Case Study

Higher Development Award: A personal development programme for support workers

Find out how NHS organisations are supporting the personal development of clinical and non-clinical support staff.

10 October 2023

The Higher Development Award (HDA) is a personal and professional development programme that enables clinical and non-clinical support workers' skills. It's free for employers and support staff. The program enables workers to improve patient outcomes and understand leadership and decision-making skills across work settings.

Key benefits and outcomes

  1. The HDA aims to equip support workers with the skills, techniques, tools, and knowledge to improve their personal confidence and capability, unlock leadership skills, enhance functional and digital skills, and improve the experiences and outcomes of patients, service users and families.
  2. The service improvement project section of the course puts learners’ innovative ideas front and centre, taking learning directly back to the workplace and embedding big impact, long lasting small changes.
  3. The programme results in either an Institute of Leadership and Management recognised award or a level two or three qualification in leadership and management alongside the HDA qualification and functional skills qualifications if not already achieved.
  4. The majority of learners from the pilot sites felt that their objectives for attending the course had been fully or mostly met. There is still ongoing work to forge sustainable relationships between the NHS and further education (FE) colleges to ensure learners and employers have a seamless experience.
  5. Learners benefited from increased confidence and the realisation support workers can develop within their roles and make improvements to their service areas. Employers can realise staff potential with progression pathways for further development or supporting other roles and responsibilities in the support worker workforce.

Growth of the programme

The HDA was developed in 2016 with education and training leads and support workers in North West London to follow the care certificate and bridge the gap between completing the certificate and moving on to progression opportunities within their organisation.

Many support staff from clinical, administrative, estates and facilities want to progress in their careers or become more knowledgeable in their current roles. The learning outcomes of the course focus on personal learning needs that underpin the organisational pathways for all clinical and non-clinical support staff. The programme supports learners who have career aspirations but don’t have the confidence or self-efficacy to consider other study options.

Originally funded by NHS England, and then during 2019 a more sustainable model of funding using the Adult Education Budget and delivery was sought with Lambeth College, now delivering the programme across London. This model of employer and FE college collaboration has now been replicated across many regions in England, including Devon, East of England, Nottinghamshire, North West and Midlands. Enabling many more support staff to achieve their potential and be the best they can be. The engagement with the Association of Colleges (AOC) has enabled the promotion throughout its members, directly linking colleges who may not have heard about the programme.

One of the requirements of the NHS Long Term Workforce Plan, is to widen access to NHS jobs and careers, working with colleges will help to meet this and support existing staff development and progression.

The tagline for the programme is ‘being the best I can be whilst acknowledging my potential.’ 

What is the Higher Development Award?

There are a variety of modules included, depending on the programme, with functional skills and coaching being a core part of the course. Each programme runs over six days across a six-month period or nine days for learners on the level three diploma.  

A key part learners undertake is the service improvement project. This involves establishing a project that they can work on and implement within their area, they then present this back to their peer group at the end of the programme to complete the learning cycle.

The programme results in an Institute of Leadership and Management award or level two or three qualifications in leadership and management alongside the HDA qualification and functional skills qualifications, if not already achieved.

"The Higher Development Award provided us with an opportunity to develop a new training programme which supports individuals to return to education, develop confidence, and enhance their employability and academic skills. South Devon College working in partnership with Torbay and South Devon NHS Trust, and Devon County Council, to support progression within the workplace, or within education." - Natalie Collins, Programme Coordinator for Health Apprenticeships, South Devon College.

Overcoming obstacles

Learners joined the programme for a variety of reasons. Some needed functional skills qualifications, while others aimed to increase their confidence and knowledge of their working environment. Many aspired to advance their careers and transition to higher levels within the HDA, ultimately seeking to become assistants or registered professionals.

Some of the learners' key considerations before joining the programme:

  • The flexibility allowed to remain in their role while studying. There are only six study days for the award or nine days for the diploma and additional learning is undertaken in their own time.
  • How the programme will help them to continue to provide the best possible care to patients.
  • What progression opportunities the programme could provide and how it could offer a platform to take that next step. 

