University students ‘urgently need more support’

The Telegraph, 24/03/15, speaking today, headmaster Richard Harman, will say that pupils are under "more pressure than ever before" and more needs to be done to help as they start university

Support for sixth form pupils can "dry up" when they reach university, despite it being a time of "acute anxiety", a leading headmaster will say.

Richard Harman, of Uppingham School in Rutland, will warn that both independent and state school pupils are under "more pressure than ever before", with worries about jobs, housing and increased debt contributing to this anxiety.

He will say that while there is support for sixth form students in the school environment, the support available for these young people when they reach university doesn't go far enough, with many undergraduates unhappy with the support they receive when they enter higher education.

Speaking today at a conference in London, Mr Harman, who is also chair of the Headmasters' and Headmistresses' Conference (HMC), will also say that while some universities have been addressing this issue, the picture across the country is "patchy".

"The students we teach every day, and their peers in state schools, are anxious about high-stakes exams, unreliable marking, 24/7 pressures of social media, lack of jobs and housing, increased debt and constant upheaval in all levels of their lives," he will say.

"They have to live with predictions that they will be the first generation worse off than their parents.

"Leaving school, leaving home and creating a new life at 18 is bound to be a time of acute anxiety," he will add. "But at the point of greatest need, support can dry up.

"Considerable work will be needed to ensure all students in the UK are resilient at each stage of their development ... and that they are equipped with the skills as well as knowledge to make them highly employable."

Mr Harman will highlight the results of a previously unpublished HMC survey from 2011, which shows that 75 per cent of state and independent school pupils rated their school's pastoral support as either 'very' or 'quite' good.

This is in comparison to 53 per cent of those in higher education.

In fact, by the time they reach the final year of university, only 18 per cent of students consider support to have been 'very good', according to the study.

Highlighting some examples of best practice, Mr Harman will say that some universities are helping to address the issue.

"Durham, for example, is developing a volunteer scheme to work on night time safety, increase alcohol education programmes and work with taxi firms to get at risk students home safely," he will say.

Mr Harman will also praise the work of new sources of support, such as Student Minds, a mental health charity.

However, he will say that "more undoubtedly needs to be done" in order to make sure students receive the support they need.

He will call on schools, universities and young people to work together to address this concern.

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