What is a Higher Technical Qualification?

Higher Technical Qualifications are level 4 or 5 qualifications that have been quality marked by the Institute to indicate their alignment to employer-led occupational standards. New or existing level 4 or 5 qualifications submitted to the Institute’s approvals process will receive a quality-mark if the qualification satisfies our approvals criteria. Higher Technical Qualifications align to existing occupational standards, and allow learners to enter their chosen profession or progress onto higher education.

1. Purpose of the guidance

This guidance has been developed for applicants intending to submit level 4 or 5 qualifications for approval by the Institute.

This guidance will explain:

  • qualifications in scope of the approvals process
  • approvals criteria against which qualifications will be assessed
  • process for approval, including the roles of different groups in the process
  • application form and the supporting evidence required
  • terms and conditions for approval
  • criteria to decide whether copyright in key course documents should transfer to the Institute on approval
  • customer journey for applicants
  • plans for future approval

The Institute commits to:

  • provide written guidance online and through webinars on the approvals process 
  • deliver an efficient process and minimise the administrative burden
  • promptly respond to queries as they arise during the development of your submissions
  • keep you updated at each stage of the approvals process so you can track the progress of your submission
  • review each stage of the process with participating applicants, listening to your experiences and suggestions with a view to improving the approach for future approvals

2. Purpose of Reforms

There is a growing demand for skills at levels 4 and 5 from employers and learners. The number of learners taking qualifications at level 4 and 5 is low compared to other countries and other levels of education.

In July 2020, the government published its plans for the future of higher technical education at level 4 and 5 in England. These plans set out the government’s ambition to increase the number of learners at level 4 and 5, and the supply of much-needed skills, to raise productivity and prosperity. This will be achieved through three key reforms:

  • ensuring qualifications are prestigious and meet employer needs through an Institute-led national approvals process backed by a new quality mark for level 4 and 5 qualifications
  • ensuring that courses and providers delivering the approved qualifications are high-quality
  • developing level 4 and 5 qualifications as an attractive choice for learners and employers. This includes raising the profile and understanding of higher technical education courses through the quality-mark, a communications campaign and improvements to information, advice, and guidance

The Department for Education’s Role

The Department for Education is responsible for developing the policy for the reforms to higher technical education and qualification funding. The department also has responsibility for increasing the prestige of higher technical provision through the promotion of the quality-mark and communications material, as well as through improving information, advice, and guidance.

The Institute’s Role

The Institute is an independent, employer-led organisation with a vision for a world-leading technical education system that equips people from all backgrounds for skilled occupations, contributing to increased economic productivity. Our core purpose is to develop, approve, review, and where necessary, revise high-quality apprenticeships and technical education with employers.

For Higher Technical Qualifications, we have put in place an employer-led approvals process, building on our experience and expertise of approving apprenticeships and T Levels. We will compare the qualifications submitted to employer-designed occupational standards which set out the knowledge, skills and behaviours an individual should achieve to be deemed competent in an occupation. Where a qualification is aligned to the standard, meets any relevant regulatory requirements, and provides the knowledge, skills and behaviours for entry into the occupation it will be approved by the Institute to use the quality mark.  

The approval of Higher Technical Qualifications will initially be organised on a route-by-route basis. The first approval process started in September 2020 and focused on qualifications that aligned to occupations in the digital route. The first digital Higher Technical Qualifications will be taught from September 2022. Information on the 15 routes to skilled employment and the occupations they contain can be found on the occupational maps.

We have used the experience of first approvals on the digital route to refine and evolve the process ahead of future cycles. Cycle 2 includes digital, construction and health & science.  Cycle 3 will add legal & finance, engineering & manufacturing, business & administration and education & childcare routes.  A full schedule covering all remaining routes will be published in due course. The approvals process will run on an annual basis once the initial rollout of routes is complete.   

3. Qualifications in scope

Why submit a qualification for approval?

