Core aim: Builds on the outcomes within an occupational standard and enables an individual to specialise in an occupation having achieved the specialist qualification in addition to their attainment of outcomes set out in the standard. 

Qualifications in this category may be approved under section A2D5 of the Apprenticeships, Skills, Children and Learning Act 2009 (ASCL 2009). 

The appropriate tests for this category is the ‘additional specialist competence test’ (in section A2D5 (4) of the ASCL 2009). This category will also be subject to the ‘employer demand test’ (in section A2D5 (3) of the ASCL 2009).

DfE 2025 to 2026 Qualification Funding Approval Manual.

 Qualifications in this category will be required to achieve the following purposes:  

The qualification will provide students with knowledge, skills and behaviours relevant to developing additional specialist competence in an occupation The qualification will provide employers with reliable evidence of a student’s attainment against occupational outcomes which form the minimum requirements for practice in a specialised role within the occupational area Where identified as required for employment or progression decisions*, the qualification will differentiate student achievement to support selection decisions The qualification will form part of an engaging course of learning and act as motivation for students to specialise within the occupational area The qualification will form part of an engaging course of learning for, and reflect the flexible learning requirements of, adult students** The qualification is a substantial part of a student’s course of study, with the option to be delivered alongside other qualifications 

 *By employers or providers for further or higher education. 

**Where designed primarily for 19+ students. 


1. Requirements to submit into this category

Regulation and recognition

  1. To submit qualifications to be considered for approval by IfATE applicants must ensure they are recognised by Ofqual to offer qualifications at level 3 in the associated sector subject area.
  2. Qualifications regulated by Ofqual and the organisations offering them are expected to be compliant with the General Conditions of Recognition as well as relevant qualification level conditions.
  3. Certain occupations are regulated by law which means that there is a legal requirement to have certain qualifications or experience (or meet an alternative condition or requirement) in order to undertake certain professional activities or use a protected title. Where a submitted qualification relates to an occupation which is regulated by law you must evidence that the relevant regulator agrees that the qualification must be obtained (along with any other conditions stipulated by the regulator) in order for an individual to practise in the occupation.
  4. As part of the application process, Ofqual may inform IfATE of any relevant ongoing or impending regulatory action into a relevant qualification or applicant. When making approvals decisions, IfATE will have regard to this information. 
  5. IfATE are likely to withhold making a final approval decision satisfied  that any relevant ongoing or impending regulatory action has concluded. When making our decision about whether to withhold a decision we will consider the specific circumstances of the case. This will include the nature of the regulatory action and the timeframes anticipated for any regulatory action to be resolved as well as any other relevant information from applicants, regulators and other stakeholders. We will also take into account our wider statutory duties to have regard to (amongst other things) the quality of training and the reasonable requirements of employers and learners. 
  6. Once regulatory action has concluded IfATE will decide whether or not to proceed with the approvals process, and if it does so, will apply the criteria set out on this page.



  1. Qualifications for approval in this category must be submitted into an appropriate Cycle as indicated by IfATE.
  2. Submissions will only be accepted into Cycles in which both the category of qualification and Route of the aligned occupational standard(s) are indicated as in scope for approval.
  3. Submissions into this category must build upon outcomes in a published occupational standard(s) at level 3. We will only accept submissions of level 3 qualifications.  
  4. Where not aligned to a pre-defined list, qualifications within this Category will require submission of a proposal prior to proceeding to full submission.
  5. Qualifications submitted for approval must adhere to IfATE’s qualification titling requirements
  6. All submissions must be made using the technical qualification application form with applicants selecting the correct qualification category and answering all subsequent questions within the form. 
  7. In the technical qualification application form, the applicant must clearly identify the level 3 occupational standard(s) the qualification builds upon. 
  8. Alongside the information requested within the application form, applicants are required to submit (by upload to the form) the following materials to IfATE for their application to be reviewed for approval within this category: 
  • employer engagement rationale and evidence pack
  • qualification specification
  • content overview spreadsheet which shows the structure of the qualification and how the content and assessment methods in the qualification cover the KSBs and specialist duties, as well as a rationale for any additional content. 
  • assessment strategy
  • sample assessment materials
  • for DfE funding approval decisions to be made, applicants will also be required to provide (within the form) evidence of demand for the qualification from colleges and other training organisations that have a ESFA funding agreement

Failure to complete and submit all requisite documents will render the submission invalid until such a time that all materials are received by IfATE.

