Supported Experiments at NESCOT Case Study: Improving High Grades in Level 3 Extended Diploma in Health and Social Care

Following a successful Ofsted inspection in September 2010, The Health and Social Care team at Nescot further reviewed data for success and achievement and in particular, compared our results to national benchmark data for high grades.  We were able to identify a number of key issues which the team believed could be improved.

The course team are all highly experienced tutors with a range of health and social care backgrounds, with teaching and professional qualifications.  Members of the team communicate well and had been on a journey of improvement for some time. Having set some initial targets to improve high grades we began to evaluate present practice and to explore possible new strategies.

Initially, we began the project to improve high grades with a three pronged approach:

  • Changing the way we set targets
  • Teaching the skills to achieve targets
  • Revising the way assignments are set to make high grades more accessible

TARGET SETTING has been a priority in College for a number of years.  For all courses, teaching is collapsed for two or three days so that tutors are able to hold extended tutorials where targets grades are discussed and agreed. A number of short and long term targets were set for each student.  The first target setting week is held before the October half term.  Experience showed us that first year students often ‘forgot’ their targets, including target grades, after a short time unless they were regularly revisited.

We used a number of strategies here; firstly we created a Reaching for the D*’s credit card’ on which we could write their target grades on one side and on the other side, printed a table showing a brief conversion of BTEC points to final grades and to UCAS points.  This was then followed up with interactive study skills sessions where students had BTEC points/grades and UCAS tariff points explained and were then encouraged to do their own research into careers, courses, universities and entry requirements.  This helped to put target grades into perspective for the students and they were now very clear about the grades they need to aim for in each unit to achieve their career goals.  These sessions were revisited throughout their first year and a variety of simple tools or documents were developed to help students review their own progress.


For this year group, we introduced Unit 45: Independent Study Skills, which we used as a vehicle for Tutors to support students’ study skills, career aspirations and understanding of the sector.  The key idea for teaching study skills was simple; that targets can be meaningless unless the student has the skills to reach their targets.  The team wanted to be able to bridge the gap between targets and skills. The scheme of work for this unit was designed to be flexible in the way it was delivered.  The content also allowed for some flexibility and we were able to tailor sessions to meet learners’ needs and in some cases in response to feedback from the team on weaknesses they had noted in group and individual skills.  Time management was a skill that many students needed to improve upon and again, some simple planning tools were developed and students were encouraged to use systems that worked for them.  Our VLE was also used to ‘set alarms’ for approaching deadlines and students found this very helpful. As the high grades project gained momentum, tutoring became more motivational, facilitating a very positive classroom environment.


Assignment briefs were redesigned for all units and we tried to break each unit into 3 separate tasks where possible, each task written to encourage each student to aim for distinction at first submission.  We aimed to design more creative tasks where the transition from pass, to merit, to distinction was seamless. This obviously linked to study skills and students were reminded of the difference in describing, explaining, reviewing, evaluating etc. as part of the written assignment guidance.  Assignment briefs were standardised so that instructions and formats from different subject lecturers were consistent.  Assessed work was returned swiftly and feedback from most lecturers was both written and verbal.  Students signed their work to say they had read and understood their feedback.

As the high grades project progressed, a second supported experiment was launched to rewrite our work experience handbook.  The aims of this second project were to further integrate class work with work experience.  In doing this, we were also able to create workplace tasks that integrated a number of criteria from different units, thereby creating a far more holistic way of teaching, learning and assessing.


The impact of this project was evident in the first term and students were learning to work independently.  Tutors and students were starting to develop a culture of high aspiration and students were becoming far more motivated.  A healthy competitive spirit developed in the groups and they became far more confident.  Aiming for distinction grade soon became the norm.  Students were also developing their own strategies for the units they found harder, often working out how they could compensate by focusing their efforts into high grades for the units they found easier.

By the second year, students were regularly adding up their points and independently revising their inspirational grades higher.  Student performance was very good on attendance, work completion and their career aims were now well developed.  They had become strong independent learners with excellent study and organisational skills.

Results and trends for the cohort were as follows:

High Grades

Progression to HE










Sharing practice sheet: reflections on the experiment

Who are you and where do you teach? 


Nescot College: Department of Care and Early YearsHealth and Social Care Team including:

Sharon Aston: Heath & Social Care Tutor and lecturer; Section Leader; Teaching and Learning Coach

Krystynya Summers: Health and Social Care Tutor and lecturer,  teacher education lecturer

Margaret Emson: Health and Social Care Tutor and lecturer; Head of Department

What do you teach? 


Health and Social Care mostly level 3 Extended DiplomaKrystyna Summers also level 2 Health & Social Care and DTLLS
What did you do in your trial/experiment and why did you choose it?  Aim: to increase the percentage of high grades for level 3 students through a ‘high grades strategy’- a tutor co-ordinated approach. The % of high grades was below the national average
How did the learners react and respond to the trial/experiment? 


Though the students were not aware that we were undertaking a supported experiment they were fully aware of our goals. Students’ confidence and motivation increased.  The vast majority of the students engaged fully with the strategies, setting higher and higher targets for themselves as they found success, developed a competitive and supportive culture in the group
What was the outcome for you and for the learners? 





Grades, confidence, satisfaction, progression to HE and employment, raising aspirations, positive relationships, cooperative learning, accolade in college and positive feedback from peers.Data:











What tips would you give another teacher trying out this activity/approach/method?  Formalise the goal or improvement; we gained much more success and became more energised as a team.  Making it formal as a supported experiment encouraged us to document and measure the outcomes so that we could repeat and improve the strategies 
What did you learn from going through the process of the trial/experiment? 


Positive approach of team motivated students; High and measurable impact; Need for a team approach to a common identified goal, monitored throughout the period, focused on clear actions to achieve goals; Team buy in; Full involvement of students throughoutChoice of topic is vital; it needs to be something that all can be involved in and see the value of.


This entry was posted in Assessment methods, CPD for Teachers, Culture for Learning, Differentiation, FE, High grades for learners, Sharing good practice, Stretch and challenge, Supported Experiments, Teaching and learning and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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