Ofqual Handbook: General Conditions of Recognition

Section E - Design and development of qualifications

Rules about qualification design and development, including about qualification titling, qualification specifications, credit, and qualification size and level.

Condition E1 - Qualifications having an objective and support

Qualifications to have an objective

  1. E1.1 An awarding organisation must ensure that each qualification which it makes available or proposes to make available –
    1. (a) has a clear objective in accordance with this condition, and
    2. (b) meets that objective.
  1. E1.2 The objective of a qualification must be such as to lead to a benefit for Learners who have reached a specified level of attainment, and may include –
    1. (a) preparing Learners to progress to a qualification in the same subject area but at a higher level or requiring more specific knowledge, skills and understanding,
    2. (b) preparing Learners to progress to a qualification in another subject area,
    3. (c) meeting relevant programmes of learning,
    4. (d) preparing Learners for employment,
    5. (e) supporting a role in the workplace, or
    6. (f) giving Learners personal growth and engagement in learning.

Qualifications to have support

  1. E1.3 Where an awarding organisation proposes to make available any new qualification, it –
    1. (a) must first consult Users of qualifications to ascertain whether there is support for the qualification, and
    2. (b) may only make available the qualification where it has evidence of sufficient support from Users of qualifications.
  1. E1.4 For these purposes, the following considerations will in particular be relevant in determining what constitutes sufficient support –
    1. (a) the objective of the new qualification,
    2. (b) whether the new qualification is intended to facilitate a particular route of progression for Learners, and
    3. (c) the number of Learners that the awarding organisation reasonably estimates is likely to take the new qualification.

E1.5 For the purposes of this condition, Users of qualifications will be deemed to support a new qualification if the prevailing view of those Users of qualifications is that the qualification would provide a benefit to Learners.

Guidance on Condition E1

Examples of ‘positive indicators’ that would suggest an awarding organisation is likely to comply

The awarding organisation:

  • describes the objective of its qualifications accurately and clearly;
  • builds into its arrangements for the design and development of its qualifications time and resources to gather, consider and respond to potential Users’ views;
  • seeks views from a range of potential Users of the qualification and listens and responds to their views;
  • records the evidence it has of User support;
  • makes available or puts forward for accreditation specific support from informed potential Users.

Examples of ‘negative indicators’ that would suggest an awarding organisation is not likely to comply

The awarding organisation:

  • is the subject of complaints from Users that its qualifications are not meeting the intended objectives;
  • makes available or puts forward for accreditation (where required) qualifications that do not have specific support from informed potential Users;
  • ignores feedback received regarding support for a qualification;
  • has support that refers to the awarding organisation or the qualification type, rather than clearly relating to the proposed qualification and its subject.

Condition E2 - Requirements on qualification titling

  1. E2.1 An awarding organisation must ensure that the title on the Register of any qualification which it makes available includes the following information –
    1. (a) the name of the awarding organisation,
    2. (b) the level of the qualification,
    3. (c) the type of qualification (where the qualification has a type),
    4. (d) a concise indication of the content of the qualification, and
    5. (e) any Endorsement known at the time the qualification is submitted to the Register.
  1. E2.2 An awarding organisation must, in addition –
    1. (a) ensure that the title on the Register reflects the knowledge, skills and understanding which will be assessed as part of the qualification, and
    2. (b) take all reasonable steps to ensure that the title allows Users of qualifications to identify similar units or qualifications which it makes available or are made available by other awarding organisations.

E2.3 An awarding organisation must ensure that each qualification which it makes available, or proposes to make available, has a title which it uses consistently in its advertising and in its communications with Users of qualifications.

E2.4 An awarding organisation must ensure that the titles of qualifications which it makes available, or proposes to make available, are not misleading to Users of qualifications.

E2.5 An awarding organisation must ensure that it amends the title on the Register for a qualification which it makes available when it makes any revision to a level assigned to that qualification.

Guidance on Condition E2

Examples of ‘positive indicators’ that would suggest an awarding organisation is likely to comply

The title of a qualification:

  • includes the name of the awarding organisation in full or in abbreviated form if the abbreviated form is widely used and recognised;
  • includes the level of the qualification which has been determined by reference to the level descriptors in accordance with the requirements referred to in Condition E9.3;
  • only includes the term ‘NVQ’ if the qualification is based on recognised occupational standards, confers occupational competence and requires workbased assessment and/or assessment in an environment that simulates the work place;
  • only uses the terms –
  • ‘award’ to indicate a small-sized qualification (i.e. a qualification that has a TQT value of 120 or less);
  • ‘certificate’ to indicate a medium-sized qualification (i.e. a qualification that has a TQT value in the range 121-369)
  • ‘diploma’ to indicate a large-sized qualification (i.e. a qualification with a TQT value of 370 or more);

Examples of ‘negative indicators’ that would suggest an awarding organisation is not likely to comply

The title of a qualification includes:

  • terms that are misleading or cannot be justified, for example –
    • terms associated with higher education qualifications that are referenced to the Framework for Higher Education Qualifications such as Honours, Masters, Graduate and Postgraduate;
    • terms that cannot be justified such as ‘higher’, ‘extended’ or ‘advanced’ when the qualification is not provided as a progression route from another qualification;
    • subjective statements about the qualification which may be misleading;
  • the term ‘QCF’ after 31 December 2017.

Condition E3 - Publication of a qualification specification

Some parts of this Condition are not in force for all qualifications:

  • Conditions E3.2(l), E3.2(m), E3.4 and E3.5 do not apply to legacy GCSE, AS and A levels, and certain qualifications undergoing withdrawal
  • Conditions E3.2(l), E3.4(a) and E3.4(c) also do not apply to reformed GCSEs, AS and A levels, or to apprenticeship end-point assessments

Read more about these exemptions

E3.1 An awarding organisation must, before first making available a particular qualification, publish a specification for that qualification.