Additional category information: 

In some instances, qualifications approved in this category may have been developed to satisfy emerging skills needs which are regarded as a specialism within current occupations. Over the course of time, such skills may emerge as common place within the core occupation. IfATE work continuously to update our employer-led occupational standards and, where a skill becomes common place within an occupation, our standards will be updated to reflect this. When such skills become integrated into an occupational standard, IfATE may in turn look to re-examine the approval status of any additional specialist qualifications associated with the standard; reviewing if the qualification is still delivering against the stated core aim and purposes of the additional specialist category. When reviewing this, IfATE will also examine whether there is still employer demand for employees who have obtained the qualification, given the changes to the occupational standard. The outcome of these reviews will result in IfATE communicating our findings as to whether employers and providers still recognise and have demand for the stand-alone specialist offer.  

IfATE will engage with awarding bodies throughout this process to explain any changes that might be required for the qualification to retain approval (in this category or another) or, in the event that we do not believe a qualification can be suitably altered and/or there is no longer employer demand for employees who have obtained the qualification, to confirm a date for the removal of IfATE approval from the qualification. 


2. Proposal stage – submission requirements:

Level 3 specialist qualifications that are not developed based on areas specified within a pre-defined list (but which build upon standards in scope of the Cycle) will be required to first be submitted to IfATE as a qualification proposal.

The intention of this proposal stage is to to provide applicants with provisional views on the qualification they intend to develop for submission to IfATE. As part of this, IfATE will assess the proposal, providing a provisional view on the likely demand for the qualification within the route area and outlining any significant issues that would likely need to be overcome or addressed in respect of employer demand if the qualification was submitted for approval and considered as part of the full approval process.

The proposal stage also allows IfATE to review the duties applicants intend to target through their qualification offer, enabling us to provide comment/feedback in relation to these, as appropriate. Duties describe what someone in the occupation ‘usually’ does in the workplace. They are sometimes called competences or activities. They should be distinct and complete activities. They are what you would find listed in a job description. A duty may be a workplace requirement such as planning inclusive education, training and assessment for individuals and groups.

Duties typically:

  • define the activities that a competent person will carry out in a specific occupation
  • require the application of specific knowledge and skills
  • are distinct and complete activities, rather than individual tasks
  • can be compared with the essential criteria in a job description; for example:
  • manage a complex project to competing deadlines
  • conduct planned equipment maintenance.

Where IfATE raises concerns about the proposed duties as part of their proposal response, it is expected that applicants act upon these concerns prior to full submission of their materials. This will primarily relate to instances in which IfATE has raised concerns that the duties proposed to be covered by the qualification would be unlikely to enable a person to work within a specialised area of an occupation.

Applicants will not be asked to develop a suite of qualification materials to submit as part of the proposal. Where the proposal relates to a pre-existing qualification for which the applicant wishes to seek approval, IfATE does not require that existing qualification materials are submitted as part of the proposal stage. 

Applicants must complete the proposal stage form with details of the qualification name, route, and the relevant occupational standard which the proposed qualification builds on. Applicants will also be required to specify the duties required for competent practice in the specialist area, providing evidence of the need for said duties. 

Proposals should be submitted during the cycle's designated proposals window. If you have any queries about the window deadline, please email us.


3. Full submission - How we will apply our tests

For each document submitted by an applicant in support of the qualification’s approval, IfATE will apply the additional specialist competence test. This will be applied along with the employer demand test which IfATE uses to establish the likely demand for a student who has achieved the qualification. The criteria for approval will be set out in full below to ensure applicants are aware of the specific focuses of the tests IfATE will apply. It is important to note that IfATE will also receive feedback on the submission from Ofqual when reviewing and approving technical qualifications. It is the intention that applicants will only need to submit one set of documents to satisfy the reviews of IfATE, Ofqual and DfE. 


