What is the First Star Scholars Programme?

This 4-year ground-breaking programme is designed to create more opportunities for children living in care to enter higher education. Inspired by the success of First Star Scholars in the USA, this programme works with care experienced young people from the age of 14 to help them develop academically, socially, and emotionally and work towards entering higher education.

First Star was originally set up in the USA by film producer Peter Samuelson to address the education outcomes of young people in foster care, where only 3% of care leavers attend university (6% in the UK).

Inspired by research by Dr Kathleen Reardon, First Star’s approach is to place young people who are in care into programmes on university campuses to support, inspire and belong. Over 90% of foster youth who attend First Star academies in the USA go on to study at university, compared to the national average of 3%. The First Star Programme at the University of Winchester is the second Higher Education provider in the UK to host this.

Why join the First Star Scholars programme?

The University of Winchester is passionate about seeing individuals and communities thrive; the University’s values of Compassion, Individuals Matter and Spirituality shape its approach and activities.

The University is sector-leading in its access and participation work, including achieving national recognition for its work with care leavers and was also an early signatory of the Care Leaver Covenant and is a member of the National Network for the Education of Care-Leavers. We have a long tradition of providing opportunities to those from backgrounds who might not normally have accessed Higher Education, including Care Leavers and Care Experienced scholar.

With this passion and expertise, the University of Winchester is well placed to support scholars to succeed.

How is the programme structured?

This programme benefits 30 looked-after children who are recruited as ‘scholars’ to the programme while studying in Year 10 or Year 11 at secondary school. It also directly benefits at least 30 foster carers, who attend sessions and receive training on how best to support the children through the programme.

The programme combines 2 on-campus residentials per academic year, taking place in April and August on the University of Winchester campus. In addition, there are monthly Saturday academic sessions throughout the rest of the year.

What is taught on the programme?


The programme is designed to support young people in foster care to access - and flourish in - higher education. As such we support young people academically throughout GCSE’s, A-levels, and alternative post-16 qualifications, in order that they can get the grades needed to access higher education and go on to obtain a good degree. Academically, the emphasis of the summer & April residentials is to prepare the scholars for the upcoming school year by developing fundamental skill sets required in that year.

Life skills

In addition to the academic programming, we teach valuable life skills such as cooking and nutrition, self-soothing, and emotional regulation, financial literacy, rights, living together and self-advocacy.

Exposure to Higher Education

The third element of the programme is about exposure to, and belonging in, higher education. The scholars join in with various elements of university life such as sports and recreation. They get the chance to live on campus in the halls of residence for the duration of the April & summer residentials and are immersed in university life.

Taster sessions from a variety of subjects are offered, both at Winchester and in partnership with other universities, to support informed subject and career choices, when the time comes.

When does it start and what are the dates?

The programme started in August 2021 and runs until July 2025. The commitment needed is one Saturday a month during term-time and two on-campus residentials in April (4 days) and August (2 weeks). As we still have spaces, you can join the programme straight away and be part of this existing cohort.

The dates for the academic year 2022/2023

Monthly Academic Saturday sessions: 10am - 5pm

  • 10 December
  • 14 January
  • 11 February
  • 11 March
  • April – No Saturday session – four-day residential  (see dates below)
  • 13 May
  • 10 June
  • 8 July

On-Campus Residentials

  • 11 – 14 April-2023 - Four-day residential (Monday - Thursday)
  • 31 July – 11 August 2023 - Two-week residential (Monday - Friday)

Who can apply and what is the application process?

To qualify for programme, scholars need to live within traveling distance to Winchester, be in Y11, and meet one of the following criteria;

  • Live in or be looked after by a local authority in our catchment area.
  • Have or have previously had Child Looked After status, or an edge-of-care arrangement.
  • Be an Unaccompanied Asylum Seeker Child (UASC).
  • Be in Kin ship care, or on a care plan.
  • Identified by children services as on the edge of care

Referrals can be made by foster carers, Virtual Schools/Teachers or Social Workers. Applications can be made via our online application form. Once referred The First Star team will get in touch. Informal visits can be arranged prior to joining to allow scholars to have a campus tour and find out more; then they will have the opportunity to come along to the next Saturday session and try it out.

What about costs?

Don't worry, the First Star Scholars programme is free!

The costs of the First Star Scholars Programme at the University of Winchester have been covered by several external funders; we are therefore not asking for a financial contribution to be able to take part.


All staff have enhanced DBS checks and attend bespoke safeguarding. Directors and managers receive additional safeguarding training.

The residential accommodation is in dedicated blocks of University of Winchester student accommodation, composing of separate male and female en-suite rooms and a shared lounge/kitchen. Programme staff will also live in this accommodation for the duration of the summer & April residentials, including the Programme Director, Youth Coaches and Lead Mentors.

Next steps

If you have been referred, the programme director will be in contact shortly. If you want to get in touch, University of Winchester Programme director Leanne Heath can be reached at leanne.heath@winchester.ac.uk 


‘Being part of such a transformative provision for Looked After Children is an amazing experience; Collaborating with First Star Scholars UK on this programme is making a tangible difference to lives of young people’

University of Winchester First Star Scholars Programme Director, Leanne Heath

‘This programme is brilliant as it is supportive of the scholars, both socially and academically, and the academic teaching is valuable in allowing curious thought, and engagement with important English and Mathematics material. I joined the programme as a Lead Mentor as I felt welcomed by the staff, and I have built positive relations with the scholars'

University of Winchester First Star Scholars Lead Mentor, Jack Lowe

'Academic wise I have developed more confidence in myself, and I have learnt to not give up, you just have to keep going'

University of Winchester First Star scholar