About Awarding Bodies & qualifications

About Awarding Bodies & qualifications

What are awarding bodies, awarding organisations and exam boards?

These are all different terms that are used to describe the role of an organisation than designs, develops, delivers and awards the recognition of learning outcomes (knowledge, skills and/or competences) of an individual following an assessment and quality assurance process that is valued by employers, learners or stakeholders.

These organisations can be registered charities, chartered institutes, commercial businesses, employers who have established their own awarding body, small sector specific bodies or large cross-sectoral bodies.   

They are experts in developing high quality qualifications that meet the needs of employers and learners.  They approve centres and work with them to ensure high quality delivery of qualifications and they carry out activity designed to assure the quality of the qualifications awarded.  They also develop innovative products and services to support their centres and learners.

Many awarding bodies (over 160) in the UK are recognised by Ofqual (for England), CCEA (for Northern Ireland), Welsh Government (for Wales) and/or SQA (for Scotland).

In England and Northern Ireland recognised awarding bodies must meet the Conditions of Recognition. Guidance on how to meet these conditions can be found on Ofqual's website for England and CCEA's website for Northern Ireland.

In Scotland recognised awarding bodies must meet SQA’s Regulatory Principles and Directives. Further information on meeting these requirements can be found on SQA's website.

For many awarding bodies, recognition by one of the UK regulators will be the appropriate quality mark for their organisation. For others it might be QAA, ISO or oversight by a professional regulator.

What are qualifications?

A qualification gives a reliable indication of an individual learner’s knowledge, skills or understanding and are only awarded to a learner who has demonstrated that they have a specified level of attainment through a reliable assessment method. A certificate naming the qualification is awarded to a successful learner.

When an awarding organisation is simply certificating attendance at an event, or is not otherwise make a judgement about a learner’s knowledge, skills or understanding, it is not awarding a qualification.

Vocational qualifications are all about the world of work, across the full range of jobs, industries and professions.  They are commonly described as professional or technical qualifications.

They are all the qualifications that are not GCSEs and A levels (GCEs) which are known as academic or general qualifications.  

This means that there are a number of different types of vocational qualifications including professional body qualifications, a licence to practice in a particular job role and/or industry, those demonstrating competence in a particular job role or an introduction to an industry or to the world of work.

They are done by people of all ages in a school, college, the workplace, with training providers or working at home on their own.

Some may involve a single day′s training and others may take two years full time study to achieve. In every case, the qualification will set out the things that a learner should know or be able to do. When a learner has done this to the required standard the awarding body will issue a qualification certificate.

A qualification sets out what an individual needs to know or be able to do in order to be given (awarded) that qualification.  Most vocational qualifications are made up of a number of units of learning, each one covering a specific area or topic.  In some qualifications, particularly the smaller ones, a learner may have to do all of the units to get the qualification.  In the majority of vocational qualifications some of these units will be required units (mandatory) and there will be number of other units to choose from (optional).

Each unit has a number of statements that set out what the learner needs to know or be able to do. These are called the learning outcomes and they are checked (assessed) in a number of different ways. It might involve an on-line test, an observation of what the learner is doing, a written assignment, project work, an exam or compiling a portfolio of evidence demonstranting what the learning knows or can do.

Qualifications are respected by learners, employers, further and higher education and many others. Awarding bodies are responsible for ensuring that the quality of their qualifications is maintained at a high level.

Quality assurance is built in throughout the life of a qualification. As they are writing a qualification, an awarding body has to check it out with teachers, subject specialists, employers and others.  Before it is sent to the regulator, the awarding body has to make sure that the qualification meets certain technical rules and employers and others support the qualification. 

The assessments are crucial to the quality of the qualification and need to be rigorously checked. If the awarding body writes and arranges the assessment, for example an examination, they will have lots of internal checks. The examiners marking the exams will have their marking checked by senior subject experts and staff in the awarding body.  Most vocational qualifications are assessed by the staff in the school, college or training provider (i.e. the Centre) where a learner is studying. The awarding body will check that these assessment decisions are correct in a number of ways. One of the most common ways is for the awarding body to appoint a subject expert to visit the centre.

The details of the qualification will all be set out in a document usually referred to as the specification.

Awarding bodies will have details of all of the qualifications that they offer on their websites.

Regulated qualifications are listed on the websites of the qualification regulators. The most comprehensive list is the Ofqual Register which has a searchable database of all qualifications that are regulated in England.