4. Employer Engagement

Employer engagement criteria - what your application must demonstrate 

All applications provided to IfATE must demonstrate: 

  1. That they can credibly evidence that a range of employer representatives were consulted during the design and development (or redevelopment) of the content and assessment of the qualification. 
  2. That there is evidence of employer demand for the specialist duties covered by the qualification. Where pre-defined or agreed via the proposal stage, applicants can use IfATE pre-defined list and/or proposal stage response as evidence of demand for duties. 
  3. That the applicant has substantiated how employer engagement has impacted design decisions, including any changes made to qualification and/or assessment design. 
  4. That the applicant has gathered a range of reliable evidence, which could be both qualitative and quantitative, which assures IfATE of employer demand for the qualification. This may include desk research conducted in lieu of direct engagement with employers, for example reference to Local Skills Improvement Plans (LSIPs) or labour market data.  
  5. That a suitable range and number of employers agree that there is labour market demand for a student who has achieved the qualification. Evidence of historic demand collected 2+ years prior to submission of the qualification for approval will not be considered. 
  6. That the applicant has considered future skills needs when developing their qualification content, especially in the development of ‘additional content’. 
  7. That the applicant has a plan in place for future employer reviews of the qualification, ensuring that it remains relevant and continues to fulfil sector needs (for example, by assisting the applicant in identifying actual or emerging skills gaps). 


Employer engagement documents - what you will provide: 

Applicants must submit an employer engagement rationale and evidence pack which details the evidence collected in the development of their application. This evidence pack must adhere to the following requirements: 

Through the rationale, IfATE expects applicants to demonstrate the following:

  1. A clear understanding of the industry area.
  2. The approach taken by the applicant, including an explanation as to how their understanding of the industry informed the approach.
  3. How they carried out this approach and the evidence it produced.
  4. How, within this approach, applicants balanced the need to engage employers directly with any desk research they have used to inform their qualification development.
  5. How the applicants ongoing approach to engagement will ensure the qualification remains current and valued by industry.

From the rationale, IfATE must be able to establish:

  1. What was the approach to engaging employers in the process and how has this approach ensured input from a range of employers?
  2. What direct interactions (for example, development days) did the applicant engage employers in?
  3. What materials were shared with employers and what questions were asked of them?
  4. What information / data did applicants access in lieu of direct employer engagement?
  5. What was the applicant’s approach to validating that there is employer demand for a student who obtained the qualification’s pass requirement?
  6. What actions have been taken to ensure that the qualification content, as far as possible, meets the future needs of employers?
  7. What plans are in place to ensure ongoing employer review and validation of the qualification materials?
  8. Why the applicant feels assured that the evidence collected is sufficient to satisfy the employer demand criteria?

The rationale must be accompanied by an evidence pack which is made up of a range of evidence, both qualitative and quantitative that substantiates the applicant's research and engagements.

As a minimum, the evidence pack must include the following:

  • details of all employers engaged by the applicant during the qualification design and validation process
  • samples of evidence which demonstrates how employer contributions have shaped the qualification design and development. Samples should demonstrate evidence that employers’ views have been sought during the design of the qualification and how these views have impacted the qualification’s design, for example, what changes were made because of employer feedback
  • samples of desk research evidence that was used to inform qualification development decisions
  • samples of evidence which demonstrates that  a suitable range and number of employers agree that there is a need for the qualification and content has been set at an appropriate level to ensure suitable/sufficient competence to specialise within the area
  • evidence of planned activities which will contribute to the ongoing currency of the submitted qualification

All employer evidence submitted must be clearly referenced in the rationale and, where relevant, should indicate clear links to content and assessment materials to which the evidence relates (for example, reference to a learning outcome within the qualification content). 

IfATE does not expect applicants to submit all evidence gathered in the development process as part of their evidence pack. Applicants should ensure they submit at least one piece of evidence to substantiate each collection and or analysis method described within the rationale (for example, development day notes, survey questions and responses, industry board notes etc.). Applicants are expected to hold the entirety of their employer engagement evidence on file for the lifetime of the qualification. Further evidence may be requested from the applicant if during the review process IfATE requires additional assurance to be able to make an approval decision, or as part of our ongoing oversight of the qualifications landscape.