  1. E3.2 An awarding organisation must ensure that the specification for a qualification sets out –
    1. (a) the qualification’s objective,
    2. (b) any other qualification which a Learner must have completed before taking the qualification,
    3. (c) any prior knowledge, skills or understanding which the Learner is required to have before taking the qualification,
    4. (d) units which a Learner must have completed before the qualification will be awarded and any optional routes,
    5. (e) any other requirements which a Learner must have satisfied before the Learner will be assessed or before the qualification will be awarded,
    6. (f) the knowledge, skills and understanding which will be assessed as part of the qualification (giving a clear indication of their coverage and depth),
    7. (g) the method of any assessment and any associated requirements relating to it,
    8. (h) the criteria against which Learners’ levels of attainment will be measured (such as assessment criteria or exemplars),
    9. (i) any specimen assessment materials,
    10. (j) any specified levels of attainment,
    11. (k) where the awarding organisation is required to make such an assignment under General Condition E7 (Total Qualification Time), the number of hours which it has assigned to that qualification for each of Total Qualification Time and Guided Learning,
    12. (l) any value for credit which it has assigned to that qualification and any Component of that qualification, and
    13. (m) the level or levels which it has assigned to that qualification and any Component of that qualification.
  1. E3.3 An awarding organisation must ensure that the specification for a qualification is clear, accurate and communicates, to the reasonable and informed person –
    1. (a) what the qualification requires of the Learner in respect of each of the details that is applicable to the qualification, and
    2. (b) how the qualification is fit for purpose.

Amendments to the specification

  1. E3.4 An awarding organisation must promptly amend the specification for a qualification following any revision by it of –
    1. (a) the number of hours which it has assigned for Total Qualification Time or Guided Learning,
    2. (b) the level or levels which it has assigned to that qualification or any Component of that Qualification, or
    3. (c) any value for credit which it has assigned to that qualification or any Component of that qualification.

E3.5 Where an awarding organisation has amended the specification for a qualification it must publish that specification as amended.

Application

E3.6 Conditions E3.2(l), E3.2(m), E3.4 and E3.5 shall not apply to an awarding organisation until such date as is specified in, or determined under, any notice in writing issued by Ofqual to the awarding organisation under this paragraph.

  1. E3.7 Any such notice issued by Ofqual may be –
    1. (a) subject to any conditions that Ofqual specifies (which may include conditions placing requirements on an awarding organisation as to its conduct prior to the date specified in or determined under it),
    2. (b) issued to an individual awarding organisation or to any group of awarding organisations,
    3. (c) issued in respect of one or more qualifications or descriptions of qualifications,
    4. (d) varied by Ofqual at any time prior to the date specified in or determined under it.

E3.8 Where Ofqual makes such a notice subject to conditions, an awarding organisation to which the notice is issued must comply with any requirements that are imposed on it in accordance with those conditions.

Guidance on Condition E3

Examples of ‘positive indicators’ that would suggest an awarding organisation is likely to comply

The awarding organisation’s specifications:

  • are developed using a clear approach and are subject to appropriate quality assurance and sign-off arrangements;
  • set out the learning aims and objectives for the qualification clearly, so that Users are able to take informed decisions about the suitability of the qualification for their purposes;
  • are readily available to Users, for example through the awarding organisation’s website, and provide clear contact information where queries about the specification can be raised.

The awarding organisation:

  • engages with Users of qualifications (for example through employer forums or external focus groups) while it is developing the specification (for example about the qualification’s content, structure, purpose and accessibility), and considers the feedback as part of its ongoing review of the specification and the development of future specifications.

Examples of ‘negative indicators’ that would suggest an awarding organisation is not likely to comply

The awarding organisation:

  • makes implausible, unjustifiable or misleading claims about a qualification relating Learners’ progression to other qualifications or employment;
  • publishes specifications which are not accessible, clear and accurate.

Condition E4 - Ensuring an assessment is fit for purpose and can be delivered

E4.1 In designing an assessment for a qualification which it makes available, or proposes to make available, an awarding organisation must ensure that it has or obtains adequate resources to enable the assessment to be delivered effectively and efficiently.

  1. E4.2 In designing such an assessment, an awarding organisation must in addition ensure that the assessment –
    1. (a) is fit for purpose,
    2. (b) can be delivered efficiently,
    3. (c) allows Centres to develop cost effective arrangements for its delivery, using only the resources which would be reasonably expected to be required or which are provided by the awarding organisation,
    4. (d) permits Reasonable Adjustments to be made, while minimising the need for them,
    5. (e) allows each Learner to generate evidence which can be Authenticated,
    6. (f) allows each specified level of attainment detailed in the specification to be reached by a Learner who has attained the required level of knowledge, skills and understanding, and
    7. (g) allows Assessors to be able to differentiate accurately and consistently between a range of attainments by Learners.

There is currently no guidance on complying with these Conditions

Condition E5 - Assurance that qualifications comply with the conditions

  1. E5.1 Before submitting a qualification to the Register or for accreditation, an awarding organisation must –
    1. (a) review that qualification, and
    2. (b) assure itself that the qualification complies with the requirements of its Conditions of Recognition, making any changes to the qualification which are necessary for that purpose.