There is a growing demand for skills at levels 4 and 5 from employers and learners. Securing the approval of your qualification will enable you to use a quality mark leading to:

  • higher demand from providers, employers and learners looking for the most occupationally relevant, reliable and up-to-date content
  • employer recognition and increased prestige for the qualification
  • increased value of the qualification in the market

Qualifications in scope

Background

The Institute groups similar occupations that can be accessed by technical education into 15 routes to skilled employment and represents them on occupational maps. For most occupations on the maps, there is an employer designed standard which sets out all the knowledge, skills and behaviours required to become fully competent. The first Higher Technical Qualifications approved aligned with digital occupations.  The current routes for approval are digital, construction and health & science. These will be followed by engineering & manufacturing, legal & finance, business & administration and education & childcare in 2022. The 2022 application window is open from 16th February to 29th July.

Occupations without standards

If you have a qualification that aligns to an occupation that is not included in the occupational maps, we want to know. If the identified occupation meets our criteria we will work with you and relevant employers to develop a standard.

Please contact Enquiries.IFA@education.gov.uk to discuss new occupations.

4. Rollout of Routes

For the first four cycles of the approvals process the Institute will gradually add routes to the approvals process. The first cycle covered the digital route, and the second cycle covered digital, construction, health & science. Cycle 3 will cover digital, construction, health & science, business & admin, education & childcare, engineering & manufacturing, and legal, finance & accounting.

Cycle 4 will launch in 2023 for first teaching from 2025 and cover standards in

  • Agriculture, Environmental & Animal Care;
  • Catering & Hospitality;
  • Creative & Design;
  • Hair & Beauty; and
  • All cycle two and three routes

There will be annual opportunities to submit new and existing qualifications for approval, once the relevant route has been launched. We are considering the addition of further routes and would welcome views from interested parties on this.

Future opportunities for approval

We will provide applicants with the timelines for future cycles as soon as possible to give them maximum time to align their qualifications to available standards within the relevant routes.

To prepare for submission we urge you to begin aligning your qualification to the relevant standard’s KSBs and review your qualification’s content and assessment to ensure they are in the best position to be approved.

We will continue to ensure that the most up to date standards are available on our website and will keep you updated on any revisions.    

Support and resources are available to support applicants in making their applications.

5. Cycle 3 standards in Scope and timeline

We are pleased to announce that the next approvals window for Higher Technical Qualifications will open on 16 February 2022 and close on 29 July 2022. This approvals cycle will cover:

  • Business and administration
  • Construction
  • Digital
  • Education and childcare
  • Engineering and manufacturing
  • Health & science
  • Legal, finance & accounting

Further information and timelines will be communicated shortly. In the meantime, we strongly recommend applicants begin aligning their qualifications to occupational standards ahead of the window opening. We encourage applicants to book support sessions prior to submitting their application.

You can find further information on available support on our support and resources page. Please email the approvals team for further information, guidance, or support.

Below is a list of standards in scope for cycle 3 of the Higher Technical Qualification approvals process.

We are open to considering applications for L4 / 5 standards not listed here. Please contact the HTQ team if you are considering submitting a qualification against a standard not listed below, and we will be happy to discuss the case with you. Some of the standards not listed here are under-going review or have reviews scheduled to start during cycle 3.

Business and Administration

  • Coaching Professional (level 5) (ST0809)
  • Information Manager (level 4) (ST0762)
  • Learning and development consultant business partner (level 5) (ST0563)
  • Operations or departmental manager (level 5) (ST0385)
  • School Business Professional (level 4) (ST0575)

Construction

  • BEMS (Building energy management systems) controls engineer (level 4) (ST0629)
  • Construction design and build technician (level 4) (ST0043)
  • Construction quantity surveying technician (level 4) (ST0049)
  • Construction site supervisor (level 4) (ST0048)
  • Facilities manager (level 4) (ST0484)

Digital

  • Business analyst (level 4) (ST0117)
  • Cyber-security technologist (level 4) (ST1021)
  • Data analyst (level 4) (ST0118)
  • DevOps engineer (level 4) (ST0825)
  • Digital accessibility specialist (level 4) (ST0863)
  • Digital community manager (level 4) (ST0345)
  • Network engineer (level 4) (ST0127)
  • Software developer (level 4) (ST0116)
  • Software tester (level 4) (ST0129)