Employer engagement supporting guidance for applicants 

Applicants could provide the following evidence to support their rationale that there is demand from employers for employees who have obtained the qualification:

  • qualification-specific student progression data demonstrating progression into relevant employment
  • jobs board data / Labour market information (LMI) 
  • information from IfATE publications / Local Skills Improvement Plans (LSIPs) Mayoral combined authorities (MCA) / Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) which demonstrate demand 
  • records collated from direct employer engagements, including associated decisions / actions 
  •  survey responses (including details of who the respondents represent, the materials shared with them)  
  • bespoke letters of endorsement / support from employers (including professional association bodies) summarising the reasons for their support 

Applicants could provide the following evidence to support their rationale that the assessment requirements are fit for purpose and support occupational entry (i.e., a student who achieved a pass grade would be deemed by employers to be eligible to enter the workforce): 

  • qualification specific student progression data demonstrating progression into relevant employment
  • records collated from direct employer engagements, including associated decisions / actions 
  • survey responses (including details of who the respondents represent, the materials shared with them) 
  • bespoke letters of endorsement / support from employers (including professional association bodies) summarising the reasons for their support  

Applicants could provide the following evidence to support their rationale that qualification standards will be maintained through continued employer engagement: 

  • details of planned qualification review cycles 
  • details of ongoing employer relationships (for example, regular review panels) 

To ensure the broadest possible endorsement of their qualification, applicants should, as far as possible, ensure they engage with a range of employers which is representative of the occupational area. This should include: 

  • employer/industry professional/representative bodies and providers with links to industry 
  • employers of different sizes, including SMEs  
  • regional and National employers
  • employers who represent the different contexts in which the occupation can be found

Applicants should provide details of the organisation, job role and general role requirements of the employers they engage. However, applicants should avoid submitting information or material that contains personal data unless it is strictly necessary to do so. They should ensure that the people whose personal data they are supplying have had adequate privacy information and that they have otherwise complied with the requirements of data protection law.

Where an individual or organisation engaged in the development or validation process has a vested interest / conflict of interest (for example, a commercial partnership with the applicant or an awarding body board member who also sits on a consulted employers board), this should be declared within the evidence submission. IfATE may disregard evidence, or lend less weight to it, where it considers that there is or may be a conflict of interest or the evidence provided is not otherwise objective and impartial.

Applicants should ensure that representatives of employers have experience that is suitable for the task requested of them, for example: 

  • technical experts: Applicants should engage those currently or recently working in the relevant occupation to provide direct input to the content and assessment of the qualification 
  • senior decision makers: Applicants should engage these individuals within employer organisations (for example, individuals responsible for hiring activities) when gathering evidence pertaining to the demand for the qualification, for example, the likelihood of employing an individual who has achieved the qualification

In some instances, employer representatives may satisfy both categories (technical expert and senior decision maker). In such instances awarding bodies should ensure it is sufficiently clear in their submission to IfATE that the individual has the credentials to comment on technical content, as well as student employment prospects. 

When providing evidence of interactions with employers (during the development process) and the decisions resulting from such interactions, applicants should avoid submitting exhaustive accounts (for example, transcripts) of their work with employers. Evidence submitted relating to direct interactions should focus on assuring IfATE of the following: 

  • that employers engaged through the process agree that the developed content is accurate, suitably covers the specialist duties and occupational KSBs, and is reflective of their needs
  • that any additional content added to the qualification (above and beyond that mapped to duties and KSBs) has utility within the occupational area
  • that the assessment tasks students will undertake are representative of realistic industry requirements and are likely to generate valid evidence of a student’s competence
  • that the expectations set for the pass grade is at a level which would indicate the attainment of specialist competence


5. Content Coverage and Mapping

Content coverage and mapping criteria - what your application must demonstrate 

All applications provided to IfATE must demonstrate: 

That the substantive element of the content produced is made up of: 

Specialist content mapped to new duties 

IfATE expect to observe that most of the content within the additional specialist offer corresponds with the specialist duties identified as in scope of the specialist area. These duties will usually be specified within IfATEs pre-defined list. 

Where a specialist duty is pre-defined by IfATE, or agreed via the proposal stage, IfATE will not require that applicants provide additional employer evidence of the need for the duty. 

Where not already agreed by IfATE (via the pre-defined or proposal stage), applicants will be required to provide suitable evidence within their employer evidence pack of the need for the newly identified duty within the specialist area. 

Applicants will not be required to provide justification for the inclusion of content mapped to pre-agreed duties. Applicants will however be required (within the mapping spreadsheet) to demonstrate coherent links between their content and the specialist duties by providing details of how the specific qualification outcome contributes to competent practice of the linked duty (for example, a student would be required to understand X concept in order to perform Y skills, which is a requirement of duty Z). 