Guidance on Condition E5

Examples of ‘positive indicators’ that would suggest an awarding organisation is likely to comply

The awarding organisation:

  • before submitting a qualification to the Register or for accreditation, ensures it is reviewed against the relevant Conditions, taking account and recording the outcome of:
    • feedback from Users on their views about the benefit the qualification would provide to Learners;
    • the clarity of the qualification’s objective and the extent to which the qualification is likely to meet its objective;
    • the rationale for the proposed assessment framework, and the extent to which it would facilitate the valid assessment of the required knowledge and skills;
    • the achievability of the plans for the awarding organisation and/or Centres to recruit, train, standardise and monitor the performance of Assessors to facilitate valid assessment;
  • makes any improvements to a qualification highlighted by the reviewer(s) before it is submitted to the Register or for accreditation;
  • authorises only a person(s) of appropriate competence to confirm that the qualification complies with the requirements of its Conditions of Recognition and is ready to be submitted to the Register or for accreditation;
  • uses any lessons learned from previous accreditation decisions (where relevant) to strengthen its approach to reviewing and signing off its proposals prior to their submission for accreditation or to the Register.

Examples of ‘negative indicators’ that would suggest an awarding organisation is not likely to comply

The awarding organisation:

  • does not subject a qualification to review before submitting it to the Register or for accreditation;
  • does not, without justification, make any changes to the qualification that are highlighted as necessary by the review process;
  • submits a qualification to the Register or for accreditation even though (including but not limited to):
    • it does not have evidence that the qualification has support from employers, employer representatives or relevant professional bodies;
    • there is no rationale for the proposed assessment framework;
    • it cannot demonstrate how assessments marked by Centres would be effectively moderated; or
    • it does not have evidence to support any claims about progression to another qualification or employment;
  • makes errors in the information it submits to the Register or submits incomplete information.

Condition E6 - Submitting qualifications to the Register

E6.1 An awarding organisation must not make available a qualification unless it has first submitted that qualification to the Register.

  1. E6.2 An awarding organisation must ensure that its submission of a qualification to the Register
    1. (a) is in a form that may be published by Ofqual and revised from time to time,
    2. (b) contains only accurate information, and
    3. (c) contains all information about the qualification that is requested on the form.

There is currently no guidance on complying with these Conditions

Condition E7 - Total Qualification Time

This Condition is not in force for all regulated qualifications. Currently, it does not apply to:

Read more about these exemptions

  1. E7.1 In respect of each qualification which it makes available or proposes to make available, an awarding organisation must assign to that qualification a number of hours for –
    1. (a) Total Qualification Time, and
    2. (b) Guided Learning.

E7.2 An awarding organisation must ensure that the number of hours it assigns to a qualification for Total Qualification Time includes the number of hours which it has assigned to that qualification for Guided Learning.

E7.3 An awarding organisation must, in assigning to a qualification a number of hours for each of Total Qualification Time and Guided Learning, apply the TQT Criteria.

  1. E7.4 An awarding organisation must –
    1. (a) keep under review the number of hours it has assigned to each qualification for each of Total Qualification Time and Guided Learning,
    2. (b) in particular, review that number of hours assigned following any revision by Ofqual to the TQT Criteria, and
    3. (c) revise that number of hours if appropriate.

E7.5 Following any review by Ofqual of the number of hours assigned to a qualification in respect of Total Qualification Time or Guided Learning, an awarding organisation must revise that number in any manner required by Ofqual.

Application

E7.6 Conditions E7.1 to E7.5 shall not apply to an awarding organisation until such date as is specified in, or determined under, any notice in writing issued by Ofqual to the awarding organisation under this paragraph.

  1. E7.7 Any such notice issued by Ofqual may be –
    1. (a) subject to any conditions that Ofqual specifies (which may include conditions placing requirements on an awarding organisation as to its conduct prior to the date specified in or determined under it),
    2. (b) issued to an individual awarding organisation or to any group of awarding organisations,
    3. (c) issued in respect of one or more qualifications or descriptions of qualifications,
    4. (d) varied by Ofqual at any time prior to the date specified in or determined under it.

E7.8 Where Ofqual makes such a notice subject to conditions, an awarding organisation to which the notice is issued must comply with any requirements that are imposed on it in accordance with those conditions.

Interpretation

E7.9 For the purposes of this Condition references to a ‘qualification’ are references to the qualification as a whole and not to individual units.

Guidance on Condition E7

Values for Total Qualification Time, including Guided Learning, are calculated by considering the different activities that Learners would typically complete to achieve and demonstrate the learning outcomes of a qualification. They do not include activities which are required by a Learner’s Teacher based on the requirements of an individual Learner and/or cohort. Individual Learners’ requirements and individual teaching styles mean there will be variation in the actual time taken to complete a qualification. Values for Total Qualification Time, including Guided Learning, are estimates.

Some examples of activities which can contribute to Total Qualification Time include

  • Independent and unsupervised research/learning
  • Unsupervised compilation of a portfolio of work experience
  • Unsupervised e-learning
  • Unsupervised e-assessment
  • Unsupervised coursework
  • Watching a pre-recorded podcast or webinar
  • Unsupervised work-based learning
  • All Guided Learning

Some examples of activities which can contribute to Guided Learning include:

  • Classroom-based learning supervised by a Teacher
  • Work-based learning supervised by a Teacher
  • Live webinar or telephone tutorial with a Teacher in real time
  • E-learning supervised by a Teacher in real time
  • All forms of assessment which take place under the Immediate Guidance or Supervision of a lecturer, supervisor, tutor or other appropriate provider of education or training, including where the assessment is competence-based and may be turned into a learning opportunity.