Education and Childcare

  • Level 5 Early Years Lead Practitioner (level 5) (ST0551)

Engineering and Manufacturing

  • Brewer (level 4) (ST0580)
  • Engineer Surveyor (level 4) (ST0847)
  • Engineering Manufacturing Technician (level 4) (ST0841)
  • Food and Drink Engineer (level 5) (ST0624)
  • Process leader (level 4) (ST0695)
  • Vehicle Damage Assessor (level 4) (ST0406)

Health & Science

  • Associate ambulance practitioner (level 4) (ST0287)
  • Associate continuing healthcare practitioner (level 5) (ST0786)
  • Clinical dental technician (Integrated) (level 5) (ST0543)
  • Dental technician (integrated) (level 5) (ST0108)
  • Health play specialist (level 5) (ST0829)
  • Healthcare assistant practitioner (level 5) (ST0215)
  • Hearing aid dispenser (level 5) (ST0600)
  • Mammography associate (level4) (ST0583)
  • Nursing associate (NMC 2018) (level 5) (ST0827)
  • Oral health practitioner (level 4) (ST0542)
  • Sports coach (level 4) (ST0770)

Legal, finance and accounting

  • Internal Audit Practitioner (level 4) (ST0587)
  • Investment Operations Specialist (level 4) (ST0180)
  • Payroll Assistant Manager (level 4) (ST0869)

6. Statutory regulators and regulatory bodies

Ofqual and Office for Students role

The Institute will only accept qualifications recognised by Ofqual or the Office for Students (OfS). Both organisations will continue to perform their respective regulatory functions in regard to applicants and qualifications (where relevant). In addition, they will provide advice, where appropriate, to the Institute as part of the approvals process. The Institute will make the final approval decisions. 

Statutory Regulated Occupations

To practice in some occupations (professions) it is a legal requirement for individuals to be registered with a statutory regulator. Registration with the statutory regulator is required for the individual to practice in their chosen occupation on completion of their studies.

Applicants submitting qualifications against statutory regulated occupations (as specified in the relevant occupational standard) must be recognised/registered by the relevant statutory regulator prior to submission. When submitting your application, you will be asked to provide Statutory Regulator recognition/registration numbers for your Institution and/or the qualification you are submitting, where relevant. We will not approve qualifications submitted against statutory regulated occupations (as specified in the relevant occupational standard) where the applicant and/or submitted qualification is not recognised/registered by the relevant statutory regulator prior to submission. As part of the HTQ application process the relevant statutory regulator may advise us about any relevant ongoing or impending regulatory action into a relevant qualification, Awarding Organisation, Higher Education provider or Higher Education Institution. When making approvals decisions, the Institute will have regard to this advice.

The Institute will also engage with professional bodies that grant voluntary membership with the aim of aligning broader professional requirements with approved HTQs where possible.

Office of the Independent Adjudicator

The Office of the Independent Adjudicator (OIA) is an independent body set up to review student complaints about higher education providers in England and Wales. The 2004 Act defines the higher education providers that are required to be members of the OIA’s Scheme. Other higher education organisations can also apply to become members if they are a body delivering higher education courses or awarding higher education qualifications. Those required to be members of the OIA scheme include;

  • Universities;
  • ‘Higher education institutions’;
  • Providers with courses designated for student support funding;
  • Providers on the Office for Students Register; and,
  • Providers who provide higher education courses leading to the grant of an award by another OIA member.

Although OIA membership is not required for awarding organisations that are not part of the categories above, they may still voluntarily apply to join the scheme as organisations delivering higher education qualifications. The Department for Education has previously signalled as part of its Reforming Higher Education consultation response that it expects all applicants and providers which own an approved Higher Technical Qualification to join the OIA scheme. In line with this, and as part of the Institute’s role in improving the quality of level 4 and 5 qualifications, we encourage awarding organisations to sign up to the OIA, to provide a consistent approach for complaints from students. Please contact the OIA for further information about joining the Scheme in this way