Qualifications explained

Many people are confused by the terminology used in qualifications, and in particular, qualification titles.

Regulated Qualifications

In the UK, nationally recognised qualifications (i.e. those that are looked upon favourably by employers, schools, colleges and learning providers) are given individual recognition numbers when they are added to the Regulated Qualification Framework (RQF)

In the UK, nationally recognised qualifications (i.e. those that are looked upon favourably by employers, schools, colleges, and learning providers) are given individual recognition numbers when they are added to the Regulated Qualification Framework (RQF).

The RQF is a national framework regulated by Ofqual on behalf of the government.

What this means in practice is that it has been developed and produced by subject matter experts to a National Occupational Standard (NOS) that meets the explicit needs of the end users mentioned above; employers, schools, colleges, and learning providers. Successful completion of the qualification tells the end user that the person achieving it has been assessed to have the knowledge, ability, and capability to undertake the employment, study, or progression the qualification is designed to fulfil.

The regulator, Ofqual, has approved Focus Awards to offer qualifications to the general public in a range of business sectors.

Levels and Titles

All qualifications registered on the RQF are aimed at specific levels of achievement and carry credit values that can be used towards other qualifications, though there are combination restrictions.

The qualifications result in formal certification that indicates the size or number of credit values. These are as follows:

  • Awards. These carry credit values of 1 to 12.
  • Certificates. These carry values of between 13 and 36 credits.
  • Diplomas. These comprise 37 credits or more.

Each of these certifications will also have a difficulty indicator from 1 to 8, that equate to a Level. For example, a Level 1 Award, Level 6 Certificate, or Level 3 Diploma and so on. Level 1 is an Entry-Level qualification, while a Level 8 is equivalent to a Doctorate. The number of credits attached to a qualification gives an indication of the length of time the qualification might take to complete. On average, a credit will take a student or trainee around 10 hours of study to complete.

A basic  or rudimentary amount of knowledge is required to start and complete a Level 1 Award, and it could potentially be completed in a relatively short time (days or weeks).

Conversely, somebody studying for a Level 8 Diploma will have a very high level of knowledge and/or professional competence in the subject area before they start. They will then be required to demonstrate that  (over a prolonged assessment and evidence submission process that may take several years.

A qualification title also indicates the subject matter area for study. An RQF qualification title typically appears as:

“Focus Awards Level 3 Diploma in Health and Social Care (Adults) for England (RQF)”

The Qualification Recognition Number (QRN), such as 601/6319/7 should also be present and identifies that unique qualification. Another awarding organisation may have exactly the same qualification title, but the QRN will be different.

The Qualification Specification (downloadable from the website) gives full details on the number and combination of credits and units required, the total qualification time (TQT), and the method of assessment. It also gives details on the required learning outcomes.

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