Core aim: Enables entry to the aligned published occupation for which no published occupational standard currently exists (including entry level 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).

This category will be subject to the following tests:

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 outcomes which form the minimum requirements for entry into an 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 for, and reflect the flexible learning requirements of, adult students.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.


1. Requirements to submit into this category

If an awarding body intends to develop a qualification in this category, they must first approach IfATE with a proposal. 

Applicants will not be asked to develop a suite of qualification materials to submit at the proposal stage. 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. 

IfATE requires a proposal for this category due to the absence of a published occupational standard to which the qualification can be aligned. For this category, IfATE will use the proposal stage to assess how best to progress the application through our review process, firstly by agreeing how to address the issue of the absence of a published occupational standard. The reforms’ core aim is to ensure that, by 2030, all technical qualifications are built around IfATE-approved occupational standards. Consequently, where IfATE recognises that it may be appropriate to consider a qualification for approval, IfATE also believes that, where possible, an occupational standard should be in place for the occupation to which the qualification relates. 

Once a proposal is submitted, IfATE will review the proposal and provide advice to awarding bodies as to whether to proceed with additional actions. Proposals may proceed where IfATE deems that: 

  • there is a suitable standard against which the qualification might be developed, including where a standard might be modified to allow alignment; or 
  • the qualification meets the description of an alternative category of qualifications and so should be considered against the criteria for that alternative category (for example, where we feel the proposed qualification is additional specialist in nature); or 
  • initial engagements with employers indicate that they recognise the occupation and have demand for an associated qualification

Should IfATE agree to proceed, we will either advise applicants that: 

  1. We have identified that there is a relevant pre-existing occupational standard which may be suitable to align to, or that could be updated to enable the proposed qualification to align with it. This will usually depend on the relevant IfATE-approved trailblazer group agreeing to any proposed changes; or 
  2. We have identified that the qualification relates to an occupation on the occupational maps which does not have an occupational standard. In this instance, IfATE will seek to form and approve a trailblazer group to develop an occupational standard against the occupation; or 
  3. We have identified that the qualification relates to no appropriate occupation(s) and or published occupational standards on the occupational maps and a new one is required. We will require awarding bodies to work with our relevant route team to make arrangements for the submission of an occupational proposal, following the process for developing an occupation proposal. IfATE must be satisfied that any trailblazer group submitting and or supporting an occupational proposal is suitably representative of the occupation and is independent from the awarding body. We expect any occupational proposals to be submitted directly by the employer contacts and not the awarding body seeking qualification approval 

Where IfATE identifies a relevant pre-existing standard in line with option 1, awarding bodies will be invited to submit a qualification in a relevant occupational entry technical qualification category, once the occupational standard revisions have been completed, if necessary. To avoid delays, we will keep awarding bodies informed of intended revisions to the standard’s content, ensuring they are able to work on their qualification in parallel, prior to the revised standard being approved. It is important to note that not all occupational standards proceed through the process to the point of approval; therefore, awarding bodies will be developing at risk through this process (because the qualification will not achieve IfATE approval in the relevant category if there is no approved and published occupational standard).  

Where IfATE identifies a published occupation that does not yet have a published standard on the occupational maps, in line with option 2, IfATE will look to establish and approve a trailblazer group. The awarding body that originated the idea, along with any relevant employer contacts, may join this trailblazer group; however, the overall makeup of the group must be in line with current IfATE expectations around trailblazer group composition. 

Where IfATE does not identify a suitable occupation or occupational standard on the occupational maps in line with option 3, IfATE will then follow its usual process for considering the addition of an occupation to the maps, with IfATE subsequently forming and approving a trailblazer group. The awarding body that proposed the qualification, along with any relevant employer contacts, may join this trailblazer group; however, the overall makeup of the group must be in line with current IfATE expectations around trailblazer group composition. 

Once a trailblazer group has commenced work on the occupational standard, the awarding body will be invited to develop their qualification offer in parallel, ensuring their qualification offer reflects the outcomes within the proposed occupational standard in development. Where this process is followed, technical qualifications will be considered for approval within the relevant occupational entry technical qualification category at the point when the standard is approved and published. 

It is important to note that not all occupational standards proceed through the process to the point of approval; therefore, awarding bodies will be developing at risk through this process (because the qualification will not achieve IfATE approval in the relevant category if there is no approved and published occupational standard). 


