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).
For additional specialist criteria:
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 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
Failure to complete and submit all requisite documents will render the submission invalid until such a time that all materials are received by IfATE.
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.
Level 3 specialist qualifications that are not developed based on areas specified within IfATE’s pre-defined list will be required to first be submitted to IfATE as a qualification proposal.
The intention of this proposal stage is to ensure applicants are able to evidence suitable demand for the specialist qualification they intend to develop for submission to IfATE. IfATE will assess the proposal, providing comment as to the likely demand for their qualification within the Route area, thus providing initial steer as to its likely success through the full approval process.
The proposal stage also allows IfATE to validate the duties applicants intend to target through their specialist qualification offer, enabling us to provide comment/recommendations in relation to these, as appropriate.
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 do not require that existing qualification materials are submitted as part of the proposal.
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.
IfATE will only consider proposals submitted during the Cycles designated proposal window.
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.
All applications provided to IfATE must demonstrate:
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 their rationale, IfATE expects applicants to demonstrate a robust, coherent, approach to the gathering of their employer evidence.
The rationale should clearly lay out the applicant’s approach to establishing that the submitted qualification is supported by employers and that employers have or are likely to have demand for a student who has achieved the qualification.
Within the rationale, applicants must ensure they cite qualitative and quantitative evidence in a coherent way, balancing the need to engage employers directly with any desk research they have used to inform their qualification development.
The rationale must provide IfATE with answers to the following questions.
The rationale must be accompanied by an employer engagement pack which is made up of a range of evidence, both qualitative and quantitative which best demonstrates the applicants research and engagements. The employer engagement 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).
We do not expect applicants to submit all evidence gathered in the development process as part of their evidence pack. Evidence submitted should be sufficient to assure IfATE that the engagement described within the rationale has taken place. 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 in the event that further evidence is required by IfATE in making an approval judgement, or as part of our ongoing oversight of the landscape.
When seeking to evidence demand for the specialist area and associated duties, applicants’ submissions through the proposal stage will be sufficient to meet this requirement
Where applicants are required to provide additional evidence to that provided at proposal stage, IfATE will make applicants aware of this requirement
Applicants could provide the following evidence to support their rationale that the assessment requirements are fit for purpose and support supports specialisation within the occupation (i.e. a student who achieved a pass grade would be deemed by a suitable range of employers to be eligible to specialise within the workforce):
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):
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 which 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.
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.
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 AOs 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 substantive element of the content produced is made up of:
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.
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:
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.
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):
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 conditions.
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:
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:
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 Jan 2023
Last updated 10 Jan 2023