Examples of ‘positive indicators’ that would suggest an awarding organisation is likely to comply

The awarding organisation:

  • has Total Qualification Time and Guided Learning values for its qualifications that are broadly in line with similar qualifications;
  • can explain its decision about the Total Qualification Time and Guided Learning values for its qualifications where these values differ from those of similar qualifications;
  • considers and responds to the views of potential Users of the qualifications on the proposed Total Qualification Time and Guided Learning values and builds into its qualification development process the time to do so;
  • has and retains evidence to support its assignment from informed potential and/or existing Users of qualifications about the Total Qualification Time and Guided Learning values;
  • gathers, considers and responds to the views of existing Users of the qualification to review the Total Qualification Time and Guided Learning values and builds into its arrangements for the review of its qualifications the time and resources to do so;
  • can explain its decision about the Total Qualification Time and Guided Learning values required for the qualification, with reference to the available evidence and the intended cohort for the qualification;
  • where it makes an assignment before the qualification is first made available, gathers and considers evidence of the actual time typically taken by learners in the first cohort to complete the qualification and revises the number of hours of Total Qualification Time and Guided Learning if appropriate;
  • considers feedback from Users of qualifications about the accuracy of values assigned to a qualification for Total Qualification Time and Guided Learning, and revises those values if appropriate.

Examples of ‘negative indicators’ that would suggest an awarding organisation is not likely to comply

The awarding organisation –

  • does not review its approach to calculating the number of hours for Total Qualification Time and/or Guided Learning following complaints or in response to negative feedback about that approach;
  • does not review the number of hours assigned to a qualification for Total Qualification Time and/or Guided Learning following complaints or in response to negative feedback in relation to that number of hours;
  • disregards feedback and evidence from Users of qualifications about the Total Qualification Time and/or Guided Learning values required;
  • has Total Qualification Time and/or Guided Learning values for a qualification that are not comparable with those of similar qualifications and lacks evidence to support the difference in values.

Examples of activities that contribute to Total Qualification Time and Guided Learning

The tables below sets out examples of activities which would form part of the Total Qualification Time for a range of example qualifications. We also set out which of those activities should form part of the Guided Learning assigned to that qualification.

Example 1: GCSE Mathematics

Activity which forms part of TQT Also part of Guided Learning?
Classroom teaching Yes
Invigilated examinations Yes

Example 2: A level history

Activity which forms part of TQT Description Also part of Guided Learning?
Classroom teaching   Yes
Research project Student carries out independent research and produces report without supervision) No
Invigilated examinations   Yes

Example 3: Tennis Coaching

Activity which forms part of TQT Description Also part of Guided Learning?
Classroom-based induction to qualification (as required in specification)   Yes
Classroom teaching   Yes
Court/pitch sessions directly supervised by tutor   Yes
Coaching skills practice at club/school Student responsible for generating own evidence of practice e.g. statement confirming attendance from suitable attendant adult, generally not tutor) No
Final practice coaching session carried out in simulated conditions (i.e. student delivers coaching session to either non-student participants or fellow students) Student is observed and assessed at the same time as the coaching session is taking place Yes

Example 4: Fitness instructor

Activity which forms part of TQT Description Also part of Guided Learning?
Face-to-face meetings with tutor or other prearranged 1:1 teaching session (e.g. telephone/webcam contact, internet messaging i.e. online conversation in real time)   Yes
Work-based practice (competence-based, formative assessment). Observed by employer, tutor or other witness more qualified than the student. Observer assesses student’s competence in health and safety, setting up equipment, behaviour with clients, circuit training skills etc. Student may be assessed at any time. Yes
Portfolio assessment Student collates evidence of competence and understanding of policies etc. Unsupervised activity. No
E-assessments E-assessment of knowledge/understanding e.g. knowledge/understanding of anatomy. Student is unsupervised and can access online e-assessment at any time) No

Example 5: Level 4 Counselling (placement unit)

Activity which forms part of TQT Description Also part of Guided Learning?
Supervised practical sessions Tutor observes counselling session, provides feedback and discusses problems/issues/best practice with student Yes
Placement agreement Student researches and finds own placement(s), including contacting centre, agreeing structure of placement etc. No
Practical sessions Unsupervised counselling sessions with adult clients No
Work portfolio/log Reflective activities by unsupervised student, resulting in portfolios of work experience etc. for assessment No

Example 6: Multimaintenance for beginners

Activity which forms part of TQT Description Also part of Guided Learning?
Workplace induction (required in specification) Teaching in classroom environment and ‘Toolbox talks’ i.e. direct tutoring in workplace. Includes health and safety, first aid, safety in workplace etc. Yes
Supervised work Student works under supervision of employer/direct supervisor Yes
Unsupervised work Student works independently and complies work diary (factual record of tasks carried out on that day) No
Final assessment On-demand test with multiple-choice questions. Student is supervised by employer/direct supervisor during the assessment. Yes

Example 7: Level 6 Finance

Activity which forms part of TQT Description Also part of Guided Learning?
Financial plan Student works independently and unsupervised to produce financial plan which is assessed externally. No formal tuition provided. No

Example 8: Grade 4 Music

Activity which forms part of TQT Description Also part of Guided Learning?
Classroom Teaching May be 1:1 tuition or group teaching sessions. Yes
Unsupervised practice/rehearsal sessions   No
Practical examination Examiner supervises and assesses student’s demonstration of knowledge and skills e.g. performance test of set pieces, knowledge test of scales and arpeggios, aural test, sight-reading test Yes

Condition E8 - Credit

E8.1 An awarding organisation may assign a value for credit to a qualification, or a Component of a qualification, which it makes available or proposes to make available.

E8.2 Where an awarding organisation assigns a value for credit to a qualification, that value must be equal to one tenth of the Total Qualification Time assigned to that qualification, rounded to the nearest whole number.

  1. E8.3 Where an awarding organisation makes any revision to the number of hours which it has assigned to a qualification in respect of any element of Total Qualification Time, it must –
    1. (a) review each value for credit which it has assigned to that qualification and any Component of that qualification, and
    2. (b) revise that value if appropriate.

