Core aim: The qualification aligns to KSBs in an existing occupational standard(s) and enables entry to the aligned occupation(s) (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).
For occupational entry 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 enable students to acquire the knowledge, skills, and behaviours relevant to developing competence in an occupationThe 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 decisionsThe qualification will form part of an engaging course of learning for, and reflect the flexible learning requirements of, adult studentsThe 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
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.
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 into 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 a Cycle in which both the category of qualification and Route of the aligned occupational standard(s) are indicated as in scope for approval.
Submissions into this category must relate to an occupation for which an occupational standard(s) is published by IfATE at level 3. IfATE will only accept submissions of level 3 qualifications.
Applicants are advised against submitting more than one qualification against the same occupational standard unless there is evidence that specifically demonstrates employer need for this.
Qualification submitted for approval must adhere to IfATEs qualification titling requirements.
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.
In the technical qualification application form, the applicant must clearly identify the level 3 occupational standard(s) the qualification aligns to. Where a qualification aligns to more than one occupational standard, the approval criteria must be met in full for each standard for the qualification to be considered for approval by IfATE.
Alongside the information requested within the application form, applicants are required to submit (via upload functionality) 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
content overview spreadsheet which shows the structure of the qualification and how the content and assessment methods in the qualification cover the occupational standard KSBs, as well as a rationale for any additional content
sample assessment materials
for DfE funding 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 submit complete versions of all requisite documents will render the submission invalid until such a time that all completed materials are received by IfATE
qualifications within this Category do not require submission of a proposal prior to development
For each document 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 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 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.
What was the approach to engaging employers in the process and how this approach has ensured input from a range of employers?
What direct interactions (for example, development days) did the applicant engage employers in?
What materials were shared with employers and what questions were asked of them?
What information / data did applicants access in lieu of direct employer engagement?
What was the applicant’s approach to validating that there is employer demand for a student who obtained the qualification’s pass requirement?
What actions have been taken to ensure that the qualification content, as far as possible, meets the future needs of employers?
What plans are in place to ensure ongoing employer review and validation of the qualification materials?
Why the applicant feels assured that the evidence collected is sufficient to satisfy the employer demand criteria?
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:
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 as to the accuracy of the elaborated qualification content, assessment methods chosen, and assessment task contexts and how these views have impacted the qualification’s design
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 that the pass requirement has been set at an appropriate level to ensure suitable/sufficient competence to enter the aligned occupation(s)
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 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 IfATE requires additional assurance when making an approval decision, or as part of our ongoing oversight of the landscape.
Applicants could provide the following evidence to support their rationale that the qualification 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 suitable range and number of 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 for review)
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.
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:
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 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:
that employers engaged through the process agree that the developed content is accurate, suitably covers the occupational KSBs, and is reflective of their needs
that any additional content added to the qualification (above and beyond that mapped to 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 entry level competence
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, 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.
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.
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.
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:
content which reflects how the occupation has evolved since the occupational standard was approved or last reviewed.
leading edge or innovative content/emerging skills, not currently specifically agreed by employers as part of the occupational standard, but which could be valuable to the occupation in future.
content not specifically agreed by employers as part of the relevant occupational standard, but relevant to the occupation in a certain context, or in relation to the sector, industry, or locality.
content that adds value to students’ employability, relevant to the occupation, that does not fit within any of the above.
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:
Content derived from an IfATE published framework (for example, Equity, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) framework)
Essential English competencies required for competent practice in the occupation
Essential maths competencies required for competent practice in the occupation
Essential digital competencies required for competent practice in the occupation
Applicants should ensure that it is clear within their submission which of these areas additional content relates to (if not submitting a supporting rationale for its inclusion). Where relevant, applicants should link to any publications or frameworks which informed their inclusion of the additional content.
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):
that to practice a particular skill, access is required to specialist machinery or equipment, which may not be readily available (however, this should not discourage submission of qualifications that have been designed for specialist providers).
the knowledge, skill or behaviour statement requires the individual to be based in an organisation (for example, understanding a particular company’s brand, goals, and commercial objectives, or having access to the use of an organisation’s systems or processes).
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:
the KSB coverage, in the qualification material, is either incomplete or does not, as a minimum, match the level of demand set by the occupational standard.
a skill and/or behaviour statement is included as knowledge only, but the applicant has failed to provide a suitable rationale as to why this can only be delivered as knowledge.
the delivery requirements relating to the KSB are ambiguous and fail to provide clarity around breadth/depth of expected coverage.
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 students (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.
That the assessments in the qualification are agreed by employers as fit for purpose to assess the content defined within the qualification.
That the qualification successfully balances the requirements of manageability, validity, reliability, comparability, and minimising bias.
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.
That the assessments in the qualification suitably cover the breadth of the qualification outcomes and provide a holistic opportunity for students to demonstrate occupational competence.
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.
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 the KSBs in the related occupational standard.
That the applicant has in place suitable arrangements to ensure assessment standards are maintained over time.
That the submitted sample assessment materials suitably reflect the applicant’s ability to deliver the approaches described within the assessment strategy.
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:
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:
Full details of the requirements for assessment strategy documents can be found within Ofqual conditions.
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 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:
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 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 a high level 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 a technical qualification 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 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 encourage 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 applies 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 suggest that awarding bodies consider adopting a consistent grading scale approach within their qualification offer.
Published 10 Jan 2023
Last updated 10 Jan 2023