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Nursing Associate Higher Apprenticeship

The Open University’s Nursing Associate Higher Apprenticeship supports employers to attract people into the nursing profession or develop their healthcare support workers (HCSWs) as nursing associates. Trainee nursing associates will experience a wide range of learning opportunities and contexts, with placements in each of the three health and care settings; hospital, at home and close to home.

The apprenticeship has been developed from our experience of delivering a successful practice-based pre-registration nursing programme – a flexible, work-based degree that currently has over 1,000 students and has helped more than 1,500 HCSWs register as qualified nurses since 2002.

Apprentices will complete a regulated Level 5 qualification (Foundation Degree in Nursing Associate Practice) that must be delivered by an institution approved by the Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC) to provide pre-registration nursing education. The Open University is recognised by the NMC as being in the top 6% of Pre-registration nursing providers. The foundation degree is a balance of theory and practice delivered through practice-based and online tutor-supported learning. Nursing associates will have a breadth of knowledge and a flexible, transferable skill set to serve the health needs of local communities, covering pre-conception to end-of-life care, across a range of settings.

Because apprentices study flexibly alongside work, they will put their newly acquired knowledge and skills into practice immediately, for the positive benefit of patients and service users.

The Apprenticeship will:

  • Develop your existing support workforce and act to attract new talent
  • Increase staff retention by offering clear and structured career progression to valued health care support workers
  • Improve the experience of patients and service users
  • Maximise use of the apprenticeship levy
  • Support widening participation initiatives

Who is it for?

The programme is suitable for the development of existing HCSWs who have demonstrated the capabilities and commitment to develop towards a nursing role and can also be used to support recruitment of new apprentices to your organisation.

We have set no formal entry requirements, but the Health Education England (HEE) framework requires that apprentices demonstrate the ability to work at Level 2 English and maths (or equivalent) at point of entry, or achieve them during the first year of the apprenticeship.

By the end of the first year, apprentices must also have gained, or be demonstrating, the skills and competencies of the Care Certificate.

Employers are free to set their own additional entry criteria.

What topics does the apprenticeship cover?

Nursing associate apprentices work under the supervision of a registered nurse and will learn and work in various aspects of the nursing process, taking account of the perspectives and pathways of individuals, their families and/or carers, providing holistic and person-centred care to individuals and supporting the registered nurse in the assessment, planning, delivery and evaluation of care.

With the focus on person and family-centred care, apprentices develop and demonstrate effective interpersonal skills that meet service users’ needs for, and rights to, dignity and privacy in a compassionate and caring manner.

Apprentices also explore:

  • Professional values and parameters of practice
  • Person-centred approaches to care
  • The promotion of healthy lifestyles
  • Delivering nursing care
  • Communication and interpersonal skills
  • Team working and leadership
  • Duty of care, candour, equality and diversity
  • Supporting learning and assessment in practice
  • Research, development and innovation

Why choose The Open University’s Nursing Associate Higher Apprenticeship?

  • Tutor-supported online learning is delivered flexibly around the demands of your organisation, enabling apprentices to balance study with personal commitments and minimising time away from the workplace
  • Learning is accessible 24/7 and can provide consistently high-quality education for multiple staff, regardless of their location
  • Our experience in supporting learners, whatever their prior attainment, means you can develop applicants from all backgrounds, with us helping them to develop study skills as they engage with the programme
  • Apprentices can apply what they learn immediately into practice, for the positive benefit of patients and service users
  • The Open University is recognised by the NMC as being in the top 6% of Pre-registration nursing providers

Programme structure

Practice learning must take place in each of three types of settings: in hospital, close to home and at home. The apprentice’s work place will be the primary setting for practice learning. In addition they must undertake a substantive placement of at least 300 hours in each of the other two types of settings, totalling 675 hours of practice away from their primary setting. The OU will work with employers to identify individual practice pathways that meet the needs of the apprentice and the workplace.

The assessment plan for the apprenticeship states that apprentices must complete approximately 3,000 hours (or 50% of their time, whichever is greatest) devoted to structured learning activities, including:

  • 675 hours of substantive practice placements
  • 600 hours off-the-job learning (20% time each week for the duration of the apprenticeship, excluding leave)

For apprentices to complete the programme in two years, they will need to work at least 30 hours per week. If an apprentice is employed for less than 30 hours per week, the apprenticeship will be extended, commensurate with the reduction in hours.

Our technology-enabled flexible delivery approach, supported by a network of OU nursing staff deployed across England, means apprentices are not required to undertake day release to attend campus-based provision. It also means that study time can be adjusted based on service requirements.

To complete the programme, apprentices will be required to undertake an end-point assessment after successful completion of all other elements of the apprenticeship and we will support apprentices to be ready for this.

What support will you receive?

We are a national provider with a local presence. Our nursing programmes are supported closely by academic and practitioner colleagues who link with employers to provide on-going management of the programme delivery. Locally-based practice tutors support apprentices and supervisors throughout the practice-based learning. Apprentices are also supported by expert academic module tutors, who deliver all of the necessary underpinning theoretical knowledge.

In addition to a designated academic and professional lead for healthcare and account management support, we will deploy expert staff to support you and your apprentices:

  • Practice Tutor – Helps to integrate learning into the workplace across the entire programme and supports the delivery of the practice-based learning modules. Apprentices and their mentors will be visited by a practice tutor at least three times per practice learning module.
  • Academic Tutor – Facilitates learning within the knowledge modules at each stage of the qualification through personalised tuition, delivery of online tutorials, marking of assignments and detailed feedback
  • Nursing Staff Tutor/Education Manager – Supports employers to deliver the Nursing Associate Higher Apprenticeship to meet both organisational needs and the quality assurance requirements set down by the NMC, with respect to practice learning requirements and learning environment audits.
  • Apprenticeship Programme Delivery Manager – Supports employers to deliver their apprenticeship programmes and manages the apprentice journey from start to completion. The APDM also provides employers with regular, apprentice progress data.

Course Summary


2 years, 4 months (approximately)

Qualifications achieved

  • Foundation Degree in Nursing Associate Practice
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Further information

For a more detailed look at our Nursing Associate Higher Apprenticeship, download our brochure.

Download brochure