There is currently no guidance on complying with these Conditions

Condition E9 - Qualification and Component levels

E9.1 An awarding organisation must assign one or more levels to each qualification which it makes available or proposes to make available.

E9.2 Where an awarding organisation assigns a value for credit to a Component of a qualification which it makes available or proposes to make available, it must assign a level to that Component.

  1. E9.3 An awarding organisation must adhere to any requirements, and have regard to any guidance, which may be published by Ofqual and revised from time to time in assigning –
    1. (a) a level to a qualification,
    2. (b) more than one level to a qualification, and
    3. (c) a level to a Component of a qualification.
  1. E9.4 An awarding organisation must –
    1. (a) keep under review each level which it has assigned to a qualification or a Component of a qualification,
    2. (b) in particular, review that level following any revision by Ofqual of any requirements published under this Condition, and
    3. (c) revise that level if appropriate.

E9.5 Following any review by Ofqual of a level assigned to a qualification or a Component of a qualification an awarding organisation must revise that level in any manner specified by Ofqual.

Management of the revision of a level assigned to a qualification

E9.6 An awarding organisation must give to Ofqual reasonable notice of its anticipated revision of a level assigned to a qualification, and must do so prior to the time at which it provides that information to any Users of the qualification.

  1. E9.7 Where an awarding organisation intends to revise, or is obliged to revise, a level assigned to a qualification, it must either –
    1. (a) withdraw that qualification, or
    2. (b) follow the process outlined in conditions E9.8 and E9.9,
  2. and must give to Ofqual reasonable notice of which of these two courses it intends to follow.
  1. E9.8 Where an awarding organisation intends to revise, or is obliged to revise, a level assigned to a qualification, and does not intend to withdraw that qualification, it must –
    1. (a) take all reasonable steps to protect the interests of Learners in relation to that qualification,
    2. (b) promptly prepare, maintain, and comply with a written revision plan, which must specify how the interests of Learners in relation to that qualification will be protected, and
    3. (c) provide clear and accurate information about the revision to Users of the qualification who are likely to be affected by the revision.

E9.9 An awarding organisation must ensure that any revision plan which it prepares complies with any requirements which Ofqual has communicated to it in writing.

There is currently no guidance on complying with these Conditions

Condition E10 Recognition of Prior Learning

  1. E10.1 Where an awarding organisation has in place a policy for the recognition of prior learning it must –
    1. (a) ensure that the policy which it has in place enables the awarding organisation to award qualifications in accordance with its Conditions of Recognition,
    2. (b) publish that policy, and
    3. (c) comply with that policy.
  1. E10.2 For the purposes of this Condition, ‘recognition of prior learning’ is the –
    1. (a) identification by an awarding organisation of any learning undertaken, and/or attainment, by a Learner
      1. (i) prior to that Learner taking a qualification which the awarding organisation makes available or proposes to make available, and
      2. (ii) which is relevant to the knowledge, skills and understanding which will be assessed as part of that qualification, and
    2. (b) recognition by an awarding organisation of that learning and/or attainment through amendment to the requirements which a Learner must have satisfied before the Learner will be assessed or that qualification will be awarded.

Guidance on Condition E10

Examples of ‘positive indicators’ that would suggest an awarding organisation is likely to comply

The awarding organisation’s published policy for recognition of prior learning (RPL):

  • is open, transparent and clear to Learners and Users of qualifications;
  • sets out the evidence of prior learning that will be required by the awarding organisation;
  • sets out the various stages to be followed in considering an application for RPL and the timelines to be followed at each stage;
  • sets out the criteria which will be used when making a decision about the appropriateness of RPL;
  • identifies the range of possible outcomes to a successful application for RPL;
  • sets out a complaints process;
  • identifies any role to be taken by a Centre in making a decision about RPL;
  • identifies any limit on the amount of RPL available for any qualification which is subject to such a limit.

The awarding organisation ensures that:

  • any decisions on whether on an application for RPL are carried out by staff who are competent to consider and make decisions about RPL;
  • its policy for RPL is regularly reviewed and, where appropriate, amended; and
  • any qualification awarded to a Learner who has made a successful application for RPL provides a valid and reliable indication of that Learner’s knowledge, skills and understanding.

Total Qualification Time Criteria

These criteria are set and published by Ofqual under section 146(1)(b) of the Act and General Condition E7, and apply to all awarding organisations in respect of all qualifications regulated by Ofqual.

Taken together, section 145 of the Act and General Condition E7 require awarding organisations to:

  • in respect of each qualification it makes available (or proposes to make available), assign a number of hours to that qualification for:
    • Total Qualification Time, and
    • Guided Learning,
  • as relevant, apply criteria 1 to 22 below when assigning a number of hours for Total Qualification Time or Guided Learning to a qualification.

Criteria for assigning to a qualification a number of hours for Total Qualification Time

An awarding organisation must apply the following criteria in determining, under Condition E7.1(a), a number of hours for Total Qualification Time to assign to a qualification:

