CATS Pilot Project Case Study
Building on Competence in the Workplace
University of Greenwich and Bexley, Bromley, Greenwich Community, Hadlow and
North West Kent Colleges
Introduction – Background to Project
The project aimed to pilot ways to improve low progression rates from work-based college learners1
undertaking part-time technician level and level 3 NVQ programmes including Advanced Level
Apprenticeships and to provide those on part-time professional, management and higher technician
courses at levels 4 and 5 with clear credit transfer opportunities.
Its aims were to:
1. Develop agreed partner college CATS procedures to promote progression between part-time, level 3
and non-prescribed HE and the APS programme to develop a more unified and navigable higher
vocational education offer for people in work clearly articulated with progression to Honours and
Master’s degrees and higher professional qualifications
2. Establish clear information about fees and loans and the financial implications of different learning
3. Publish an innovative Regional Higher Vocational Education Prospectus providing a navigation tool for
people in work about the offer across the pilot colleges in SE London and NW Kent
4. Trial with experienced work-based learners at level 3, the potential to metacognitively reflect on past
practices, including those learnt to a level of competency in past awards at level 3, to raise the learning
to HE level 4 accreditation worthiness. This involves repurposing the APS Building on Competence
level 4 course to explore its potential as an “asset model of bridging” from level 3 to 4 (rather than the
more usual “deficit” model), providing learners with a new type of pathway into higher vocational
5. Bringing these new approaches to market working through established employer relationships and
existing work-based learners in the colleges including Advanced Level Apprentices
The key outcome is a unified Regional Higher Vocational Education Prospectus across SE London and
NW Kent to include a clear explanation of the agreed CATS procedures across the network and clear
advisory material about fees and loans. The phrase “Higher Vocational Education”, used in New
Challenges, New Chances (BIS, Dec 2011) to describe the whole range of higher education found in
colleges has been directly addressed in this project, in particular unifying both non-prescribed and
prescribed HE into a coherent offer between the project colleges. It also set out to clarify progression for
part-time work-based learners at a time when loans for fees became available and learners and employers
would be looking for the benefits of credit transfer.
Success criteria will be evidenced by increased progression by existing level 3, 4 and 5 work-based
learners in the colleges and this will be tracked by the Progression Tracking Team at the University. A
measure will be available to compare to benchmark data by the end of the project and it will be the intention
to continue to measure this over time by mainstreaming it into the established tracking programme.
The Project Journey
The project was delivered through a collaborative partnership of the University of Greenwich and five of its
partner FE colleges: Bexley, Bromley, Greenwich Community, Hadlow and North West Kent. It was timely
in that the recent validation of the colleges by the University to deliver the Foundation Degree (FD) in
Applied Professional Studies (APS) and the Higher Apprenticeship in Business and Professional
Administration (HA), both flexible, work-based qualifications which offer the potential for transferring in
credit gained from previous study, has provided the underpinning for the project’s achievements. These
Evidenced most recently in two research reports which reveal a national progression rate of 13% over 4 years for Advanced Level Apprentices
and a rate of 19% over 3 years for NVQ3 learners from Kent Colleges (Smith, S., Joslin, H (2011) Apprentice Progression Tracking Research Project
Report. University of Greenwich and Smith, S., Joslin, H. (2010) Progression Tracking Research Project First Release. University of Greenwich).
colleges had applied for validation to run the work-based Applied Professional Studies and Higher
Apprenticeship Programmes in recognition of their need to establish their Higher Vocational Education offer
more clearly in their markets and develop progression pathways.
The Project was managed by a Project Director and Project Manager, from the University’s Centre for Work
Based Learning, and supported by a Steering Group, comprising college senior managers, the project team
and an employer representing SMEs and large companies in SE London. In addition to its monitoring and
evaluation role, the Steering Group has been a forum for developing and gaining agreement for key project
outcomes, raising matters of concern and proposing solutions. College Steering Group representatives
have also acted as ambassadors for the project by providing information and disseminating project
information to relevant staff within their institutions. The employer representative on the Steering Group
has played an important role in keeping the website employer focused and provided a very useful critique in
the drafting stage. Steering Group meetings have had the added value of providing CATS-related staff
development for its members.
The University also developed a Memorandum of Understanding with the South East Region TUC
Unionlearn. Union members have been informed of the programmes covered by this project through up-
skilling Union Learning reps and Union Project Officers via two Unionlearn conferences and a bespoke
leaflet aimed at union members.
The University undertook a peer evaluation with Linking London CATS Pilot Project and an Impact
Evaluation Model was developed and agreed. Both project teams monitored the process and outcomes of
the other’s project through a shared ‘virtual’ portfolio of evidence and produced an evaluative commentary
to accompany the final report. Although both
projects had different challenges and very different
outcomes, the peer evaluation process enhanced
the quality assurance of the project at minimum
A web-based Higher Education at Work
Prospectus has been designed for work-based
learners and employers looking for information
about HE courses in South East London and North
West Kent. The prospectus is located on the
University’s website (http://www2.gre.ac.uk/hewp)
and is linked to all the partner college websites. The
prospectus is unique in that it is the first time that
colleges have collaborated in presenting their offer
in one location.
