Supporting at-risk learners through the cost-of-living crisis

Posted by Beth Anderson

The All-Party Parliamentary Group’s latest report* has found that a growing number of students are falling victim to domestic abuse and criminal exploitation as welfare services struggle to keep pace with the demands for cost-of-living support. 

Comments from the report some colleges claimed, ‘extreme financial destitution', resulting in more students becoming victims of criminal or sexual exploitation or being involved in criminal gangs. It continued: vulnerable students are drawn into lawbreaking because of extreme financial destitution – which puts them at serious risk whilst also having a negative impact on their studies.’ 

With more students at risk than ever, colleges must respond with appropriate safeguarding actions to ensure students’ safety and well-being are prioritised. How? We’ve got three ways to make safeguarding work at your college. 

1. Keeping learners on track to achieve positive learner outcomes

Rising costs are causing some students to focus on working, taking on additional hours of paid work rather than studying to make ends meet. This negative effect on students causes some students to fall behind with their workload and lose the potential to finish their course.  

Students are choosing courses with quicker routes to careers to enable them to earn earlier. ‘Rather than making longer-term career decisions and achieving their potential, students have to think about what will allow them to best support themselves and their families in the short term, sacrificing longer-term educational goals,’ the report said. 

Implementing individual learning plans can help students understand where they are and any additional support needed, allowing staff to step in where required and notice areas where students may be falling behind. 

2. Support students to support their families

After a high percentage of respondents raised concerns about safeguarding issues, including poverty, well-being, and housing issues, it was reported that 72% of students said they face costs that put them in financial difficulty. Of those costs, 23% said energy was the main cost pressure, and 21% said transport was the main issue.  

Student bursaries have become ‘essential for family budgets’, no longer just for students to support their studies. Some students give them to their families rather than using transport bursaries and walk miles to college.  

From Hartlepool College of Further Education, one respondent said there had been a 75% increase in 16-18-year-old students asking for help with food. More than 90% of the college’s students have also requested bursary support from the college, compared to 65% last year. 

Whilst the government stated there would be no additional funding support for FE, some colleges are topping up bursaries from their college budget, for example, by sharing additional discounts to supplement food, which puts an unsustainable strain on finances. Using existing college finances to support student bursaries for immediate financial needs causes strain on additional enrichment activities and experiences such as visiting open days and extra-curricular support, ultimately diminishing the student experience for those worst off in further education. 

For those unable to spend additional funds, providing counsellors for students to check in with and a safe place to report their issues and needs is just one way colleges can support learners. The report described how some colleges created student food parcels, increased mental health and counselling support, provided warm spaces and free breakfasts, and subsidised food and drink. 

3. Build a community – both for students and peer support

An online student-led community could be an option for those uncomfortable reporting their issues to senior leadership. Through mobile apps, students can keep up to date with important information and college changes and gain feedback from staff.  

More than this, they can form virtual communities to engage with their peers any time, anywhere. Feelings of low social connection can impact organisation, time management, memory, knowledge transfer and collaboration, ultimately driving negative learner outcomes.  

One student using the Tribal Engage app commented:

When I got stressed at the beginning of my course, the app allowed me to talk to people and get some help.”  

Another claimed:

It’s very engaging and brings people together. I joined a group with the same passion for cars as me – retaining students through friendship groups and having a sense of community.”

The expert opinion

We asked Ann Marie Christian, Safeguarding Consultant, what she thought of the latest report from the All-Party Parliament Group: ‘We know the impact of COVID coupled with the cost of living is having a massive impact on most people, especially our inspiring students who had their vision to further their learning pre-COVID and the current state of the country has sabotaged this.  

The unspoken expectation is the additional pressure of bringing money ‘into the home’ to support their family, often being the only physically and emotionally abled person. The guilt of pursuing your dreams over your family’s needs is not an option.  

The APPG student report is not surprising and only confirms what we predicted. This needs to be addressed, and staff working in these environments need a better understanding of the living experiences of the students attending. The government needs to step up and offer a crisis loan or financial support.’ 

To learn more about Tribal's safeguarding module in ebs, click here

*The full report can be found here 


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