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Partnership learning agreements

Working with employers to complement the learning and development offer

Partnership learning agreements exist in a wide variety of businesses and industries - from retail to engineering. The RCN specialises in learning agreements within the health care sector. 

What is a partnership learning agreement?

In a nutshell, they are a formal arrangement between the RCN and the employer, providing a framework to establish and grow learning and development. 

At the heart of any partnership learning agreement are the RCN’s learning representatives. Trained by the RCN, at no cost to the employer, they provide peer support to colleagues by working on the ground within the workplace. Their contribution enhances an employer’s existing learning and development programme, therefore contributing to a skilled and safe workforce.

What does a partnership learning agreement look like?

Broadly speaking, agreements set out the terms under which trusts or employers, trade unions and staff side organisations - where they exist - work in partnership to promote lifelong learning, training and development throughout an organisation, ensuring equal access to any learning opportunities. 

Agreements should be supported by an action plan detailing the agreed activities of the partnership. This might include analysis of learning needs, disseminating information about learning initiatives, support for learning events, individual guidance, and access to resources and tools.

To monitor progress towards goals, develop actions and ensure sustainability, there should also be a committee or forum that includes, as applicable, learning representatives, managers, heads of learning and development, and any other learning partners. They should meet regularly, disseminating minutes to encourage wider engagement, while periodically reviewing the agreement’s effectiveness.

What role do the RCN’s learning reps play?

RCN learning reps provide peer support for all nursing staff, promoting and encouraging an ethos of lifelong learning. A key aspect of their role is keeping up-to-date with learning opportunities, promoting information, resources and support.  

Working in partnership with employers, learning reps: 

  • promote learning and with the potential to ensure a good standard of learning and development the workplace
  • identify gaps in learning and skills: for example, undertaking specific learning surveys and reviewing NHS Staff Survey/independent health care staff survey results
  • boost recruitment and retention, by cultivating a learning culture
  • empower and encourage nursing staff to access the RCN’s learning and development opportunities
  • help staff working in a variety of settings and at all levels to plan and manage their own learning and development 
  • complement an organisation’s own learning and development 
  • provide unique access to the RCN’s expertise across the UK
  • organise events, study days and workshops, working with employers and local RCN branches.

How can the RCN and a Partnership Learning Agreement help you? 

The RCN provides expertise in the art and science of nursing, both nationally and internationally. Whether you are aiming to improve leadership within your organisation or empowering your team to implement service innovation, the RCN offers a range of professional services to support your staff’s learning and development. 

A Partnership Learning Agreement can be used as evidence of an organisational commitment to the learning and development its workplace (CQC, NIPEC, CIW RQIA). Specifically for the NHS, this partnership agreement complements the NHS Employers Improved 2019: Retaining Our People.

These include: 

To improve patient care, the RCN offers a variety of tools with blended learning approaches for both the individual or nursing team, including health care support workers, working in different specialisms and at all levels.

Options include:  

How can I find out more? 

To find out more about how the RCN may be able to help your organisation create a partnership learning agreement contact: or

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About the RCN

As the voice of nursing for more than a century, the RCN has a wealth of knowledge and expertise, with patient safety and high-quality care at the heart of everything we do.  

Our professional facilitators and expert educationalists are all skilled practitioners in their particular fields of nursing. We also have 38 professional forums and networks, which make a vital contribution to the professional voice of the RCN, linking with various other organisations. Members also have digital access to the largest nursing library in Europe.

In addition, we are the biggest nursing trade union in the UK, providing expert support and guidance to both registered nurses and nursing support workers in Scotland, Wales, England and Northern Ireland.