The prospectus includes:
A joint CAT scheme protocol agreed by the partners to promote progression between part time
Level 3 and non-prescribed HE and the APS and HA programmes with a ‘plain English’
explanation of credit, including credit levels and credit values;
A progression map of college based part-time higher vocational education opportunities for people
A tariff of work-based part-time higher vocational education courses offered by the colleges
arranged in subject sectors and indicating credit level, credit value and type of loan available;
Details of the Foundation Degree in Applied Professional Studies and the HA in Business and
Professional Administration and where they can lead
Information and advice about course fees and part-time student loans
The APS Building on Competence course was repurposed and piloted with a group of 8 college support
staff. Five submitted work for assessment and achieved 15 HE credits at level 4. In addition to its aim of
providing an asset model of bridging from Level 3 to Level 4, the course impacted on learners in a number
of other ways, including a ‘safe’ environment in which to try out HE learning, moving beyond ‘competency’
to meta-cognitive levels of reflection, space to construct and deconstruct prior learning experiences, real-
life learning experiences. All those who took part confirmed increased levels of confidence and had started
to think about how they could use the credit gained to progress to further learning.
A challenge for the project was recruiting a cohort of learners with whom to trial the Building on
Competence course. This was overcome by colleges identifying their own support staff as a target market
for the pilot. There were some difficulties with registering the learners on the University’s on-line
registration system due to the fact that the start date of the course was outside the University’s traditional
academic calendar. The pilot has provided a useful opportunity to address this and prevent it happening in
A shared difficulty faced by any college running HE programmes like Applied Professional Studies relates
to where ownership for it lies in the college. These sorts of programmes require the expertise and
knowledge of HE from the HE Department or Faculty, but crucially, they also require the close employer
links and experience of delivering programmes like NVQs in the workplace. To support the colleges, the
University has developed toolkits for the delivery of both APS and the Higher Apprenticeship, which form
the basis of a ‘road-show’ offered to individual colleges.
The Higher Education at Work prospectus gives potential learners and their employers information about
the new flexible work-based Foundation Degree in Applied Professional Studies and the Higher
Apprenticeship in Business and how they can import credit from existing higher level qualifications in order
to gain a Foundation Degree more quickly and by doing so pay reduced fees.
“Actually that I can do it. It’s a bit scary starting an HE course when you haven’t done any
studying for quite a while. I’ve learnt a lot about reflection!” It made her realise that working
in Finance involves a process of continual reflection “but we don’t call it that. It involves
constantly looking at processes and making them more efficient.”
“I found taking part in the CATs pilot project both challenging and rewarding. Having been out
of education for a long time this was a fantastic opportunity and achieving this unit has
boosted my self-confidence.”
Phoebe, Financial Controller“It was helpful to be able to draw on real life experiences and be able to provide an
She worked on her report in her own time, but attended additional study groups “on
how to use referencing and reflective learning which, as I had never undertaken any
academic writing before, I found very helpful.”
“…I can achieve something”.
Marisha - Personal Assistant to VP
“This course is ideal for someone who is in a new job role and is looking to upgrade themselves”.
Because Jackie was newly in post, she was able to use the course to familiarise herself with her job
and evaluate the processes associated with it, whereas others on the course were reflecting on past
experiences. As a result “we have put new procedures in place. We have changed things in our
Jackie, Estates Co-ordinator
“(Building on Competence has taught me ) I am capable of doing a
degree level course.”
Sharon, Senior Learning Resources Centre Administrator
Colleges confirm that the prospectus will strengthen their links with existing employers by providing easily
accessible course information. It will be used as the ‘first-line’ communication with prospective employers,
providing them with high quality information before the Employer Engagement teams visit to discuss their
needs. The website will enable employers to identify appropriate courses quickly and work through their
options easily – enhancing the perception that working with the college will be straightforward.
The outcomes of the project will also assist in their plans to engage with new sectors and new markets.
The sharing of Level 4 and above offer locally amongst partners helps colleges to identify if there are any
gaps in the market that could be an opportunity, especially in identified growth sectors in the future.
Examples of these included Sport, Public Services, Events Management, Performing Arts and Tourism.
The project has allowed partner colleges to use the APS and HA programmes as a basis to establish a
more unified way of presenting their part-time higher vocational education offer for their own work-based
learners and employers, encouraging progression and maximising access to existing provision through a
clear credit transfer system, offering, where appropriate, the opportunity for building on level 3 competence.
In particular, colleges used the initial pilot to give their support staff the opportunity to gain Level 4 credits.
Case studies of a number of these learners have been produced, illustrating the impact of the pilot on their
work, self-confidence and future aspirations.
The prospectus is transferable to other university/college or college/college collaborative delivery
partnerships, sectors, occupational areas or sub-regions.
Key Learning Outcomes
The project’s clearly defined outcomes, realistic scale and scope, and built on existing relationships,
ensured its success.
The model of sharing HE programmes (APS and HA) with partner colleges to encourage progression and
maximise access to existing provision through a clear credit transfer system, is a model that could be
replicated across other colleges in a future project.
The Building on Competence pilot has shown that this can be used as an effective model of bridging from
Level 3 to Level 4 by preparing learners for HE study as well as enabling them to achieve HE credits.
The use of the web to publicise the Regional Prospectus means that clear information about fees and loans
and the financial implications of different learning pathways is now in the public domain. The fact that the
University and colleges have committed to maintaining and updating the site on an annual basis ensures its
Colleges have welcomed the opportunity to work collaboratively to widen the participation of those in
employment and now have a clearer understanding of CATS. Comments taken from partner college final
reports provide the best indication of key learning outcomes:
“Increased partnership working between the colleges involved resulting in enhanced
relationships between staff and sharing of both good practice and problem solving”
“Better awareness of the issues around higher level skills”
“Better marketing products that will ensure that our key stakeholders will have a
better understanding of our products”
“There has been a clearer understanding and strong development of partnerships
across the partners and with the university. Being involved in the project has
given partners the confidence to share best practice and to learn how each other
has taken through various initiatives. It has also provided an understanding of
why certain partner colleges have specialised in certain areas.”