  • in the case of a qualification which it proposes to make available, criteria 1 to 6, as relevant.
  • in the case of a qualification which it already makes available, criteria 7 to 11, as relevant.
  • in all cases an awarding organisation must comply with the criteria 12 to 14.
  Criteria for qualifications which an awarding organisation proposes to make available
Criterion 1 Where an awarding organisation provides Guided Learning to Learners in respect of one or more qualifications which are similar to the qualification for which the determination is being made (‘Similar Qualifications’), the awarding organisation must estimate the number of hours of Total Qualification Time which a Learner is reasonably likely to undertake in respect of each Similar Qualification.
Criterion 2 Where Guided Learning is provided by one or more Centres and/or third parties in respect of a Similar Qualification, an awarding organisation must gather estimates from a reasonable number of those Centres and third parties of the number of hours of Total Qualification Time which a Learner is reasonably likely to undertake in respect of each Similar Qualification.
Criterion 3 Where neither criterion 1 nor 2 applies, an awarding organisation must estimate the number of hours of Total Qualification Time which it considers a Learner is reasonably likely to undertake in respect of the qualification.
Criterion 4 In arriving at any estimate under criterion 3 an awarding organisation must have due regard to any relevant information which is reasonably available to the awarding organisation, including information from Users of Similar Qualifications and any organisations with relevant expertise including employer organisations, funding agencies, inspectorates and relevant statutory bodies.
Criterion 5 An awarding organisation must ensure that the number of hours for Total Qualification Time that it assigns to a qualification which it proposes to make available includes the number of hours that it has assigned to that qualification for Guided Learning.
Criterion 6 In addition, when assigning a number of hours for Total Qualification Time to a qualification which it proposes to make available an awarding organisation must have due regard to:

(a) any estimates gathered under criteria 1 and 2,
(b) in relation to those estimates under criteria 1 and 2, any relevant information which is reasonably available to the awarding organisation, including information from Users of Similar Qualifications and any organisations with relevant expertise including employer organisations, funding agencies, inspectorates and relevant statutory bodies, and
(c) any estimate arrived at under criterion 3.
  Criteria for qualifications which an awarding organisation already makes available
Criterion 7 Where all or part of the Guided Learning in respect of a qualification is provided by an awarding organisation, the awarding organisation must estimate the number of hours of Total Qualification Time which it considers that a Learner is reasonably likely to undertake in respect of the qualification.
Criterion 8 In arriving at any estimate under criterion 7 an awarding organisation must have due regard to any relevant information which is reasonably available to the awarding organisation, including information from Users of Similar Qualifications and any organisations with relevant expertise including employer organisations, funding agencies, inspectorates and relevant statutory bodies.
Criterion 9 Where all or part of the Guided Learning in respect of a qualification is provided by one or more Centres and/or third parties, an awarding organisation must gather estimates from a reasonable number of those Centres and third parties of the number of hours of Total Qualification Time they consider to be reasonably likely to be undertaken by a Learner in respect of the qualification.
Criterion 10 An awarding organisation must ensure that the number of hours for Total Qualification Time that it assigns to a qualification which it makes available includes the number of hours that it has assigned to that qualification for Guided Learning.
Criterion 11 In addition, when assigning a number of hours for Total Qualification Time to a qualification which it makes available an awarding organisation must have due regard to:

(a) any estimate arrived at under criterion 7,
(b) any estimates gathered under criterion 9, and
(c) in relation to those estimates under criteria 7 and 9, any relevant information which is reasonably available to the awarding organisation, including information from Users of Similar Qualifications and any organisations with relevant expertise including employer organisations, funding agencies, inspectorates and relevant statutory bodies.
  Criteria for recording a determination
Criterion 12 Where a qualification contains a choice of optional routes which have differing numbers of hours for Total Qualification Time, an awarding organisation must assign the lowest number of those hours to that qualification.
Criterion 13 An awarding organisation must record its determination, together with the reasons for it, and retain all supporting evidence gathered under criteria 2, 4, 6(b), 7, 9 and 11(c) for so long as it continues to offer the qualification.
Criterion 14 An awarding organisation must ensure that it is capable of providing a reasoned justification for its determination to Ofqual on request, together with all supporting evidence which it has retained under criterion 13.

Criteria for assigning to a qualification a number of hours for Guided Learning

An awarding organisation must apply the following criteria in determining, under section 145(3)(b) of the Act and/or Condition E7.1(a), a number of hours for Guided Learning to assign to a qualification:

  • in the case of a qualification which it proposes to make available, criteria 15 to 18, as relevant.
  • in the case of a qualification which it already makes available, criterion 19.
  • in all cases an awarding organisation must comply with the criteria 20 to 22.
  Criteria for qualifications which an awarding organisation proposes to make available
Criterion 15 Where all or part of the Guided Learning in respect of a qualification will be provided by an awarding organisation, the awarding organisation must:

(a) where the awarding organisation provides Guided Learning in respect of one or more Similar Qualifications, calculate the number of hours of Guided Learning provided by the awarding organisation to a Learner in respect of each Similar Qualification, or
(b) where criterion 15(a) does not apply, estimate the number of hours of Guided Learning which the awarding organisation intends to provide to a Learner in respect of the qualification.
Criterion 16 In arriving at any estimate under criterion 15(b), an awarding organisation must have due regard to any relevant information which is reasonably available to the awarding organisation, including information from Users of Similar Qualifications and any organisations with relevant expertise including employer organisations, funding agencies, inspectorates and relevant statutory bodies.
Criterion 17 Where all or part of the Guided Learning in respect of a qualification will be provided by one or more Centres and/or third parties, an awarding organisation must:

(a) where Guided Learning in respect of a Similar Qualification is provided by one or more Centres and/or third parties, gather statements from a reasonable number of those Centres and third parties of the number of hours of Guided Learning which they provide to a Learner in respect of each Similar Qualification (whether made available by the awarding organisation or other awarding organisations), or
(b) where criterion 17(a) does not apply, gather estimates from a reasonable number of Centres and/or third parties of the number of hours of Guided Learning which they would be likely to provide to a Learner in respect of the qualification.
Criterion 18 When assigning a number of hours for Guided Learning to a qualification an awarding organisation must have due regard to:

