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Chrysalis Accelerator Project for Looked-After Children

The Chrysalis Accelerator runs for 10 Saturdays of the year, and includes a number of different activities for both looked-after children and their carers. The project is collaborative, delivered by Highgate and drawing on existing networks and relationships in the area with the support of the Heads of local Virtual Schools.  The sessions are run by Highgate staff as well as outside staff, such as from the Art Room. Each year, the theme of the project changes, from sessions on science to creativity and sustainability. The project also includes two university visit days so that these individuals can make an informed decision about their futures and feel more-confident in their ability. It also includes a theatre trip and a graduation ceremony. On average, 30-40 young people attend the sessions, with more attending the trips.


The programme is designed to support looked after children from years 6-12 and their parents/carers in adopting a culture of high aspiration and self-confidence and to raise their awareness of higher education prospects and employability skills.

We aim to:

Create a community and culture of looked after children with high aspirations and a network of support. 

To increase awareness of higher education and employability options among participants.

Increase employability skills and world of work skills.

Encourage participants to take part in activities and meet people from different backgrounds.

Support carers in their role in raising the aspirations and attainment of those in their care.

Identified need

Looked after children will have faced many challenges in their lives and are likely to need much more support than other young people as they make the transition to adulthood. Yet, in most cases, care leavers are not only making that transition at a much younger age than their peers, but they also typically get far less support from their corporate parent than other young people get from their birth parents.  “Young people leaving care constitute one of the most vulnerable groups in our society, and both government and wider society have a moral obligation to give them the support they need as they make the transition to adulthood and independent living.” (HM Government, 2016) For this reason, it is more important to provide support for looked after children from a young age and provide them with the opportunities to dream big, leave their comfort zones in a safe and supportive environment as well as finding out more about higher education and its advantages.

Critical Factors for Success

Highgate staff who can lead sessions, as well as outside staff.

Funding to enable the theatre trip and other activities such as yoga.

Non-teaching administrative support staff members (Chrysalis fellow) available to handle logistics and practical support as well as to arrange university visits.

Virtual heads on hand to support their pupils and to liaise with carers and parents.


Chrysalis Accelerator programme invites Looked after Children aged 10- 17 and their carers from Barnet, Camden, Haringey and Islington to take part in activities where they are able to recognise their existing talents and helped them consider skills they would like to develop using arts and crafts. They also develop their self-confidence and employability skills, as well as their understanding of further education.


Highgate has been running the Chrysalis Accelerator since 2013 using a fund from the Department for Education. Former Highgate teacher and community partnerships director John Lewis helped to set up the programme, alongside Haringey virtual school, in order to raise aspirations, attainment and confidence of children in care, leading to successful applications to higher education and into work. Since then, other virtual schools have taken part, and we welcome more and more children each year.


The project requires a number of staff to run sessions, as well as funding for materials and theatre tickets and transport. We also require school facilities and rooms, as well as catering throughout the day. Highgate staff oversee the administration side of the programme and teaching staff run many of the sessions. Specialist staff are brought in however to run activities such as art therapy sessions. University trips are run by outreach staff at the chosen universities although Highgate staff are responsible for logistics and administration.

The project is free for all attendees but virtual schools must pay to take part.


The pupils fill out a feedback form about the programme, including their favourite elements of the sessions as well as what they think could be improved. As the programme is split up by subject, the pupils fill in a feedback form for each subject and trip. We also collect feedback from virtual heads and staff as they play an important role. Pupils enjoy the programme and many come back year after year.

The trips to universities and the theatre are always extremely popular. We have built up a positive relationship with the virtual schools and look forward to working together each year.

In 2018/19 we have seen clear feedback data which shows that young people feel more confident, are able to express themselves better, are more aware of and positive about the possibility of higher education and more interested in the academic subjects they have been exposed to.

Pupil Involvement

The pupils come from schools all over London. They are years 6 to 12 and are boys and girls.


The project runs for 10 Saturdays each academic year, starting at 9:30am and finishing at 2:00pm. It will likely continue for however long young people and their virtual schools are interested and as long as there is funding available.