IfATE recognise that additional duties may be identified as in scope during the development process. Where not already agreed by IfATE (via the pre-defined or proposal stage), applicants will be required to provide suitable evidence within their employer evidence pack of the need for any newly identified duties within the specialist area. As with pre-agreed duties, applicants will be required (within the mapping spreadsheet) to demonstrate coherent links between their content and the newly identified duties. 

Content mapped to pre-existing essential KSBs  

It is assumed that an individual undertaking an additional specialist qualification has already achieved competence within the core occupation. Therefore, we expect applicants to explain the inclusion of all content they map to knowledge and skills within the occupational standard as, in most cases, this would represent repeat learning/demonstration for a student and therefore should be avoided. 

IfATE expect to observe (within any rationale provided) that employers have indicated it essential to include, within the specialist offer, coverage of knowledge or skills present within the occupational standard. We expect that most of the knowledge or sills mapped content included by applicants will build upon the statement within the occupational standard.  

For behaviour statements, we expect that applicants look to embed behaviours from the built upon the core occupation. This is borne out of the understanding that behaviours from the core occupational area will also have application within the specialist extension of the occupation. We therefore require no explanation for the inclusion of content mapped to behaviours within the built upon occupational standard. 

Where an applicant does align content to KSBs within the built upon occupational standard, IfATE expect to observe evidence of the following: 

Knowledge statements: Where an applicant seeks to cover directly, IfATE expect knowledge statements to be fully covered (suitably elaborated) in the content of the qualification. Where an applicant builds on a knowledge statement, providing additional specialist knowledge above and beyond that intended within the standard, IfATE will consider partial coverage appropriate. In some instances, applicants may wish to partially cover a knowledge statement to set context for further learning (for example, inclusion of some aspects of health and safety requirements, but not all). In this event IfATE will accept partial coverage of outcomes within the qualification content. 

Skills statements: Where an applicant seeks to cover a skill statement directly, IfATE would usually expect a skill statement to be fully covered in the content of the qualification. Many skills can be obtained in a peer-to-peer setting, through simulation, scenario or other training devices without requiring an applied, clinical or specialist setting. Partial coverage of a skill statement will also be considered, taking into account factors such as access to specific technologies, training devices, setting, user groups. 

Behaviour statements: Where it is possible to fully cover a behaviour in a qualification, the applicant should seek to do so. IfATE does however recognise that it can be challenging for learners to fully attain behaviours through only studying a qualification in a course of education. For this reason, IfATE expect a minimum of partial coverage for behaviour statements to be achieved (for example, the inclusion of knowledge outcomes relating to the expected behaviour(s)). 

That any additional content included within the qualification has been developed in line with the purpose of the qualification and is demanded by employers in the specialist area: 

Additional content is made up of qualification outcomes that are not mapped to pre-agreed duties or KSBs within the built upon occupational standard. We may not approve a qualification if we have significant concerns about the amount of additional content and/or the relevance of additional content to the specialist area. A disproportionate amount of additional content may therefore impact the overall quality and/or credibility of the qualification with employers. We would therefore carefully consider our policy goals of improving quality and clarity in the technical education landscape, and our wider statutory duties when making an approval decision on qualifications containing significant amounts of additional content. 

For all additional content, applicants should ensure they provide detail of employer validation for each addition within the content mapping template. Where the applicant wishes to rely upon more substantive evidence pieces within their employer evidence submission, the applicant should provide clear reference (within the mapping template) to relevant sections of their evidence submission to allow IfATE to complete its requisite checks. 


Content coverage and mapping documents - what you will provide 

Applicants must provide, as part of their submission, a PDF of the Qualification Specification document containing within it content primarily consisting of content mapped to specialist duties identified as in scope of the specialist area. 

Applicants must use the mapping template provided with the online application form to show how the content and assessment methods in the qualification they are submitting for approval cover the KSBs and duties in scope of the specialist area. 

The qualification may also include content in addition to the above if the rationale submitted demonstrates that content is relevant to the specialist area and valuable to employers.  

Any content that does not align to the relevant occupational standard or specialist duties should be included in the additional content section of the application template. We expect the vast majority (substantive element) of the qualification to cover the duties identified as in scope of the specialist area. 

