Attending and co-presenting at the NNECL 2024 Conference 

The National Network for Education Care Leavers (NNECL) conference was a day of firsts for me: my first time attending it; my first visit to De Montfort University (DMU), where it was held; and my first time co-presenting with someone outside Go Higher West Yorkshire (GHWY). 

The theme for this year’s event – which was held on Tuesday, 12 March – was Learning Together and around 150 delegates attended to do just that! I enjoyed meeting familiar and new faces in person.  

The conference consisted of talks/workshops, a student panel, and networking. There was a welcome by Professor Katie Normington (Vice Chancellor, DMU), who talked about collaborating to share best practice and how NNECL is a purposeful partnership. We heard from Jon Wakeford (Co-Chair of NNECL), who also talked about sharing – how the conference was an opportunity for shared learning.  

One of the things shared was lived experience as Ryan Henson (Social Mobility Commissioner) highlighted how it can feel like Higher Education (HE) is for other people and not for people like us (born working class). I particularly liked his talk and his assertion that his family felt he should ‘let go’ of the fact that he is kitchen porter turned CEO. I do not think that we should hide or forget our past just because there has been an improvement in our socio-economic status.  

The morning of talks continued with Ellie Rowley (Fair Access and Programme Lead, UCAS) covering the data and research that comes from UCAS, which can help inform policy change. This was followed by a student panel of care-experienced students studying at DMU, chaired by Arron Pile (Co-Chair of NNECL). I found the student panel to be empowering – believe in yourself! The students found the Care Leaver Covenant helpful when looking into HE but they want to be seen as individuals first. Hence, they encouraged the use of young people or students with care-experience, and not care-experienced young people or care-experienced students.  

The morning ended with a session delivered by myself and Louise Harrison from North East Raising Aspiration Partnership (NERAP) on collaborating to support students with care-experience in HE. We had 35-40 people attend the session. NERAP and GHWY have many similarities: we are both partnerships of HE providers; we work collaboratively in our respective regions of North East and West Yorkshire; and we offer various types of support, such as programmes to inform choices and Care Leaver Covenants.   

In the afternoon, we heard from Maggie Inchley and Sylvan Baker (The Verbatim Formula), who talked about co-production (as emphasised throughout the day). There was then a choice of workshops. I attended one on mapping support across the student life cycle. This was followed by a talk from Dr Zoe Baker (Research Fellow, University of York) about her research into the cliff edge as local authority and HE support come to an end. We heard from Zara Clench (student at University of Sunderland), who is conducting research into why support for students from a care-experienced background is a postcode lottery.  

The day concluded with Denise Rawls (Director, NNECL), who said that NNECL is working with Stand Alone (who recently announced its closure) to retain support for estranged students in HE.  

It was an uplifting and emotional day hearing of the work to support these students but also hearing about the lived experience of care and/or low socio-economic background shared by speakers throughout the day. We are all learning together to make a real difference together.


Tahera Mayat, GHWY’s Collaborative Outreach Officer