Core aim: The qualification aligns to knowledge, skills and behaviours (KSBs) in an existing occupational standard(s) and enables entry to the aligned occupation(s) not covered by a T Level (including providing occupational entry competence with the requirement for further learning/training in work to reach full occupational competence).
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 are:
DfE 2025 to 2026 Qualification Funding Approval Manual.
Qualifications in this category will be required to achieve the following purposes:
The qualification will enable students to acquire the knowledge, skills, and behaviours relevant to developing competence in an occupation The qualification will provide employers with reliable evidence of a student’s attainment against occupational standard KSBs which form the minimum requirements for entry into occupation. 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 progress within the occupational area The qualification will typically form the core element of a student’s course of study, and may be the sole qualification taken
*By employers for recruitment or providers for progression to further or higher education.
Failure to submit complete versions of all requisite documents will render the submission invalid until such a time that all completed materials are received by IfATE.
For evidence submitted by an applicant in support of the qualification’s approval, IfATE will apply the alternative approval test. This will be applied along with the employer demand test, which IfATE uses to establish the likely demand from employers for a student who has achieved the qualification.
Where IfATE agrees that this is the appropriate category for the qualification, the criteria for approval will be set out in full. This is to ensure applicants are aware of the specific focuses of the tests we will apply. It is important to note that we 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.
All applications provided to IfATE must demonstrate:
Applicants must submit an employer engagement rationale and evidence pack.
This evidence pack must adhere to the following requirements, through the rationale, IfATE expects applicants to demonstrate the following:
From the rationale, IfATE must be able to establish:
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:
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 do 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 / 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.
Applicants could provide the following evidence to support their rationale that there is demand from employers for employees who have obtained the qualification:
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 a suitable range and number of employers to be eligible to enter the workforce):
Applicants could provide the following evidence to support their rationale that qualification standards will be maintained through continued employer engagement:
To ensure the broadest possible endorsement of their qualification, applicants should, as far as possible, ensure they engage with a range of employers that is representative of the occupational area. This should include:
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:
In some instances, employer representatives may satisfy both categories (technical expert and senior decision maker). In such instances awarding organisations 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:
All applications provided to IfATE must demonstrate:
That the applicant has achieved suitable coverage of the KSBs indicated as included within their qualification materials. IfATE will assess this in line with the following principles:
Knowledge statements: IfATE expect knowledge statements to be fully covered (suitably elaborated) in the content of the qualification. Exceptionally, IfATE may consider justification of partial coverage e.g., if information is referred to in the knowledge statement, that could only be acquired when in the workplace, such as organisation-specific roles and responsibilities.
Skills statements: 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. Where applicants provide justification, 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 do however recognise that it can be challenging for student to fully attain behaviours through only studying a qualification in an education setting. 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)).
Any rule of combination within the qualification should cover as many of the knowledge, skills and behaviours in the relevant occupational standard as it may be reasonable to attain by undertaking a course of education or training. Where it appears that a significant proportion of KSBs in the relevant occupational standard(s) cannot reasonably be obtained in an education setting, IfATE will seek additional evidence of employer support for occupational-entry technical qualifications in the occupation. This is to ensure that approved occupational-entry technical qualifications are credible with employers.
Where a qualification maps to more than one occupational standard, the applicant must make clear (in the specification) as to the rule of combination for each individual qualification pathway.
Coverage of all KSBs must be clearly referenced within the mapping template. Applicants should ensure they include the page numbers and specification references (for example learning outcome number, unit title and specific paragraph etc.) of all instances of coverage for each KSB statement. IfATE will use these references to review the KSB coverage within the submitted specification document. Applicants are not required to copy and paste full text from the specification into the mapping template. Applicants may wish to highlight/label parts of the specification to indicate where a specific KSB is covered.
IfATE will make a judgement as to whether each KSB (in the occupational standard(s) to which the qualification relates) can reasonably be attained by undertaking a course of education and training and IfATE may further challenge applicants who propose excluding KSBs which IfATE consider could be delivered, either fully, or at least partially, in a course of education and training.
