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Becoming a recognised awarding body

Last updated on: 11/03/2008

What are the first steps to become a recognised awarding body?

As a first step, you should follow the link to 'Becoming an awarding organisation' in the related links box. Here you will find The statutory regulation of external qualifications in England, Wales and Northern Ireland.
Consider the structure, policies and procedures that recognised awarding bodies are required to have and decide on the implications for your organisation. This should provide you with a strong indication of the feasibility of awarding body recognition.
If, having looked at the form, you are still interested in the awarding body route, the next step is to organise an early dialogue meeting at Ofqual. This would involve a member of the recognition and accreditation team and a sector or curriculum officer who specialises in your area of qualifications. This meeting will be used to assess the options open to you and the appropriate follow-up.
An early dialogue meeting can be arranged through contacting the Ofqual recognition and accreditation team.

How do I, as an awarding body, submit an application to become a recognised awarding body?

Once the early dialogue meeting and follow-up has taken place and you wish to aim for recognition, you need to complete and submit the awarding body recognition application form. This will require your organisation to submit all the required policies and procedures to the regulators for review. You need to demonstrate your ability to meet the key awarding body functions by producing the following 11 documents:

  • list of partnership/franchising/licensing agreement
  • organisation chart
  • details of committee structures
  • person specifications/job roles for key members of staff
  • equal opportunities policy
  • reasonable adjustments and special considerations policy and procedures
  • published customer service statement
  • sample certificate designs
  • malpractice procedures
  • appeals policy
  • a position statement on the use of Welsh and Irish.

When making an application, each awarding body is required to declare its plan of provision. This details which sector subject area, qualification type and level your proposed qualifications will sit at on the National Qualifications Framework. This determines the criteria your application needs to be reviewed against and, after recognition, controls the areas within which your awarding body can submit qualification proposals. Once recognised, awarding bodies are able to extend their plan of provision in line with their own qualification development by demonstrating access to the relevant resources to the regulatory authorities.
Finally, each submission needs to have a letter of support for your proposed qualifications from the relevant sector skills council or other industry body. This will be discussed at the early dialogue meeting.
It will benefit your application if you contact the regulators about two weeks before you are ready to submit your application. This will allow us to confirm that you have the correct documentation and that a reviewer is in place to look at your form.
Please contact the Ofqual recognition and approvals team for further information at any stage of the process.

How long does the application process for becoming an awarding body take?

Once we have received your application we will review and return it within 35 working days along with a recommendation of whether or not to continue with the application. If this recommendation is negative, we will work with your organisation towards other acceptable possibilities. If this recommendation is positive, the application will continue until the regulators are satisfied that all the requirements are in place. In both instances detailed feedback will be provided in the checklist at the back of the form, stating whether the relevant criteria have been met and with a clear explanation of the review’s findings.
The time taken to complete a successful application will depend almost entirely on the ability of your organisation to change and meet the necessary requirements, which itself will be dependent on the similarity of your current operations to that of an awarding body. While all applications vary, most organisations take a minimum of six months to complete the process and it can take up to three years. All organisations interested in submitting an application should consider carefully how committed they are to making the changes required when their first application is returned to them.
It is also important to realise that organisations must have all the policies and procedures in place before they can be recognised as awarding bodies.

Is there a minimum size of awarding body?

In April 2006 there were 116 awarding bodies recognised to place qualifications on the National Qualifications Framework. Each one of these varies in size, scope and mode of operation. The statutory regulations state that there is no minimum size of awarding body so long as it is able to meet its commitments to learners and to fulfil the roles of an awarding body. The body must be able to cope with an increase and decrease in learner numbers and have contingency plans to cover staff illness or indisposition. In nearly every situation, awarding bodies need at least two full-time members of staff, one of whom takes responsibility as the single point of accountability.

How much does awarding body recognition cost?

There are no financial charges at any stage of the process. Any costs to an awarding body are those involved in having the resources in place to meet its criteria requirements to learners.

How can I work in partnership with an existing recognised awarding body?

Your organisation is free to approach any recognised awarding body to work in partnership with them to place your qualification onto the National Qualifications Framework. If such an agreement can be made it provides a quicker route to qualification accreditation than awarding body recognition.
By offering your qualifications through a partner awarding body, the regulators need no guarantees from your organisation of the policies and procedures in place. These assurances will instead be sought from the partner awarding body. There is a list of the existing recognised awarding bodies, including their contact details, available on the awarding body directory pages of the National Database of Accredited Qualifications.
There can be significant advantages to working in partnership with an existing recognised awarding body rather than seeking independent recognition. We recommend that all organisations strongly consider this.
It must be noted that qualifications accredited through a partnership arrangement will appear on the various registration databases under the name of the recognised awarding body. However, the marketing of the partner organisation is often done by the appearance of the logos of both organisations on candidates’ certificates. This marketing is down to negotiations between the organisations.
As awarding bodies vary in size, method of assessment and almost every other area of operation, we recommend that you approach several for negotiation. There is no requirement for organisations to work with awarding bodies in their own sector as the awarding body’s structures, policies and procedures are generic throughout sector areas. However, the awarding body may need to extend its plan of provision before it can submit qualifications for accreditation.

How are the regulators involved in partnerships between a partner organisation and a recognised awarding body?

The regulators are not involved in the negotiation between a partner organisation and a recognised awarding body. The nature of such agreements may vary enormously. The regulators cannot recommend one awarding body over another. Organisations such as sector skills councils may be able to suggest suitable partner organisations.
The negotiation of the partnership is:

  • private, between the two organisations involved
  • subject to different circumstances
  • outside the remit of the regulators.

The regulators of external qualifications - Ofqual, the Department for Children, Education, Lifelong Learning and Skills (DCELLS) in Wales and the Council for the Curriculum, Examinations and Assessment (CCEA) in Northern Ireland - do, however, need to know that learners taking the qualification will still receive the safeguards they would expect from any other accredited qualification. To this end, the awarding body in the partnership needs to provide the regulators with a copy of the partnership agreement, which clearly states where the division of responsibility for the qualification lies.

This is usually a summary of the remit between the two organisations and will guarantee the quality assurance of the qualification and the protection of learners should one organisation remove itself, either voluntarily or otherwise, from the partnership. Where the recognised awarding body does not quality assure the qualification itself but devolves this responsibility to the partner, it needs to conduct audits to ensure that proper quality assurance is taking place.