Overcoming by degrees: Exploring care leavers' experiences of higher education in England.





Existing research has shown that care leavers are one of the most disadvantaged groups in society and are at particular risk of experiencing negative long-term outcomes including unemployment, homelessness and mental health problems.

This thesis makes a contribution to knowledge in this area by focusing upon a group of care leavers about whom very little is currently known: care leavers in higher education. These are young people who despite the odds, have succeeded educationally and are overcoming their early disadvantage to make a successful transition from care into adulthood.

This thesis uses Bourdieu's theory on transformation and reproduction in society and the concepts of capital, field, and habitus to explore care leavers' experiences of higher education. It considers how the support available to care leavers from their local authorities and higher education institutions has developed since Jackson and colleagues (2005) Going to University from Care study first highlighted deficits in the level of support provided to care leavers.

This thesis also compares the experiences of care leavers with students from other disadvantaged backgrounds to understand where care leavers have specific support needs as a result of not being supported at university by their birth parents.

Finally, this thesis considers the impact of the Buttle UK Quality Mark, developed in response to the findings of Jackson and colleagues (2005) and awarded to universities demonstrating a commitment to supporting care leavers.


Reference: Hyde-Dryden, G. (2013). Overcoming by degrees: Exploring care leavers' experiences of higher education in England. PhD. Thesis. Loughborough University. https://hdl.handle.net/2134/12260




There is a lot to commend this PhD thesis; our favourite part (as sociologists & careleavers with 1980's University experience);

" The findings show that small gestures and items from carers, social care and HEI staff are often of great importance to care leavers. This reflects the arguments of Ward (2011), who states that care leavers’ possessions can have a symbolic value helping to maintain a sense of continuity of self and the thread of identity. The gestures and items described by care leavers in the current study can be viewed as helping maintain their sense of identity through others recognising what is important to them as individuals. Such gestures and items also help to reinforce existing and new supportive relationships, which will assist care leavers settling into the unfamiliar field of higher education. These relationships will form the basis of a care leaver’s support network and provide the route through which support and therefore capital can be accessed as they progress through higher education"

Well worth a read - and actually a really good use of Bourdieu in this respect.... so, whilst we are doing some Bourdieu, students of sociology and education will recognise that there is much about the concept of class in Bourdieu's work - it is also the case that being in care and the leaving thereof is also similarly associated; so we point students to academic Diane Reay's book Degrees of Choice: Social Class, Race and Gender in Higher Education - to help develop thinking of Bourdieu in this, and wider, regards. 


See related publications on Google Scholar


In the UK, a PhD stands for ‘Doctor of Philosophy’, sometimes referred to as a ‘doctorate’. It is the highest level of degree that a student can achieve. At some institutions, a Doctor of Philosophy is known as a DPhil. It is distinct from professional doctorates such as EdD (Doctor of Education).

A PhD usually culminates in a thesis of around 80,000-100,000 words, based on research carried out over the course of the research study. The research must be original and aim to create new knowledge or theories in their specialist area, or build on existing knowledge or theories in novel ways. 

A doctoral thesis in the social sciences will normally have a comprehensive literature review of the specific research area, in addition to a particular theoretical focus (a conceptual framework) sometimes even where two more sets of theories overlap (intersect). The research is 'supervised' normally by two experienced academics and examined by another two experienced academics who are experts in the field of study, one of who is external to the awarding University.



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