that young people need to have the fundamentals in place in order to be ready to engage in higher education and be successful. These fundamentals include: secure housing; food; access to money; life skills such as being able to pay their bills, manage their time and look after themselves. Young people who have successfully accessed higher education are reported to have certain individual characteristics such as motivation and in-built resilience.

The financial implications of accessing education can present significant barriers for young people; often their priority is to find employment to generate an income for themselves. Tied to this, family breakdown and subsequent estrangement can make it difficult for young people to access student loans and find guarantors for student accommodation. Estrangement from family also means they don’t have access to the financial and personal support that other students may have.

Support from universities varies both between and within institutions, and a system for transferring information between university and those working with the young person may not be in place; in particular, this was the case for students seeking mental health support.

The barriers to higher education for young people living in supported accommodation include:

  • negative experiences of education
  • low expectations of themselves and others
  • lack of self-belief and confidence
  • chaotic lifestyles
  • lack of basic life skills
  • mental health issues
  • Conflicting priorities
  • housing issues
  • complex reasons for being in supported accommodation in the first place
  • lack of consistent support
  • lack of careers education and understanding of education pathways.

Recommendations for improving practice

  • Set up a network or forum with representatives from supported accommodation services in the city and FE and HE providers. Each institution should nominate a named person who can be contacted by the key worker to offer educational advice and guidance tailored to the needs of the young person they are supporting.
  • Identify areas of good practice where there are already strong links between supported accommodation services and education providers.
  • Encourage education providers to collaborate on the development of a regularly updated online resource pack for key workers to access when they are supporting young people.
  • Compile and regularly update a directory of contacts in education settings with named staff who have responsibility for supporting young people from supported accommodation who are starting college. This should include talking through the expectations of being a student and introducing them to aspects of college/university life. Named contacts who can offer support with mental health challenges and IAG should also be included.
  • Develop an information pack for tutors and support staff outlining some of the main issues young people in supported accommodation may face and how this can impact on how they experience education.
  • Ask education providers to review the support offered to young people in supported accommodation who are not linked to the local authority, and consider offering them the same level of support as care leavers including access to bursaries, care packages and peer mentoring.
  • Make one-to-one support available for young people to apply for independent status on their student finance application. Key workers should be able to liaise with and, if necessary, refer the young person to the named contact at the education provider for support.
  • Ask university accommodation services to develop policies with their private accommodation providers that give special consideration to young people in financial hardship from supported accommodation services. There are measures in place to support care-experienced young people with accommodation during holidays and when they have graduated. This support should be extended to students who are irreconcilably estranged from their families.  


  • How far is the assessment process for these young people to secure permanent housing acting as a disincentive to go into higher education? For example, young people have more chance of securing a tenancy if they have a regular income from employment rather than being on Universal Credit or claiming Housing Benefit as a student.
  • How far are supported accommodation project workers looking for quick fixes by showing the young person is engaged in education? Is this the right approach, or should they encourage young people to pursue riskier but potentially more rewarding HE options?



In 2018-19, only 6% of care leavers were known to be in higher education, with half of those considering dropping out due to lack of support around a range of issues including mental health and accommodation.


January to June 2019


Brighton & Hove Foyer (both professionals and those living there); The Clocktower Sanctuary; Stopover; Greater Brighton Metropolitan College; the University of Sussex; the University of Brighton; Brighton & Hove City Council.

Funding source

NCOP, now Uni Connect (Innovation Fund)