QA case study on becoming an AEI

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Please note that we have appointed The Quality Assurance Agency (QAA) as our new education quality assurance service provider. Their contract is scheduled to start on 1 September 2024. We are in the process of planning transition arrangements between our outgoing provider, Mott MacDonald, and the QAA and will update these webpages in due course. Read more here

How a Further Education college became an NMC Approved Education Institution (AEI)

The Health and Social Care Department at Maine College* delivers a Foundation Degree (FD) in health and social care but has not been approved to deliver an NMC approved programme.

Maine College wish to deliver a nursing associate (NA) programme.

*This is a fictional scenario.

Why we wanted to become an AEI

We found that many of our students, after successfully completing the FD in Health & Social Care (H&SC) with us, tend to go on to university to undertake a BSc (Hons) nursing programme

We’ve also been approached by local employers who’ve told us that they want to grow their own workforce through apprenticeships and asked us if we could deliver a FD Nursing Associate (NA) programme to help that process.

Although we currently hold foundation degree awarding powers (FDAP), in the long term, we want to gain taught degree awarding powers (TDAP) to allow to us seek approval to deliver a BSc (Hons) pre-registration nursing programme.

One of the benefits of awarding taught degree programmes, is that it will give our students an opportunity to study for an NA programme and progress to, or enrol directly onto, a pre-registration nursing programme.

The road to becoming an AEI

As we currently hold foundation degree awarding powers (FDAP), we were eligible to seek approval from the NMC to deliver a NA programme.

We successfully navigated the process of gaining institutional approval and approval through the gateways under the NMC standards.

These standards included:

Step 1

Learning about the NMC’s new approach to quality assurance

The QA Framework sets out the NMC’s strategy for quality assurance and gives a helpful overview of the four-stage approval process, which the NMC refers to as the ‘Gateways’.

The QA framework explains how each of the set of standards we needed to comply with, would be assessed.

We needed to work closely with our practice learning partners so we found it really useful to share the framework with them too.

Under the Gateway process in order to gain programme approval, an education institution must have successfully passed through each of the four gateways and received written confirmation of approval from the NMC.

We learned the NMC works with an organisation called Mott MacDonald who are their quality assurance service provider. Mott MacDonald manage the gateway process, organise the visits and are a helpful point of contact for any operational queries.

The value of the QA handbook                          

We also read the QA handbook, and found out:

  • what we would have to submit at each step or Gateway and the deadlines that we’d have to keep to;
  • how to use the mapping tool;
  • what the quality assurance visitors will do; and
  • what the NMC will do.

The QA handbook outlines the timelines for each of the stages. 

Step 2

Agreeing our approach and timing

We met with colleagues across the departments within our College who will be responsible for managing the NA programme, as well as our practice learning partners, service users and carers.  Our aim was to plan when we would want to seek approval for our programmes under the NMC standards.

As we were due to have students start our NA programme in September 2019, we were keen to be approved as soon as possible. We were also mindful that after 26 July 2019, students can only join a NMC approved pre-registration NA programme.

Submitting the initial proposal

As we were not an AEI we had to create an account in the QA Link and submit an approval request before we could proceed to the Gateway process.

The request also included an initial proposal, because we were not an AEI, so we had to provide the following information:

  • the rationale for the proposal and intended programme delivery;
  • confirmation of the appropriate qualification awarding power;
  • evidence of resources in place to support the proposal; and
  • details of wider support.

The NMC recommend that approval to run a programme should be requested at least 12 months before an education institution expects its first cohort of students to start.

We submitted our request in September 2020 because we wanted our NA programme approved in time for our new students to start in September 2021. We were aware from the QA handbook that the QA team had up to 20 working days to consider our initial proposal. After they had carried out their preliminary checks, and confirmed the proposal was satisfactory we could then proceed to Gateway 1 within the above timeline. They also shared information about our proposal with Mott MacDonald.

We found very useful guidance on seeking approval from the NMC for the first time here.

How do we deliver a NA programme if we don’t have foundation degree awarding powers?

Our accreditation of foundation degree awarding powers (FDAP) meant that we were able to apply directly to the NMC for approval to run our NA programme.

However, Forbes College, a nearby institution, also wants to run a NA programme but does not hold FDAP.

As a result Forbes College therefore chose to seek approval to deliver a NA programme in partnership with Shire University and local employers.