“London North West University Healthcare NHS Trust is actively supporting any healthcare support worker development and there was no question that it provides a fantastic learning opportunity to enable learners using the HDA and its elements for upskilling of existing skills and learning new ones.” – Ralph Schafer, Practice Lead, London North West.

“We are delighted to partner with the NHS on the development and roll out of their HDA programme locally. Initally, Nottingham University Hospitals, Queen Mary College and City Hospitals. We will be working to upskill and develop NHS staff in a workforce development programme that will enable staff to progress in their careers, take on apprenticeships and unlock opportunities in nursing, dental and other specialisms to help the NHS plug skills gaps and resource shortages in the years to come.” -  Lisa Wilson, Director, Nottingham College.

Results and benefits

The programme has become a sought-after development programme with multiple intakes per year across the 20 providers, which includes 10-15 learners per cohort. Since the programme was developed, more than 450 learners have gone through the programme in London alone and as it has now expanded to other regions this number continues to grow.

The notable benefits to support workers completing the programme include time management skills, increased confidence, understanding of learning styles, peer support, preparation for education to progress and personal development. These are all useful to the support workers in their current areas and also prepares them for apprenticeship opportunities, as around 30 per cent of learners go onto apprenticeships including nursing associate, nurse, allied health professional or paramedic pathways.

The programme evaluation in London shows that 95 per cent of learners felt that their objectives for attending the course had been fully or mostly met. Local evaluations are currently taking place and we will share feedback from this in the next update.

In December 2020, the programme won the Nursing Times award for Best Workplace for Learning and Development. In March 2020, Lambeth College successfully bid for innovation funding for employment and skills £200,000 from the London Mayor to support the delivery of the course - a first for a health-based training programme. Colleges continue to deliver the programme, maintaining consistency and continuity within the funding for these programmes via the Adult Education Budget.

"I will certainly tell others about this programme, as I believe every one whether working as clinical or non-clinical should study the HDA because it helps every student to gain new knowledge and skills." - HDA student, South Devon College.

Current developments

Since 2021, the NHS England talent for care team have scaled up the programme across the country. The national steering group and AOC now have joint meetings and an innovation group has been established, where colleges and employers come together to discuss engagement models for embedding anchor institutions within communities.

The roll out of the programme has been very successful, spreading across six regions in England. The ongoing model of engagement with employers and further education colleges across the country has seen significant partnerships being forged to deliver the programme and this is only continuing.

"Vision West Nottinghamshire College is pleased to be working in conjunction with Nottingham College and local NHS Trusts to support learners at each of the levels to hone their skills, improve confidence levels, achieve a nationally recognised qualification and nurture development for the future." -  Nick Maidment, Apprenticeships Manager (retail and business), Vision West Nottinghamshire College.

Explore which colleges now offer the HDA across England.

“Implementing a service project in their clinical areas is the most important element of the programme as they don’t realise that they can come up with these ideas and implement from start to finish to make improvements in their work area. This is what gives the learners the confidence boost they need for their personal development.” – Cess Quiambao, Head of Apprenticeships, Chelsea & Westminster.

Takeaway tips

  1. Understand what is already available within your organisation to support education and training for clinical and non-clinical staff.
  2. Establish who you need to partner with and which providers you can source in your locality to deliver the HDA programme.
  3. Ensure you have a dedicated project coordinator and informative communications to engage support workers and their managers across your organisation.
  4. Support your support workers with the time to fulfil the course by ensuring line managers know the value of the HDA qualification.
  5. Pre planning of the curriculum, study days, assignment due in dates can really help with time management and support for managers and learners.

Find out more about this work on the Higher Development Award website.

If you would like to explore options in offering the programme within your organisation, please contact the talent for care team.

Read more about supporting and upskilling HCSWs using the healthcare support worker learning and development roadmap.