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Ofqual - Office of Qualifications and Examinations Regulation

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Information for:

Vocational Qualifications (VQs)

What are Vocational Qualifications (VQs)?

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VQs are vocational qualifications which are designed to allow learners to learn in a way that suits them, and give learners the skills that employers are looking for. Occupational VQs are designed to meet the national occupational standards (NOS) for a particular sector/work place and employers rely on these qualifications for evidence that an employee is competent to carry out the job.

NOS are set by Sector Skills Councils (SSCs) and industry and they define the competency requirements employers in a particular sector, such childcare or retail, expect employees to demonstrate when carrying our particular jobs at work. VQs are often designed to prepare learners to be able to carry out a job role or to confirm competence of doing that role in the workplace.

Vocationally-related qualifications (VRQs) may not be based on the national occupational standards and can be designed to allow learners access to further/higher education and/or the workplace. Some VRQs are technical certificates which assess the knowledge requirements of apprenticeships.

Further information on National Vocational Qualifications (NVQs) is available on our website.

What are our responsibilities in relation to vocational qualifications?

Ofqual regulates vocational qualifications in England and Northern Ireland. Ofqual's objectives are defined in the Apprenticeship, Skills, Children and Learning Act 2009. One of these objectives, the qualifications standards objective requires Ofqual to ensure that vocational qualifications that are awarded in England and Northern Ireland i) give a reliable indication of knowledge, skills and understanding, and ii) indicate a consistent level of attainment (including over time) between comparable regulated qualifications.

How are vocational qualifications developed and regulated?

An awarding organisation will first need to be recognised to offer particular qualification types, such as vocational credit-based qualifications on the Qualifications and Credit Framework (QCF).

The Qualifications and Credit Framework (QCF) is a new way of recognising skills and qualifications. It does this by awarding credit for qualifications and units (small steps of learning). It enables learners to gain qualifications at their own pace along flexible routes. Read more about the QCF.

The regulators for England, Wales and Northern Ireland (Ofqual, DCELLS and CCEA) carefully review applications for recognition to ensure organisations have the necessary governance, resource, expertise, systems and processes in place to develop, assess and award VQs in a valid, reliable and consistent way.

Once recognised, awarding organisations are free to design vocational qualifications and submit these to the regulators for regulation. Awarding organisations often design these qualifications to be based on industry requirements. This includes both the design of unit content, such as knowledge and/or skills and evidence requirements, and also qualification structure, such as mandatory and optional pathways.

We review the proposed qualifications to determine that they meet regulatory requirements and have the support of the SSC before accrediting the qualification. Once the qualification is accredited the qualification will appear on The Register of Regulated Qualifications, the funding agency will determine what funding arrangements apply and the awarding organisation will provide its centres with the necessary information, guidance and training to allow the qualification to be delivered to learners.

Regulation of Vocational Qualifications

How does Ofqual ensure vocational qualifications are fit for purpose?

Ofqual ensures vocational qualifications are fit for purpose through its Risk Management and Monitoring work.

How do we risk manage vocational qualifications?

To ensure vocational qualifications are trusted, valued and reliable and learners interests are protected we consider carefully what the threats are to VQs. We gather information from a variety of sources and draw conclusions about levels of risk to particular qualifications. We then use this information to inform decisions about which qualifications we monitor and in what way.

Risk management in Vocational Qualifications

How do we monitor vocational qualifications?

Using a similar risk-based approach, we monitor awarding organisations that offer vocational qualifications to ensure that they have systems and procedures in place to deliver qualifications to meet the statutory requirements, including the QCF regulatory arrangements.

We monitor qualifications to ensure they give a reliable indication of knowledge, skills and understanding and are comparable. We do this using a variety of methods that may include visiting an awarding organisation to audit their systems and procedures, gathering stakeholder views, observing standard setting and quality assurance arrangements, reviewing information contained in self evaluation reports, analysing assessment requirements and/or reviewing learners' work and conducting comparability reviews of a number of qualifications that are based on the same national occupational standards. We monitor QCF units and qualifications to ensure they meet regulatory requirements.

What happens if we find out a vocational qualification needs more work?

Where Ofqual identifies an area for improvement, we require the awarding organisation to submit an action plan to us outlining how and by when the organisation intends to make the required improvements. We then monitor the awarding organisation's progress against the action plan to ensure its successful completion.

Which groups do we work with?

Ofqual is working with representatives from awarding organisations, the Sector Skills Councils, further/higher education, Ofsted, BIS, DfE, employers and providers to ensure that vocational qualifications are fit for purpose.

How do we ensure we talk to our partners?

We are setting up a regular programme of meetings with awarding organisations, Sector Skills Councils and other organisations affected by our activities. We also survey the views of centres and employers to determine if qualifications are meeting sector and learner needs.

What are we doing next?

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Ofqual will continue to monitor recognised organisations and the qualifications they offer. We publish the outcomes of our monitoring and the actions that awarding organisations are taking. Published reports are usually about the performance of awarding organisations delivering vocational qualifications or about the vocational qualifications themselves.

If you have any information that you believe would inform our monitoring programme, or wish to raise any concern about particular vocational qualifications, please contact us at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it