Bridges to Learning: a regional partnership approach to widening participation.


When did you first introduce the innovation?

More than 24 months ago

Please describe the innovation you have developed

The innovation is based on Bridges to Learning partnership work between the Open University (OU), UNISON and Workers Education Association (WEA) in the north east of England. Common interest in widening participation in work based learning and providing progression routes into higher education resulted in successful bids for Union Learn Funding over the last 6 years. One strand of this funded work has been the delivery of functional skills (numeracy and literacy) workshops in local Trusts to enable employees to acquire entry qualifications for Pre-registration Nursing. Building on this regional success and in partnership with OU, the WEA nationally has recently developed a healthcare contextualised maths programme at QCA level 2, accredited by City and Guilds that meets the NMC numeracy entry requirement to Nursing. It is deliverable in the workplace through a 15 week WEA taught course and is organised and promoted by UNISON union learning representatives (ULRs) who are seconded to work with Bridges to Learning.

The first Maths for Healthcare course has just started at Newcastle upon Tyne NHS Trust and it is planned to deliver it in house on a rolling basis, to deliver in further Trusts throughout the North East, to evaluate and eventually to roll out nationwide.

What prompted you to develop this innovation?

Shared commitment of partners to widening participation and opening up opportunities for healthcare support workers to engage in learning and work towards entry qualifications necessary to access qualifying routes in nursing.

Recognition of barriers to engagement in learning and the need to build confidence in order for individuals to take the first steps. Bridges to Learning promotes engagement and peer support through their network of seconded ULRs. Learning opportunities cover a full ‘skills escalator’ from skills for life through to vocational training, numeracy and literacy skills, and a flexible work based qualifying route in nursing with the Open University.

Pre-empting and aligning with national policy drivers on the benefits to the NHS and services they provide in growing and developing their own staff.

In your view, what is it about this innovation that makes it different/important?

The strengths of a partnership between the OU, UNISON, WEA, that are all national and UK wide organisations (and beyond) but committed to regional engagement. In this instance the idea for a contextualised course emerged from regional work, was developed through national partnership and is now being piloted at regional level.

The configuration of partners encompasses a membership organization committed to a learning agenda alongside a bridge between FE and HE national leaning providers.

It maximises transformative potential by combining a grassroots approach to engaging and supporting learners through ULR peers with strategic planning within Trusts aligned to national agendas.

Flexibility of delivery of functional skills (and other learning) in the workplace

To what extent does your innovation make use of existing approaches, resources or technologies?

The development of the Maths for healthcare course builds on generic courses for delivering numeracy skills. Course content covers the following areas:

  • Number: basic operations, decimals, fractions, ratio and percentages
  • Measurement and shape: perimeter, area and volume, tessellation, units and measures
  • Handling data: design, collection of data, graphs and diagrams

It is therefore a course in mathematics which follows the standard adult numeracy curriculum but it is contextualised in healthcare practice and has been written with advice and examples from professional nurses.

Delivery of the course provides flexible access as it takes place in the work based setting.

To what degree has this innovation led to changes in education or clinical practice?

The innovation has opened up opportunities for Trust employees to access flexible study opportunities. Over the funded period we have had 1777 learners improving their basic English and Maths. The majority have undertaken (and achieved) Functional Skills level 2 in English and/or Maths. (some of these learners in the earlier stages of the project achieved the National Certificate in Adult Literacy and/or Numeracy which was superseded by Functional Skills in 2012).

Trusts involved are:

  • Newcastle upon Tyne Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust
  • South Tyneside NHS Foundation Trust
  • County Durham and Darlington NHS Foundation Trust
  • Tees, Esk and Wear Valleys NHS Foundation Trust

What evidence do you have of the impact of the innovation?

Support from Health Education North East in cascading this as a widening participation model to all Trusts in the north east.

Learning agreements in place with key Trusts and explicit recognition in Talent for Care local partnership pledges e.g. County Durham and Darlington NHS Foundation Trust flag specific actions of promoting access to Bridges to Learning courses, including numeracy and literacy, to healthcare support workers in order to support their development.

Applicants for the Open University Pre-registration Nursing Programme meeting eligibility criteria in numeracy and literacy.

To what degree has the innovation been disseminated in your organisation or elsewhere?

Dissemination has occurred through:

  • Internal presentations within the OU and partners.
  • Briefing meeting with Health Education North East and their agreement to cascade model to Trusts who do not have a seconded Union Learning Representative.
  • ULR membership of workforce development steering groups within individual Trusts.
  • Communication to stake-holders through Bridges to Learning steering group.
  • Presentation at MiP conference.
  • Bridges to Learning conferences organised at regional level.

Please provide details of any plans you have to disseminate the innovation in the future.

Roll out delivery of the Maths for Healthcare course on a national basis.

Publish in a peer reviewed journal.