(a) any numbers calculated under criterion 15(a) or any estimate arrived at under criterion 15(b),
(b) any numbers gathered under criterion 17(a) or any estimates gathered under criterion 17(b), and
(c) in relation to any numbers gathered under criterion 17(a) and any estimates gathered under criterion 17(b), any relevant information which is reasonably available to the awarding organisation, including information from Users of Similar Qualifications and any organisations with relevant expertise including employer organisations, funding agencies, inspectorates and any relevant statutory bodies.
  Criteria for qualifications which an awarding organisation already makes available
Criterion 19 In respect of a qualification which it makes available, an awarding organisation must:

(a) calculate the number of hours of Guided Learning which it provides to a Learner in respect of the qualification,
(b) where any Guided Learning in respect of the qualification is provided by one or more Centres and/or third parties, gather statements from a reasonable number of those Centres and third parties in regard to the number of hours of such Guided Learning which those Centres and/or third parties provide to a Learner, and
(c) assign a number of hours for Guided Learning to the qualification having due regard to the number calculated under criterion 19(a) and the numbers gathered under criterion 19(b).
  Criteria for recording a determination
Criterion 20 Where a qualification contains a choice of optional routes which have differing numbers of hours for Guided Learning, an awarding organisation must assign the lowest number of those hours to that qualification.
Criterion 21 An awarding organisation must record its determination, together with the reasons for it, and retain all supporting evidence gathered under criteria 15(a), 16, 17, 18(c) and 19(b) for so long as it continues to offer the qualification.
Criterion 22 An awarding organisation must ensure that it is capable of providing a reasoned justification for its determination to Ofqual on request, together with all supporting evidence which it has retained under criterion 21.

Level requirements (including level descriptors)

  1. General Condition E9.3(c) allows us to specify requirements which an awarding organisation must follow when assigning –
    1. (a) a level to a qualification,
    2. (b) more than one level to a qualification, and
    3. (c) a level to a Component of a qualification.
  2. We set out our requirements for the purposes of Condition E9.3(c) below.

Assigning a level to a qualification

When assigning a level to each of its qualifications in accordance with Condition E9.1, an awarding organisation must use the level descriptors set out below to select the most appropriate level to assign to that qualification.

Assigning more than one level to a qualification

  1. When assigning more than one level to a qualification an awarding organisation must –
    1. (a) be satisfied that the range of achievement recognised by the qualification is sufficient to span more than one level,
    2. (b) use the level descriptors set out below to select the most appropriate levels to assign to that qualification,
    3. (c) have a clear rationale for assigning more than one level to that qualification, and
    4. (d) publish that rationale.

Assigning a level to a component of a qualification

  1. When assigning a level to a Component of a qualification in accordance with Condition E9.2 an awarding organisation must –
    1. (a) use the level descriptors set out below to select the most appropriate level to assign to that Component, and
    2. (b) take all reasonable steps to ensure that the level assigned to each Component is appropriate when considered against the level assigned to the qualification as a whole.

Level descriptors

The level descriptors are divided into two categories –

  • knowledge and understanding; and
  • skills.

There is a knowledge descriptor and a skills descriptor for each level within the framework. The descriptors apply to all the qualifications we regulate, general and vocational, and so many of the descriptors have an “and/or” construction to indicate their applicability to the knowledge and skills associated with the study of a subject or in preparation for a job or role.

The level descriptors build on those used within the Qualifications and Credit Framework (QCF) and the European Qualifications Framework (EQF). Levels 4−8 are intended to be consistent with the five levels within the Framework for Higher Education Qualification in England, Wales and Northern Ireland (FHEQ).

The descriptors set out the generic knowledge and skills associated with the typical holder of a qualification at that level. The level descriptors are framed as outcomes and each category starts with a stem statement (“the holder can…”) which then links into the outcomes associated with each level of the framework.

The descriptors for the knowledge and skills associated with Entry 1 achievement are the exception to this. The Entry 1 descriptors are based on a continuum of achievement which can be used to track and recognise progress towards the achievement of student-centred targets.

None of the descriptors is intended to point to the process of learning or to specific assessment methods.

