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New programme to ‘tackle university resistance to apprenticeship qualifications’


A national “bridging” programme to “top up” healthcare assistants with the study skills they need to apply to university has been launched.

The course has been designed to help increase the number of people accepted onto nursing or other healthcare degrees who apply with vocational qualifications.

“One of the key issues is with universities accepting non-academic qualifications as equivalent in value to three A-Levels”

 Finbar Lillis

Those behind the new programme said many of its target applicants were often rejected due to a lack of study skills and also because univerisites did not recognise non-academic qualifications as being equal to A-levels.

The Certificate in Bridging Skills for Higher Education, designed by national training organisation Skills for Health, is aimed at healthcare support workers who are on level three apprenticeships – those equivalent to A-Levels.

“One of the key issues is with universities accepting non-academic qualifications – ie vocational – as equivalent in value to three A-Levels,” said Finbar Lillis, bridging programme lead at Skills for Health.

“We’re saying people’s experience operating at level three [training] as an HCA is as valid for entry [to higher education] as any other means, alongside the bridging qualification,” he added.

A total of 11 people have taken part in the first wave of the bridging programme, which involves employers helping to identify suitable candidates.

“When people apply to do the nursing associate role we could start to see colleges and universities saying: ‘hang on a minute the attrition rate is very high’ ”

Angelo Varetto

All of them were interviewed by their local higher education institution – Bournemouth University – for pre-registration nursing courses and nine have now been accepted onto those degrees.

Around 10 further universities across England are in discussions to introduce the programme, which is being supported by workforce planning body Health Education England. In particular, in the South-West, employers are expecting ”hundreds” to take part before the end of the year.

Mr Lillis and fellow programme creator Angelo Varetto warned that, without greater efforts to roll out study skills programmes across the country, the government’s ambition to introduce its “nursing associate” role could be jeopardised.

The new role, which is currently being consulted on, will be designed to act as a bridge between HCAs and registered nurses.

HCAs hoping to become nursing associates may fail to be accepted onto the training – which is expected to be a higher type of work-based qualification at level five, such as a foundation degree – without previous study skills, warned Mr Lillis and Mr Varetto.

“People think you’ve got a whole load of support workers at level three training who will just step in to a level five qualification by default – and the truth is we know that it’s a big step academically,” said Mr Angello.

“Therefore, the expectation people will be able to go ‘I’m a level three support worker and I want to be a nursing associate’ and the trust will say ‘Yes, off you go’ isn’t quite the reality,” he said.

“When the further education colleges start to see people applying to do the nursing associate role we could start to see them and the universities saying: ‘Hang on a minute the attrition rate is very high’ or that people are not even getting on to the programme,” he added.



Readers' comments (6)

  • michael stone

    How do you assess 'study skills' at an interview ?

    You can see if people have previously passed exams - which implies they must possess 'the skills needed to study those subjects'. But how do you decide if someone possesses study skills - or that the person doesn't possess such skills - outside of looking at a record of examination success ?

    This looks to me like a case of lack of proof, which is not necessarily the same as a lack of the ability ?

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  • And why on earth would an HCA want to go to uni when they can register with Thornbury (agency) and earn more than a junior doctor for working less hours!

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  • Is level 5 the same as band 5? I am a registered nurse on band 5, so how can a nursing associate be equal banding?

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  • Level 2= gcse level equivalent
    Level 3= A level
    Level 4= first year undergraduate
    Level 5= second year undergraduate
    Level 6= final year

    Band 5 is agenda for change pay scale x

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  • What I have heard particularly in our trust, and I feel it is probably the same elsewhere is HCAs are not being taken on as band 3/4 due to funding. This means they are not allowed to take observations or blood sugar measurements. I feel this needs to be resolved as there are times where we as RNs are more busy than normal with tasks that only we can do, it would be a real help if we could have HCAs who were competent enough and understood vital observation measurement and could feed back to us if patients were scoring.

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  • 20 april 2016 9:52 :-
    if you read the news last year band 3 was got rid off to save money for some trusts and the band 5 had to take the skills on with everything else
    we was nocked down to a band 2 also it had a lot to do with registration
    a lot of nurses would not accept us for our skills and experience as h c s w not to worry since 2014 I have enjoyed being a band two as you have a lot more time for patients and their needs. I always said the higher you go the less time with patients?

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