Shire University is an existing AEI, who is already delivering NMC approved nursing and midwifery programmes.

Forbes College staff teach the NA programme in partnership with their local employers, but their students obtain a Foundation Degree award from Shire University.

Shire University are responsible for the oversight of the programme and assure the NMC that their standards are met.  

As Forbes College did not hold FDAP they were not able to apply for NMC approval on their own. However, in partnership with Shire University, they could because Shire University hold oversight of the programme and would award the qualification.

The approval process Shire University would follow can be seen in the QA case study.

Step 3

Maine College Going through the gateways  

The diagram below gives an overview of the gateway process we went through to gain both institutional and programme approval, after the NMC confirmed our initial proposal was satisfactory.


NMC approval gateways

Mott MacDonald then carried out the next steps of the approval process, as set out in the QA handbook, which included granting us access to the online QA Hub, requesting evidence and scheduling our approval visit. We completed an event request form and agreed a provisional visit date of March 2019 for our NA programme. 

Gateway 1

We used the ‘how to’ guide to upload evidence in the QA Link to show that we meet all of the NMC’s standards.

Using the mapping tool

In the mapping tool, QA criteria along with examples of the type of evidence we need to provide to show how we meet those criteria, are shown against each standard/requirement.

We submitted our Standards Framework (Gateway 1) material in early November 2018. This involved providing evidence of important policies and procedures, many of which are in place across the College as a whole, and also apply across all of our practice learning partners.

Mott MacDonald then appointed a QA visitor who reviewed the Gateway 1 evidence and information in relation to the standards.

They confirmed we’d provided all of the information needed to proceed to Gateway 2.

Gateway 2

We found the supporting information for SSSA very helpful.  We also looked at the webinar on the NMC website around the roles of the academic and practice assessors here.

Now that the NMC isn’t prescriptive about the methods we use to show we’ve met their standards, there is room to innovate and be creative in terms of programme delivery, but that's a bit of a blank canvas so we found it really helpful to refer to the tips and advice in SISSA.

Along with our practice learning partners we decided to take an organisation-wide approach to student supervision and assessment.

What this has meant, in effect, is that along with our practice learning partners, we've used this as an opportunity to think of the way student support works, as well as how we use shared practice assessment and documentation across our practice placement sites.

Gateway 3: Programme standards

At this stage of the process we provided detailed evidence about how we intended to run the NA programme.

This included:

  • information about the curriculum
  • modules
  • practice assessment documentation
  • details of staff contributing to each programme.
  • a document to map how we will meet the standards for the programme

We were very pleased with the result as the QA Visitors confirmed they were happy we would meet the programme standards and we could progress to the approval visit (Gateway 4).

Gateway 4: The visit

The final stage of the approval process is the visit to make sure that all of the evidence that we submitted in Gateways 1, 2 and 3 is accurate, and, to confirm that we have strong and effective partnerships in place. Our visit will take place in April 2019.

The QA visitors contacted us to discuss the agenda and structure for the visit.

For the visit itself, QA visitors will meet senior managers from our practice learning partners, as well as service users and carers involved in the development of the programme. We will ensure that we show the QA visitors the student involvement (potential students on our access and health and social care programmes) in developing the programme.

We were aware that after the visit a recommendation (in the form of a report) will be sent to the NMC for a final decision to be made about whether we've been approved.

We also have the opportunity to make any observations on this report at this time.

Once our programme is formally approved, our NA cohort will start under NMC standards. Following this the NMC web site approved programmes page would be updated to confirm that Maine College is an AEI and our NA programme is approved.

The NMC approve programmes indefinitely, so approved programmes won’t need to seek re-approval. However, they proactively monitor institutions to ensure that their standards continue to be met. This would be through thematic reviews focusing on particular aspects of the nursing associate education and training; extraordinary reviews if concerns are raised; requiring AEIs and practice learning partners to submit an annual self-assessment report confirming that they continue to meet standards and enhanced scrutiny. More information on this can be found in the QA Handbook.

New programme monitoring close up

Because we are both a new institution and the nursing associate programme is a new pre-registration programme the delivery will be under the new programme monitoring process. This is part of the NMC’s quality assurance framework where they will need to be assured that new programmes continue to meet their standards. 

We'll need to submit additional reporting to the NMC every six months. In addition to this we'll have a follow-up call each time with a member of the NMC’s QA Team to give them updates on how the programme is progressing.