Level Knowledge descriptor (the holder…) Skills descriptor (the holder can…)
Entry 1 Progresses along a continuum that ranges from the most elementary of achievements to beginning to make use of knowledge and/or understanding that relate to the subject or immediate environment. Progress along a continuum that ranges from the most elementary of achievements to beginning to make use of skills that relate to the subject or the immediate environment.
Entry 2 Has basic knowledge or understanding of a subject and/or can carry out simple, familiar tasks; and
Knows the steps needed to complete simple activities.
Carry out simple, familiar tasks and activities. Follow instructions or use rehearsed steps to complete tasks and activities.
Entry 3 Has basic knowledge and understanding to carry out structured tasks and activities in familiar contexts; and
Knows and understands the steps needed to complete structured tasks and activities in familiar contexts.
Carry out structured tasks and activities in familiar contexts.
Be aware of the consequences of actions for self and others.
L1 Has basic factual knowledge of a subject and/or knowledge of facts, procedures and ideas to complete well-defined routine tasks and address simple problems; and
Is aware of aspects of information relevant to the area of study or work.
Use basic cognitive and practical skills to complete well-defined routine tasks and procedures.
Select and use relevant information.
Identify whether actions have been effective.
L2 Has knowledge and understanding of facts, procedures and ideas in an area of study or field of work to complete well-defined tasks and address straightforward problems.
Can interpret relevant information and ideas.
Is aware of a range of information that is relevant to the area of study or work.
Select and use relevant cognitive and practical skills to complete well-defined, generally routine tasks and address straightforward problems.
Identify, gather and use relevant information to inform actions.
Identify how effective actions have been.
L3 Has factual, procedural and theoretical knowledge and understanding of a subject or field of work to complete tasks and address problems that while well-defined, may be complex and non-routine.
Can interpret and evaluate relevant information and ideas.
Is aware of the nature of the area of study or work.
Is aware of different perspectives or approaches within the area of study or work.
Identify, select and use appropriate cognitive and practical skills, methods and procedures to address problems that while well-defined, may be complex and non-routine.
Use appropriate investigation to inform actions.
Review how effective methods and actions have been.
L4 Has practical, theoretical or technical knowledge and understanding of a subject or field of work to address problems that are well defined but complex and non-routine.
Can analyse, interpret and evaluate relevant information and ideas.
Is aware of the nature of approximate scope of the area of study or work.
Has an informed awareness of different perspectives or approaches within the area of study or work.
Identify, adapt and use appropriate cognitive and practical skills to inform actions and address problems that are complex and non-routine while normally fairly well-defined.
Review the effectiveness and appropriateness of methods, actions and results.
L5 Has practical, theoretical or technological knowledge and understanding of a subject or field of work to find ways forward in broadly defined, complex contexts.
Can analyse, interpret and evaluate relevant information, concepts and ideas.
Is aware of the nature and scope of the area of study or work.
Understands different perspectives, approaches or schools of thought and the reasoning behind them
Determine, adapt and use appropriate methods, cognitive and practical skills to address broadly defined, complex problems.
Use relevant research or development to inform actions.
Evaluate actions, methods and results.
L6 Has advanced practical, conceptual or technological knowledge and understanding of a subject or field of work to create ways forward in contexts where there are many interacting factors.
Understands different perspectives, approaches or schools of thought and the theories that underpin them.
Can critically analyse, interpret and evaluate complex information, concepts and ideas.
Determine, refine, adapt and use appropriate methods and advanced cognitive and practical skills to address problems that have limited definition and involve many interacting factors.
Use and, where appropriate, design relevant research and development to inform actions.
Evaluate actions, methods and results and their implications.
L7 Reformulates and uses practical, conceptual or technological knowledge and understanding of a subject or field of work to create ways forward in contexts where there are many interacting factors.
Critically analyses, interprets and evaluates complex information, concepts and theories to produce modified conceptions.
Understands the wider contexts in which the area of study or work is located.
Understands current developments in the area of study or work.
Understands different theoretical and methodological perspectives and how they affect the area of study or work.
Use specialised skills to conceptualise and address problematic situations that involve many interacting factors.
Determine and use appropriate methodologies and approaches.
Design and undertake research, development or strategic activities to inform or produce change in the area of work or study.
Critically evaluate actions, methods and results and their short- and long-term implications.
L8 Develops original practical, conceptual or technological understanding to create ways forward in contexts that lack definition and where there are many complex, interacting factors.
Critically analyses, interprets and evaluates complex information, concepts and theories to produce new knowledge and theories.
Understands and reconceptualises the wider contexts in which the field of knowledge or work is located.
Extends a field of knowledge or work by contributing original knowledge and thinking.
Exercises critical understanding of different theoretical and methodological perspectives and how they affect the field of knowledge or work.
Use advanced and specialised skills and techniques to conceptualise and address problematic situations that involve many complex, interacting factors.
Formulate and use appropriate methodologies and approaches.
Initiate, design and undertake research, development or strategic activities that extend or produce significant change in the field of work or study.
Critically evaluate actions, methods and results and their short- and long-term implications for the field of work or knowledge and its wider context.

Guidance on level and level descriptors

  1. General Condition E9.3(c) allows us to specify guidance to which an awarding organisation must have regard when assigning –
    1. (a) a level to a qualification
    2. (b) more than one level to a qualification
    3. (c) a level to a Component of a qualification
  2. We set out our guidance for the purposes of Condition E9.3(c) below.

Who can use the level descriptors?

The level descriptors must be used by awarding organisations when they are assigning a level to a qualification and a Component of a qualification. Level descriptors can also be used by –

  • students and other users – to understand and interpret the level of qualifications,
  • anyone who wants to understand more about the difference between and relative demand of qualifications at different levels.

How should awarding organisations use the level descriptors?

Awarding organisations should look at the range of level descriptors and identify the descriptor (or where the qualification will have more than one level, the descriptors) which provides the best match with the intended knowledge and skills outcomes for their qualification. Once the awarding organisation has designed the qualification, they could look at the descriptor for the level above and below the proposed level for the qualification and compare the knowledge and skills descriptors for each level with the knowledge, skills and understanding which the holder of the qualification is expected to demonstrate. The fit does not have to be perfect; qualifications might naturally have a more knowledge- or skills-based focus and so will be a better fit with the knowledge or skills descriptor as appropriate.

Awarding organisations can also look at a range of other material to support the selection of the most appropriate level for their qualification including other qualifications at a range of levels, benchmark and content statements and agreed industry statements.

Awarding organisations and users should not expect all qualifications to meet the relevant level descriptor in full. It would not be unusual for smaller qualifications to cover only some of the characteristics set out in the descriptor whereas bigger qualifications, typically taken over a longer period, are more likely to feature more of the characteristics. The descriptors set out what the typical holder of a qualification at that level will know and be able to do based on the best-fit approach described above.

Awarding organisations and users should not expect all of a qualification’s content and assessment to be at the level the learner is expected to reach on conclusion of the qualification. This will be particularly true of qualifications delivered over a longer period and which are designed to enable the learner to progress from one level to another within the qualification. In assigning a level to a qualification the awarding organisation should have regard to the amount of content and assessment at the level of the qualification and to the learner’s increased ability as the learner approaches the end of the qualification.

How will Ofqual use the descriptors?

We will use the descriptors to inform our review process, particularly when we are exploring how awarding organisations check and verify the given level of their qualification with these descriptors for that level.