Hampshire County Council: Hampshire Virtual College

Inclusion is at the heart of Hampshire County Council’s strategies and planning, with recognition of the need to bolster support for those hard-to-reach groups with lower level skills. Hampshire Virtual College aims to ensure that young people have access to high quality, post 16 education, employment and training.


Hampshire County Council is the third largest shire council in the country, delivering most of Hampshire’s public services, to almost 1.4 million residents. Whilst the rate of NEET and not knowns amongst the 16-17 year old population within Hampshire is relatively low (and on par with national averages) the proportion of Care Leavers that are NEET tends to be much higher than the overall Hampshire cohort, at around 18 per cent.

Inclusion is at the heart of Hampshire County Council’s strategies and planning, with recognition of the need to bolster support for those hard-to-reach groups with lower-level skills. Hampshire Futures is the Council’s delivery arm which has two main programmes of activity that support young people into education, employment and training pathways – careers and participation; and employment and skills.

Description of activity

Introduced in 2018, Hampshire Virtual College (HVC) aims to ensure that looked-after young people have access to high quality, post 16 education, employment and training. Specialist post 16 advisers deliver advice, guidance and face-to-face support for young people as they transition from Year 11 onwards, raising their aspirations and attainment. This complements and extends the statutory Virtual School offer for young people, creating new, bespoke post 16 education and training opportunities and employment pathways, including apprenticeships, and enabling progression into good jobs.

A dedicated team of five Virtual College Advisors (VCAs) provide intense, wrap-around, support for progression into sustained education and/or employment for young people in care and care leavers. The VCAs have small caseloads to enable them to provide holistic support, support development of personal education plans (PEPs), and liaise with other professionals. They initially engage with the young people in Years 10 and 11 to ensure that they have quality careers intervention and to start forward planning. This enables them to set targets for college and employment applications and identify intended destinations at an early stage, allowing time to liaise with others and support a smoother transition. After Year 13, the VCAs liaise with the care leaver personal assistants to continue to support employment and career options as required.

Whilst predominantly providing a dedicated service to those in care and care leavers, more recently the team have also supported refugees coming into the country as part of the Afghan resettlement scheme.

Impacts and outcomes

The HVC post 16 programme is having a tangible impact supporting young people to participate, achieve and progress in formal education and training. Since its introduction:

  • intended destinations for the looked-after Year 11 cohort are identified earlier, college applications are submitted ahead of others in the cohort, and where possible places are offered
  • the participation rate in post 16 education and training for looked after young people has increased - the proportion of looked after children securing a place in post-16 education is higher (97.9 per cent) than the overall cohort (97 per cent), and both significantly above national and regional averages
  • attendance, completion and qualification achievement rates for college courses have increased by around 3 per cent for the looked after cohort of young people between 2019/20 and 2020/21.

Successes and lessons learnt

Dedicated resource: A key success factor for HVC has been the dedicated resource available to support this group of looked-after young people. Activity and resource for the team is ring-fenced to ensure that the necessary support can be offered. This can represent a challenge in ensuring that the resource is not diluted or diverted elsewhere.

Links with others: The links between HVC and other initiatives supporting young peoples’ pathways have been important for successful outcomes. This includes links with higher education (HE) (organised University visits and sessions delivered for Care Leavers; resources to ensure all careers support has reference to a pathway to HE) and the Employment and Skills Team (EST). The latter creates employment and skills plans for employer developments across the County, which include careers and employment opportunity targets for key priority groups, including care leavers:

  • The main contractor in a new SMART Motorway Project is providing a pre-employment training programme for Care Leavers, with some resulting Care Leaver progressions into employment
  • Through Going Forward into Employment (delivered by the Cabinet Office) four employment opportunities for Care Leavers were identified within the Office for National Statistics (ONS) offices based in Hampshire. Three of these vacancies were filled, with intensive support and advice provided by VCAs within a 3-week turnaround period.

Young people's voices

Interviews and examination of case studies for those that had benefited from the intensive support provided through HVC took place. These people had been helped with:

  • identifying and raising awareness of opportunities and options
  • exploring career pathways and raising aspirations
  • creating and strengthening CVs, completing applications
  • work-related learning, coaching and feedback
  • accommodation search, finance support, access to transport
  • mock interviews, research prior to interview
  • IT support to access online interviews.

Some young people said that their VCA had gone “above and beyond” to support them through weekly meetings; in-depth home visits; liaison with others; support at meetings; and being available to answer questions and help at any time. One young person, who has several key workers in place for various roles said he had "never had this level of intense support either before or since".

Outcomes for the Care Leavers

Support included achieving qualifications and certificates; re-engaging with learning options; successful application to learning and employment (college courses, university places, jobs in the civil Service), improved confidence and skills development (e.g. preparation for work, time management and customer service).

Without the support I have had, I would still be unsure about how to get where I wanted – I wouldn’t have a clear pathway secured.

Young person on programme