Additional content could include (but is not limited to): 

  • leading edge or innovative content, not currently specifically agreed by employers as part of the specialist area, but which could be valuable in future
  • content that adds value to learners’ employability, relevant to the specialist area, that does not fit within any of the above

Where additional content derives from an IfATE published framework (for example, Equity, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) framework) applicants will not be required to provide additional employer evidence for its inclusion. Applicants should however ensure that it is clear within their submission which IfATE publication additional content relates to. Where relevant, applicants should link to any publications or frameworks which informed their inclusion of the additional content. 


Content coverage and mapping supporting guidance for applicants 


Applicants are advised against submitting more than one qualification within the same specialist area unless there is evidence that specifically demonstrates employer need for this.  

Where applicants include content aligned to KSBs within the built upon occupational standard, applicants are expected to cover the relevant knowledge, skill or behaviour fully, although IfATE will consider partial coverage in some circumstances such as those detailed above. 

IfATE may consider an outcomes partially covered if the elaboration of the K,S or B within the qualification material does not fully meet the requirements stated within the occupational standard, for example, an awarding body including knowledge outcomes relating to teamwork to satisfy the skill statement ‘operate as part of a multi-functional team’ 

Where an application contains multiple occupational pathways, IfATE expect that where possible, these pathways are of comparable size to aid deliverability of the technical qualification. 

Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion 

All KSBs contained within IfATE approved occupational standards are developed and/or reviewed in line with our Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (EDI) framework. This framework acts to ensure that all occupational standards are developed and reviewed with essential EDI factors considered. It is IfATE’s expectation that awarding bodies ensure that, through their own development processes, they also ensure that EDI factors are considered when producing their qualification content. 

Adult Design Principles 

In addition to these requirements for content, the DfE set out intentions in its consultation response (July 2021, Question 21) that, in order to ensure accessibility for all adults, technical education qualifications intended for delivery to adult learners (and the processes which underpin their delivery) should be designed to allow for modular delivery and the recognition of prior learning (RPL). IfATE agree that these elements may help adults access opportunities to reskill or upskill, allowing them to fit study around existing responsibilities such as work or caring.  

Accordingly, applicants may, where appropriate, design their qualifications in such a way as to lend themselves to modular delivery of content. This can be done in several ways to aid the flexibility of teaching and learning, and applicants should consider elements which may impact a provider’s ability to provide modular delivery of the content in their qualification. 

It is also advised that applicants ensure they have in place a suitable RPL policy and process to recognise prior learning and reduce the duplication of content for adult students. Any RPL arrangements put in place by an awarding body must comply with Ofqual general condition E10. 


6. Assessment

Applicants must submit an assessment strategy and sample assessment materials that substantiate their approach to the assessment design, delivery and awarding of the qualification.

Criteria - What your application must demonstrate

All applications provided to IfATE must demonstrate.

  1. That the assessments in the qualification are agreed by a suitable range and number of employers as fit for purpose to assess the content defined within the qualification.
  2. That the qualification successfully balances the requirements of manageability, validity, reliability, comparability, and minimising bias.
  3. That assessments meet with requirements set out by Ofqual within their General Conditions of Recognition and relevant qualification level conditions. IfATE will have regard to Ofqual’s feedback on the submission when making our approval decisions.
  4. That the assessments in the qualification suitably cover the breadth of the qualification outcomes and provide a holistic opportunity for students to demonstrate specialist competence.
  5. That the qualification, as a minimum, operates a pass/fail grading structure and that the grade boundaries or descriptors have been agreed with employer input.
  6. That, where modularity exists, there is evidence that the use of modular assessment does not compromise a student’s ability to demonstrate holistic competence in the occupational area. Any modular approach must ensure that any combination of modules (if there is optionality within the qualification structure) covers the range of duties specified as in scope for the specialist area.
  7. That the applicant has in place suitable arrangements to ensure qualification assessment standards are maintained over time.
  8. That the submitted sample assessment materials suitably reflect the applicant’s ability to deliver the approaches described within the assessment strategy.


Assessment documents - what you will provide

Applicants must submit an assessment strategy and sample assessment materials which substantiate their approach to the assessment design, delivery and awarding of the qualification.

Assessment strategy

Applicants must provide an assessment strategy explaining the choices that have been made in the development of the qualification, as well as their approach to its ongoing monitoring.

