Changing the assessment away from an exams towards coursework and portfolio building is reaping benefits for learners at Kendal College.

Traditional exams may be the norm in most mainstream education, but for many people this is not the best way to assess their abilities. At Kendal College many of the Access to HE Diploma learners, who were returning to learning after a gap, found exams a struggle. Richard Evans, Head of School for STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) says: “Our previous method of assessment put some of our learners off because it was exam based. They fed this back to the tutors, so we decided to try another method that suited them better.”

Since Kendal College. which is located on the edge of the Lake District, switched to OCN London two years ago it’s seen the highest ever recruitment of students and a much higher success rate on its Access courses.

“Students are assessed on coursework and building a portfolio, “ says Richard. “With OCN London you can write and tailor courses to the students’ needs and get approval for assignment briefs. We found that the criteria they require is much clearer, so students know what they need to do to achieve a pass, merit or distinction. This is necessary to know if you’re applying for a university place, which is the whole point of Access.”

OCN London advised Kendal College about pathways and modules for their courses and then Richard’s team  proposed a programme which was approved by them. “It was all done collaboratively and with constant consultation,” says Richard. “You don’t just send them an email and hope they’ll just say ‘yes’ to something. There’s a lot more to it than that.”

The way OCN London works is by sending external verifiers to each college to do quality checks on the courses and ensure each centre they accredit is working to the same high standards. Whilst this has created more work for the college, Richard says it’s been well worth it as it means they can now offer better outcomes. This helps with recruiting students and motivating teaching staff as well.

“They [OCN London] are  very willing to recommend changes and suggest staff development to uphold those changes. Inertia can hold an organisation back.

You tend to think we can just go with what we did last year, what we’ve always done. It’s challenging to try something new but we’re very glad we did. It was student led. This came from them and we responded.”

The first year the college ran the new courses one of their students, Claire Kettlewell, won OCN London’s Outstanding Commitment to Study award after she took the Access course in Health and Human Sciences. She’s now studying Occupational Therapy at the University of Cumbria. “That was very gratifying for everyone involved but obviously especially for Claire and it showed we did the right thing switching to OCN London, “ says Richard. “ Claire never imagined when she left school that she would ever go to university. When her working life brought her into contact with healthcare professionals in occupational therapy she knew she could do the job. She just needed the qualifications.”

The college used to run just one Access programme in health and social care. It now runs two more - Access to Science and Access to Business and is hoping to add many more routes into higher education.