Northumbria University and the BALTIC Professional Practice Award.
Cultural Sector Partner: BALTIC
HE Partner: Northumbria University

Learning In and Through Work.

Northumbria University has developed a highly effective Work-Based Learning (WBL) programme, designed to be delivered in partnership with organisations. It provides a vehicle whereby in-house Continuous Professional Development (CPD) can be integrated and further enhanced through a process of critical reflection, to advance the professional attributes of staff and enable them to gain academic recognition for their work-based learning.

The University has for many years pioneered development to promote flexible and responsive provision to meet the needs of the workplace. Within the School of Health, Community and Education Studies, work-based learning is increasingly being used as a mode of study for employed people and as a significant agent for change within the workplace. The Professional Practice Award (PPA), offered at both Undergraduate and Postgraduate levels on a part-time basis, is the key vehicle for work-based learning within the School.  The School has contracts for the programme with various employers including NHS Trusts, private medical organisations, several Local Authorities and schools. The programme started in September 2006 and now enrols between 450-600 learners annually.

The PPA focuses on learning in and through the workplace, where work provides the focus for the programme of study.  Through reflection, it promotes awareness of the workplace as a learning environment and utilises this to extend the learner’s capability and individual effectiveness.

The Award has been developed for, and with, employers such as BALTIC to respond to and support their workforce development needs and is relevant for a range of organisations and occupational sectors. As a real learning-through-work experience, it is very different to a traditional university course.  It uses a range of provision to provide a broad, proactive and comprehensive structure that responds to the needs of the workplace enabling individuals, groups of learners and employers to negotiate flexible and bespoke programmes of study through clear, straightforward and robust processes. Flexible delivery in this context includes mode of learning, location of learning and start/end dates of programmes outside the normal academic calendar.

Key Elements of the BALTIC Professional Practice Award

As in the case of BALTIC, most PPA programmes are primarily developed at the behest of an organisation and rely on a tripartite learning partnership between the student, the employer and the university. To be successful, the organisation and institution develop a learning partnership culture in order to deliver, assess and evaluate the programme of study.

To enable this programme to work, a Learning Partnership Agreement was developed which set out the contributions of both partners in the joint design, development and delivery of the programme. The agreement outlined BALTIC’s role through its Learning and Engagement team in the support of the learner by way of formal and informal inputs to the programme, and through the support from work-based advisors to support participants during the work-based project. For the University, this included: access to University study and library resources; group learning sessions and individual tutor support (mostly provided in the workplace). Additionally the University was responsible for assessment and all matters related to quality assurance. The programme was overseen by a joint steering group.

Those successfully completing the full 60 credit BALTIC programme gained a Postgraduate Certificate in Professional Practice. Students then have an opportunity to progress to a full Masters.

The Programme is made up of two modules:

Module 1: Recognising Continuing Professional Development

In the BALTIC model, individuals were in the first instance able to gain 30 academic credit points at postgraduate level for their CPD, which was linked directly to their Performance Development Review (PDR). Through a process of critical reflection individuals were able to bring into play the evidence of action planning and their ensuing current development in order to have their learning formally recognised for credit.

Module 2: Work-Based Project

Additionally a further 30 credits was undertaken through a Work-Based Project, (WBP). This negotiated service improvement project focused upon the direct application of learning gained in the workplace. In negotiation with their workplace and supervising university tutor, individuals were required to undertake a project that focussed upon an organisational-based issue that would enable the further development of skills in the diagnosis of problems, enquiry and analysis, development of strategies to address problems, and techniques of presentation and evaluation. Not only were learners expected to research around a particular issue but also to implement a real change in workplace practice.


In this development, effective partnership working has been an essential ingredient for success. Each partner brought a range of expert knowledge, experience, skill, capacity and resource. Skilled leadership at a senior level has been required to provide the direction and to negotiate responsibilities in order to ensure delivery and success through: openness; trust and honesty between partners; agreed shared goals and values; regular communication between partners.

For information please contact Emma Thomas, Head of Learning and Engagement, BALTIC Centre for Contemporary Art.

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