There are three key properties of effective assessment strategies:

  • a coherent and logical narrative
  • the use of argument and justification with evidence
  • a focus on the fitness for purpose of the qualification

Assessment strategies are required to cover the following aspects of the qualifications design and maintenance arrangements:

  1. Qualification purpose.
  2. Content.
  3. Assessment design.
  4. Assessment delivery.
  5. Marking / assessing performance and standardisation.
  6. Attainment and reporting.
  7. Standard setting and maintenance.
  8. Qualification monitoring.

Full details of the requirements for assessment strategy documents can be found within Ofqual conditions.

Sample assessment materials (SAMs)

Alongside their assessment strategy, applicants are required to submit sample assessment materials (SAMs) which cover the entirety of the assessments a student would be required to complete in order to obtain the qualification.

Any SAMs submitted must be no more than 2 years old and assess the duties and mapped knowledge, skills, and behaviours within the occupational standard(s).

For qualifications with a single pathway, IfATE only require one complete set of SAMs, per qualification. Where a qualification contains multiple pathways, applicants are required to submit additional SAMs for each pathway.

Sample assessment materials must include:

  • sample question paper(s) and/or task brief(s)
  • associated mark scheme(s) and/or assessment criteria (for example, marking rubric) for each question paper/and or task brief
  • a specification content coverage record for each assessment, where applicable
  • unit/module grade descriptors, where applicable


Supporting guidance for applicants

Assessment Design

Additional specialist technical qualifications should prepare students appropriately to specialise within an area of employment, and so assessment should be used to promote competence in relation to the specialist area covered by the qualification.

Holistic assessment in a technical context is achieved when a student is required to draw on outcomes from across a range of qualification content, demonstrating their learning within assessments that employers have validated are suitable to establish competence in relation to a given occupation.

Assessment design should therefore take opportunities, as appropriate to the occupation, to holistically assess how far students are competent across the breadth of the outcomes covered by the qualification. Consequently, the use of compensatory approaches are discouraged, if this could result in students achieving a pass for the qualification having failed to demonstrate sufficient competence for one or more of the specialist occupational requirements. Where compensation is applied, awarding bodies must explain, within their submission, how their approach to compensation does not compromise a student’s ability to demonstrate specialist competence.

Where qualifications are designed with several assessments available at multiple points throughout the qualification, IfATE believe there is a particular risk that these may assess (and that students could develop) a fragmented rather than holistic understanding of the specialist occupational area. In such situations, IfATE think it is particularly important to ensure students can make effective connections and draw together knowledge, skills and/or understanding from across the specialist requirements. Where possible, IfATE believe that assessments should also seek to incorporate key occupational behaviours, assessing these as part of the wider assessment construct.

Awarding bodies may decide that a modular approach to assessment is appropriate to the purpose of their qualification. If taking a modular approach, awarding bodies must ensure that assessments group content coherently, generating tasks which are representative of actual industry requirements.

When delivered correctly, modular approaches to assessment can provide several benefits to students. IfATE has identified the following primary benefits of adopting a modular approach to assessment:

  • a modular approach can allow students to be assessed regularly throughout their course of study, with achievement acting as a motivator for continued study
  • a modular approach to delivery may provide additional flexibility for adult students

These benefits must be considered alongside the requirement for students to develop specialist competence within the occupational area to which the qualification relates. It is IfATE’s view that the achievement of small tasks in isolation is not sufficient for a student to demonstrate competence within the occupational area, as it removes the requirement for students to holistically demonstrate their learning across the breadth of the specialist requirements.

IfATE also expect modularity to be used to support flexibility within a defined qualification structure and not to promote undue levels of optionality. It is IfATE’s view that high levels of optionality within a qualification is likely to lead to students not being required to cover occupational requirements sufficiently or consistently, thus reducing employer understanding/confidence in the competence being delivered by the technical qualification.


The achievement of technical qualifications is intended to signal to employers that a student has achieved a level of competence suitable to perform a specialist job role or function within the occupational area. As a result, the requirements for a pass grade must be set accordingly and IfATE expect that awarding bodies set out their approach as part of their submission.

IfATE acknowledge in some occupations; employers may value the ability of a qualification to differentiate student achievement (for example, when comparing candidates). In such cases, IfATE encourages awarding bodies to differentiate grading above the pass grade if employers have indicated this is valuable to them for recruitment purposes.

To maintain comparability between their own qualification offers, IfATE suggest that awarding bodies consider adopting a consistent grading scale approach within their qualification offer.


Published 10 January 2023
Last updated 9 November 2023
(SW, NS)