Creative staff, imaginative use of IT and a “vibrant mix of ethnicity” lead to stunning results for Access to HE students at Barnet and Southgate College

For adults who want to get to university but don’t have the traditional entry requirements such as A levels, the Access to HE Diploma has proved its worth in spades as an alternative route. But whereas an A level course normally takes two years, the Access Diploma is an intensive one-year programme that is demanding and rigorous.

“It’s nine months of madness,” says Jane McFadden, Access to HE coordinator at Barnet and Southgate College. “The course we run is full-time, from Monday to Friday.  On top of that learners have to produce fully-referenced assignments totalling 35,000 words. That’s full on.”

Every year between four and five hundred people apply for one of the four OCN London Access to HE Diploma courses that the College delivers; Nursing, Midwifery, Social Work and Science. But only about 80 are successful. All applicants are interviewed and given tests to assess their written language and critical thinking abilities. About half will fail to get on the course because they don’t have a minimum grade C in GCSE English and maths - an essential entry requirement for higher education courses. But there are other issues to consider.

“We have to stress that this is an intensive course, requiring full commitment for five days a week,” says Jane. “If someone needs to drop off or pick up their children from school, or they are caring for elderly parents, we often advise them that maybe now is not the right time. Some come back several years later and really thrive on the course, so it’s sound advice.“

For those who are deemed suitable but don’t have the required grades in GCSE English and maths there are other options. “We tell people that if they don’t have the right qualifications we can help them. We can signpost them to an OCN London pre-Access course as well as classes in GCSE maths and English,” says Jane.

The careful selection process means that there are few drop outs, well below the national benchmark for Access to HE Diploma courses. Their success rates are also high. For instance, in 2015/16 success on the Access to HE Diploma in Nursing was 14 per cent above the national benchmark, according to the Quality Assurance Agency.

Much of the success at Barnet and Southgate College is down to excellent organisation, talented and creative staff, clever use of IT and sharing good practice. Every Wednesday afternoon (called ‘Grow Wednesday’) there are no classes, so the time is set aside for staff meetings. “This means we can get all the teaching team together which has been core to our success,” says Jane. “We’re open and transparent about our work. Staff are very creative and really want to share good practice.”

The College has also set up Facebook and WhatsApp groups so that learners can communicate with each other and solve problems. The College’s iPortal means they can access resources online and log in from home. If they miss classes, this enables them to catch up. All work can be submitted online through an academic resource called TURNITIN which can detect plagiarism. The College also uses a database called HOW TO which is full of teaching resources.

The other contributory success factor has been the College’s relationship with OCN London as their Access Validating Agency. “They have been superb,” says Jane. “The support we receive is unparalleled. When we have issues we can pick up the phone, say ‘Please help us’ and get a quick answer – even when a member of staff is on holiday. They are always willing to engage with us and everything is transparent. One of our moderators said they had never known a centre where learners were so well briefed on the regulations of the awarding body.”

Another thing that the College is proud of is the diversity of their learner population within a borough where 300 languages are spoken. Jane beams with pride as she describes this as  “a really vibrant mix of ethnicity” with learners from places as far afield as Malaysia, the Philippines and a host of other countries in in Asia, Africa and the Americas, as well as Europe.

Success rates for gaining places at Russell Group universities are also high. The added benefits are that when they start at university, Access students are often better prepared than their fellow students, as they have had the discipline of producing academic work that is fully referenced and are highly self-motivated. “The foundations that we give them are priceless,” says Jane. “They have a real opportunity to change the direction of their life.”

Barnet and Southgate deliver the following OCN London Access to HE Diplomas:

·         Access to HE Diploma (Midwifery)

·         Access to HE Diploma (Nursing)

·         Access to HE Diploma (Social Work)

·         Access to HE Diploma (Science)