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 occupational area:
Additional content are qualification outcomes that are not mapped to the occupational standard to which the qualification relates. The substantive element of a qualification should cover the occupational standard. IfATE may not approve a qualification if IfATE have significant concerns about the amount of additional content and/or the relevance of additional content to the occupation. A disproportionate amount of additional content may impact the overall quality and/or credibility of the qualification with employers. IfATE would 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 about qualifications containing significant amounts of additional content.
Where additional content is included, IfATE expect this would primarily cover the following:
You must provide a rationale for the occupational relevance of any content that does not directly align with the occupational standard. IfATE may request employer engagement evidence if required and make suggestions to awarding bodies on the occupational relevance of submitted additional content.
Where additional content relates to one of the following areas, IfATE will not require the content to be supported by employer evidence.
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.
Applicants must provide, as part of their submission, a PDF of the qualification specification document containing within it coverage of as many KSBs from within the aligned occupational standard(s) as can be achieved within a course of education.
Where a qualification specification maps to more than one occupational standard, the applicant must make clear within their content overview document the relationship between the qualification units/modules and the standard(s) to which they relate.
Applicants must use the mapping template provided with online application form to show how the content and assessment methods in the qualification they are submitting cover the KSBs in the relevant occupational standard(s).
As well as mapping their qualification to the KSBs, applicants will also need to indicate if there are any KSBs that cannot be achieved in the qualifications intended delivery context and explain why. Justifiable rationale could include (but not be limited to):
The qualification may also include additional content over and above the KSBs set out in the occupational standard if the rationale submitted demonstrates that content is relevant to the occupation and valuable to employers.
Any content that does not align to the relevant occupational standard(s) should be included in the additional content section of the application template. IfATE expect the vast majority (substantive element) of the qualification to cover the KSBs within the occupational standard(s).
Applicants are expected to cover as many of the knowledge, skills and behaviours (KSBs) in an occupational standard as may be reasonably covered in a course of education. IfATE expect as many of these as possible should be covered fully, although some may be covered partially.
KSB coverage may be deemed to be insufficient if:
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 IfATEs expectation that awarding bodies ensure that, through their own development processes, they also ensure that EDI factors are considered when producing their qualification content.
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 students (and the processes which underpin their delivery) should be designed to allow for modular delivery and the recognition of prior learning (RPL). IfATE agrees 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 within the teaching of the qualification.
We also advise 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.
All applications provided to IfATE must demonstrate.
Applicants must submit an assessment strategy and sample assessment materials which substantiate their approach to the assessment design, delivery and awarding of the qualification.
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:
Assessment strategies are required to cover the following aspects of the qualifications design and maintenance arrangements:
Full details of the requirements for assessment strategy documents can be found within Ofqual condition TQ3.
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 mapped knowledge, skills, and behaviours within the occupational standard(s).
For qualifications with a single pathway, IfATE only requires 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:
Technical qualifications should prepare students appropriately to enter, and progress in, skilled employment, and so assessment should be used to promote competence in relation to the occupational 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 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 occupational 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 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 occupational 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:
These benefits must be considered alongside the requirement for students to develop competence within the occupational area(s) 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 occupational requirements.
IfATE also expects 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 a 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 job role or function within the occupational area. As a result, the requirements for a pass grade must be set accordingly and IfATE expects that awarding bodies set out their approach as part of their submission.
IfATE acknowledges 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. Where, as a secondary purpose, qualifications help progression to further study, differentiation should match progression requirements. For example, where an applicant applied for their qualification to attract UCAS points greater grading differentiation may be desirable within the qualification structure.
To maintain comparability between their own qualification offers, IfATE suggests that awarding bodies consider adopting a consistent grading scale approach within their qualification offer.
Published 10 January 2023
Last updated 9 November 2023