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Tuesday, 21 March 2006

The benefits of the in-house HNC

Written by Bert Lawrie, VSA

Bert Lawrie of Voluntary Service Aberdeen reports on a successful in-house HNC in Social Care.

Voluntary Service Aberdeen is Scotland’s largest city-based charity employing over 700 staff in a variety of different settings. 200 of our staff work within residential childcare settings at Richmondhill House and Linn Moor School.

At Linn Moor, we were faced with the need to train and to qualify 120 staff with an Higher National Certificate (HNC) and 100 staff with a SVQ3 in order to meet the SSSC Registration requirements, by 2008. Linn Moor operates a 52 week Curriculum for up to 30 children or ‘students’, as we prefer to call them. As well as our daytime staff, we also have dedicated night staff as well as weekend workers. Many of our staff had opted to work shift patterns that suited their family and domestic needs, and existing HN Providers, when asked, were not able to offer our staff a flexible HN Programme.

One added feature was that the vast majority of our ‘students’ are challenged by autism and too many changes in staffing or disruption to daily routines can be very distressing and can lead to episodes of Challenging Behaviour. In our initial meetings with our existing HN Providers, they indicated that they were not able to offer our staff a flexible HN Programme and we would have to ‘fit in’ with theirs.

For this reason, we commissioned writers and applied to SQA to offer our own in-house HNC which we have now been running for 6 months.


We follow the HN Design Principles as laid down by SQA with each candidate undertaking 4 Integrated Assessments plus the Graded Unit. The first cohort of candidates (15) were selected and all were keen to get going. We plan to have a rolling programme of 2 cohorts a year. On completion of the HN units candidates will begin the SVQ component of the HNC.

We wanted to be clear to staff that we were making a commitment to them and we expected them to keep to ant Targets - these being one year for their HN and another year for their SVQ
Attendance is by a one-day Group Tutorial followed by a one-day study session per month. Each HN Unit has a ‘set’ day and the candidates are given out the next month’s Study Materials so there are no surprises and those who are so inclined can look through the Study Material before the Group Tutorial on that HN Unit. {mospagebreak}

We have our own Study Centre with a small bank of computers, with Broadband connection, to allow anyone quick access to our Web-linked materials. Candidates can access the Study. Centre for ad-hoc ‘drop-in sessions’ and our HNC Co-ordinator can be contacted by email or telephone for informal support.

Our Candidates all have a paper-based copy for each HN Unit but all our Units are also available on disc for those who wish to work at home or prefer to use a Computer.

HNC Structure

Each of our HN Units has a Study Pack, on paper or computer disc, plus a Candidate Workbook in which our candidates undertake a number of exercises. These exercises are all linked to the Outcomes/Knowledge as well as the SVQ Core and Optional Units that VSA Candidates will be undertaking. These workbooks are used to assist candidates with their Assignments as well as meeting the Underpinning Knowledge for their SVQ. The Workbook with all the 7 HN Units/SVQ3 Underpinning Knowledge will be available to the External Moderator when they visit.

Each Candidate is also issued with their own set of Course Readers which we recycle to our future HNC cohorts.

We have also designed the HN Units so that our Adult Care Staff can undertake particular Units on Mental Health, Dementia, Learning Disability, or Supervision Skills as part of their own Adult Care Registration in 2006/7.


The Centre is managed by a dedicated HN Co-ordinator who works with all the candidates and arranges to meet with them individually. At present we have 25 in 2 separate cohorts. There are also another 6-8 about to start on their Core Skills Training. They will start next year with the option of a 2 year HNC. For some of our staff who have been away from study for a number of years, the prospect of undertaking an HNC in one year was too daunting, so we will allow them a more flexible HNC route. Some of our Weekend and Night Staff have also expressed the desire for a more flexible approach so this is easily accommodated.

In addition, we have a dedicated SVQ Assessor who is working alongside our HNC Co-ordinator in ensuring we can meet the HN/SVQ demands. Other staff from our Training Section are also involved as Trainers or Moderators for specific HN Units. {mospagebreak}


For VSA, there have undoubtedly been massive benefits in developing and running our own HNC. Initially, we felt that we should have been offered a more flexible route through SIRCC and were reluctant to run our own. However, the candidates are extremely happy as they know they can access the Co-ordinator as well as the Training Centre and we are able to be flexible with them and try to accommodate their needs.

For staff who have to work varied shifts as well as meet domestic/family demands, we need to be flexible. We needed to ensure that staff were not tempted to leave or felt that they had to leave Childcare because of the demands, both Academic and Domestic, being placed upon them.
For our Managers, we were able to go a long way towards minimising the difficulties and concerns they were expressing. They were keen to ensure that there was a good continuity of care. The other added bonus is that our own in-house HNC takes only 24 days for Staff Rotas whilst other HN Programmes required 40 days at College plus 40 days Study time.

The cost of our own HNC Co-ordinator is largely paid for in savings in staff replacement costs. We also will have all our staff qualified before the 2008 deadline.

One other saving is in relation to our delivery as we have complete flexibility in relation to duration, of course, start and finish dates, and which staff we decide to attend. For many of our staff, Night, Weekend as well as our daytime staff, the HNC was going to be a real challenge and we were concerned that some of our staff would leave the Organisation.

As it has turned out, this has not happened. If anything, we feel that having our own HNC has helped settle nerves and has helped reassure those staff anxious about going back to College or ‘school’ that they are able to achieve an HNC Award.

Finally, our in-house HNC helps to consolidate our in-house training programme as it integrates our training provision and our HN provision. We recognise that all our staff require a broad knowledge embedded in main theories and principles and underpinned by a strong value base. However, we are particularly keen on how the staff apply the knowledge and understanding to ensure ongoing improvements to practice.

All staff have to select one/two ‘students’ and plan, implement and evaluate improvements in service delivery and day-to-day applied practice with the student(s). It only makes sense if real changes in day-to-day practice are to occur.


We have received some financial support from the Voluntary Sector Development Fund as well as some limited income from selling on our HNC Course material. Much of the costs have had to be met from our own resources. There have been substantial savings (minimum 50 days) in staff replacement costs as the time taken by our candidates is considerably less than other routes. Overall, the cost per candidate is approximately £3500, including all the staff replacement costs. The cost of the HNC per Candidate is only £1300.