We are delighted to launch the NNECL Quality Mark. 

Following the recent trials of a new Quality Mark to support higher and further education institutions to achieve the best outcomes for their care experienced students, we are delighted to be ready to receive expressions of interest from institutions. 

NNECL has built on the pioneering work and legacy of the initial Buttle Trust quality mark which significantly raised awareness of care experienced students in HE and FE but was sadly discontinued in 2015.  Over the last couple of years, with initial grant funding from the UPP Foundation, we have developed a new Quality Mark.

We ran an initial pilot in 2019 involving seven universities and four FE colleges.   The outcomes of that work, alongside regulatory changes and the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, have further shaped the project.  As a result, the Quality Mark now has a stronger focus on mental health and wellbeing as well as more detailed written guidance, templates and support for institutions.  We have also benefitted from the engagement and feedback of an Advisory Board involving many other expert organisations, sector bodies, researchers and policy-makers.

We have just completed a collaborative Quality Mark project with a group of 8 universities and colleges in Greater Manchester, funded by the Greater Manchester Combined Authority as part of its commitment to care leavers.  This project has further enabled us to test and refine the process.  Working under the constraints of lockdown and the continuing pandemic, we have further adapted our approach by using a mix of one-to-one virtual consultations alongside meetings of the whole group once every three weeks to discuss issues and emerging evidence. 

In the group meetings, we have been working progressively through the sections of the Quality Mark, drawing out examples of effective practice and making connections between the inter-related strands of the framework. The challenges of gathering data and the different definitions used by institutions have been significant areas for group discussion.  We have been able to feed in emerging recommendations from an Office for Students/Higher Education Statistics Agency working group which should help to clarify some of these issues in the future.  Another area of discussion has focused on target setting, assisted by an analysis of institutions’ current Access & Participation Plan targets. The GMCA project also includes a student engagement strand and the group agreed to invite existing college and university students to submit short video or audio clips with feedback on their experiences in their institutions.  We have now distilled this information into a summary document and shared with the participating institutions.

The NNECL Quality Mark

Content and criteria

The new Quality Mark involves an institutional self-assessment which is reviewed by a NNECL assessor.  The process is designed to be holistic and proportionate, reflecting the diversity of institutions within the HE and FE sectors.  The guidance document also contextualises the framework against the different requirements and policies of the four nations of the UK.

At this stage in its development, we are not planning to offer the QM at different levels (e.g. gold, silver, bronze), but simply to award the QM and highlight any areas of enhanced or exceptional practice.  The award will be made for 3 years in the first instance. As part of the process, institutions will identify future actions to improve their ongoing support for care experienced students.  These will then form the basis for re-submission at the end of the award period. Over time, the findings from the Quality Mark assessments will enable us to build up a more detailed repository of effective practice across the sector to inform future policy and further improvements.

Expressions of interest

Working with our new panel of assessors we are ready to accept expressions of interest. We highly recommend studying the NNECL Quality Mark Guidance & Information to ensure your institution is ready to begin the assessment process prior to expressing interest. Please do contact us if you have any questions.


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