Approvals in the absence of an occupational standard: 

Submissions will only be accepted into the employer-proposed category where: 

  • IfATE has exhausted the options explored in the previous section; and 
  • IfATE has added an occupation to our occupational maps, but there is no current prospect of an occupational standard being added; and 
  • IfATE agrees there is a compelling employer need for a qualification in the described occupation

Where IfATE agrees that there is demand for a qualification against a published occupation, but no standard is published on the occupational maps, and IfATE considers that it would not be appropriate to develop a new standard, IfATE may, exceptionally, consider a qualification for approval in the ‘employer-proposed’ category. IfATE will only consider approving qualifications in these circumstances when, in our view, all other options for possible approval have been exhausted. Factors IfATE may consider include:  

  • whether or not it is possible to convene a trailblazer group to prepare an occupational standard in respect of the relevant published occupation
  • whether or not there is, in our view, a clear labour market need for a funded qualification in the described occupation (for example, jobs data, demand from Mayoral Combined Authority (MCA), Greater London Authority (GLA)) 
  • whether or not there is, in our view, clear evidence of employer need for a funded qualification in the described occupation (for example, skills reports, direct requests from employers, etc.). 

Where IfATE may be prepared to consider a qualification for approval in the absence of a published standard (or standard in development), we will liaise with applicants directly to set out how our criteria will be applied, the process by which we will consider the qualification for approval and the timescale for testing the occupational relevance of the qualification’s intended outcomes. Due to the various requirements for submission in this category, applicants should seek to engage with IfATE at the soonest possible opportunity. Due to the numerous processes required, we are unable to provide assurances on the timescales for processing qualifications in this category, unless and until we are persuaded that it is necessary to proceed to consider a qualification for approval in this category. 

As with other qualifications requiring a proposal, applicants will be requested to advise IfATE as to the duties targeted by the qualification, i.e., the duties an individual who achieved the qualification would be able to carry out within the workplace. 

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, and can be compared with the essential criteria in a job description; for example: 

  • manage a complex project to competing deadlines 
  • conduct planned equipment maintenance

Once a proposal has been agreed, applicants will be asked to submit qualification materials for review. In all cases, qualifications submitted in the employer-proposed category will only be approved if they meet: 

The significant outcomes test: 

  • an awarding body must demonstrate to IfATE’s satisfaction that by obtaining the qualification, a person will have attained particular outcomes in relation to the occupation; and 
  • that attaining those outcomes would enable a person to work in the occupation at a particular level of competence (whether in the course of training or otherwise) or to improve competence in the occupation 

The employer demand test: 

  • an awarding body must demonstrate to IfATE’s satisfaction that there is, or is likely to be, demand for a learner who achieves the qualification. In the absence of a published IfATE-approved occupational standard on which to base the qualification, applicants will be required to provide evidence in addition to that requested for other category approvals

IfATE’s assessment criteria: 

  • an awarding body must demonstrate adherence to the assessment principles already set out by IfATE for occupational entry qualification categories (i.e., assessments that adequately test a student’s occupational competence)

Any and or all Ofqual regulatory requirements: 

  • any submitted qualification will be required to meet Ofqual’s general conditions of recognition, along with any qualification-level conditions

Where IfATE approves a qualification against an occupation on the occupational maps that does not have an associated standard, we will continue to work to put in place an employer-led standard wherever possible. At the point when an occupational standard is published on the IfATE occupational maps, we will re-categorise any qualification approved against the relevant occupation, placing it within a relevant ‘occupational entry’ category. At this point, we may also initiate our change process to ensure that the approved technical qualification’s outcomes align with the newly published standard. 

Regulation and recognition: 

To submit qualifications to be considered for approval by IfATE in any category (including this category), applicants must ensure they are recognised by Ofqual to offer qualifications at level 2 in the associated sector subject area. 

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

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. 

As part of the application process, Ofqual may inform IfATE of any relevant ongoing or impending regulatory action affecting a relevant qualification or applicant. When making approvals decisions, IfATE will have regard to this information. 

IfATE are likely to withhold making a final approval decision until satisfied that any relevant ongoing or impending regulatory action has concluded. When making our decision about whether to withhold a decision IfATE 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. 

IfATE 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 students. 

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. 


Qualifications for approval in this category must be submitted into an appropriate cycle as indicated by IfATE. 

Submissions will only be accepted into cycles in which both the category of qualification and route of the published occupation are indicated as in scope for approval. 

Submissions into this category must relate to a level 3 occupation on IfATE’s occupational maps. 

Submissions into this category must only be made where IfATE has indicated it as the most appropriate category for the type of qualification intended to be submitted. 

Qualifications submitted for approval must adhere to IfATE’s qualification titling requirements

Alongside the information requested within the application form, applicants are required to upload the following materials, which will be shared between IfATE, Ofqual and DfE, for their application to be reviewed for approval: 

  • 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 overarching outcomes targeted by the qualification 
  • assessment strategy 
  • sample assessment materials 
  • for DfE funding decisions to be made, applicants must also provide (within the form) evidence of demand for the qualification from colleges and other training organisations that have an ESFA funding agreement

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. 

How we will apply our tests: 

For evidence submitted by an applicant in support of the qualification’s approval, IfATE will apply the significant outcomes 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. 


Published 9 November 2023
Last updated 9 November 2023
(KA, NS)