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All About RQF Qualifications

Understanding the Regulated Qualifications Framework, and how each of the regulated qualifications offered interact with each other, is essential for making informed choices both about the qualifications you have already achieved and about the qualifications you might study for in the future.

What is RQF?

RQF stands for the Regulated Qualifications Framework (RQF). This is, as the name suggests, an official framework within the national education system where each course, examination, or test you achieve is allocated a credit allowance. The aim of the Regulated Qualifications Framework is to make it much easier to categorise and regulate qualifications in order to create a more standardised education system, particularly within the arena of vocational education.

Regardless of the topic or field that you are studying within, each unit that you can undertake within the RQF is awarded a credit number: the smallest of these qualifications is an award, whilst the largest is a diploma. Each credit you achieve is the equivalent of around ten hours of learning.

The aim of the RQF is a simple one: the framework was introduced to benefit students, educators and employees, helping them all to understand the value of the vocational qualifications regulated by the framework, and better understand how they relate to each other. Under the RQF system, there are eight levels in total, which are supported by three entry levels, as not all qualifications can be assigned to a single level. When you decide to take a course or diploma, you can quickly and easily see what level this will fall into within the framework and how many credits you can expect to achieve.

Understanding the RQF will help you to better understand your own educational needs, so with that in mind, here’s everything you should know:

When Did RQF Qualifications Start?

The RQF came into force on 1st October 2015. Prior to this the Qualifications and Credit Framework (QCF) had been in operation since 2008. For a time, both RQF and QCF qualification frameworks operated in conjunction with each other, but by the 1st January 2018, all QCF qualifications were fully transitioned to the RQF.

We know that the purpose of qualification frameworks is to help you make informed choices about what and where you learn, but the RQF was designed to help making those choices so much simpler.

The RQF was introduced in 2015 with the sole purpose of replacing the QCF and it has been in use in England, Wales and Northern Ireland ever since. The intention of the RQF is to make it easier to understand the qualifications you are working for and, most importantly, to provide consistency. How big, and how challenging, an award you are thinking of studying for can be assessed incredibly quickly and easily if your framework is being used and adhered to.

College students preparing for exams

Are RQF Qualifications Regulated and Recognised?

Because the framework is so new, many learners worry that their qualifications won’t be regulated or recognised, but these worries are unfounded: Ofqual, the department that regulates qualifications, exams and tests in England and vocational qualifications in Wales and Northern Ireland, also regulates all qualifications administered under the RQF. This means your course and your award is fully recognised in England, Wales and Northern Ireland if it is recognised by the RQF.

If you’re unsure whether the course you are interested in taking is registered with Ofqual then they provide a handy search tool on their website which will outline all of the qualifications and awarding organisations regulated by Ofqual and CCEA Regulation. You can also drill down to discover the size, level and content of a regulated qualification, helping to provide extra peace of mind and giving you more information about the course you are thinking of studying. The aim of introducing the RQF was to make it easier to regulate adult education within the UK and to provide reassurance that, when you are paying to study a course, the course will actually have value and can be used if you choose to continue advancing your education further.

Levels of RQF Qualifications – Award, Certificate and Diploma

Every qualification that is regulated by RQF is allocated a size and a level. The qualification levels range from between 1 and 8, with 1 being an entry-level qualification and 8 being an advantaged degree. To put this into context, a level 1 qualification might be an introductory award, whilst a level 2 qualification would be equal to a GCSE and a level 3 qualification would be equivalent to an A-Level. If you achieve level 5 within the RQF then this is considered to be the equivalent of a foundation degree.

Every qualification that is regulated and recognised under the RQF is also awarded a ‘size’ and this size corresponds directly to the total qualification time (TQT) that each module or course takes to complete.  The TQT of a course is calculated by assessing the Guided Learning Hours (GLH), the Directed Learning Hours and the Invigilated Assessment Hours that you must complete in order to achieve the qualification. Of course, all students work at a different speed, so this calculation is made based on average or expected hours worked. To help you ascertain if you will achieve an award, certificate or diploma for your course, you can look at the required study hours and use the following calculation:

  • 120 hours or less total study time = Award
  • 121–369 hours total study time = Certificate
  • 370+ hours total study time = Diploma

There are other frameworks used in other parts of the UK and other parts of the world. In Scotland, for example, you would study under the Scottish Credit and Qualifications Framework (SCQF), whilst in Europe, the European Qualifications Framework (EQF) is the overarching framework that is used. Whilst these frameworks are not standardised (meaning that they are not exactly the same, and therefore are not interchangeable with each other) they are very similar. The following table should outline more clearly how the different levels achieved with each body compare:

8 12 8
7 11 7
6 9/10 6
4/5 7/8 5
3 6 4
2 5 3
1 4 2
Entry level 3 3 1
Entry level 2 2
Entry level 1 1


How is RQF Different From QCF?

The Qualifications and Credit Framework (QCF) is the academic framework that preceded the RQF. Whilst the difference between the two frameworks has had minimal impact on learners, it has made it simpler for both employers and individuals to better understand what it will take to complete a certain qualification, as well as the ways in which different qualifications interact with each other.

The main differences between the RQF and QCF frameworks are that:

  • Qualification size has been standardised under the RQF. This means that all qualifications are now listed in terms of their total qualification time (TQT). Whilst this will vary slightly from learner to learner (depending on their individual learning time), it provides an average estimate of how long studying for each qualification will take. This time is calculated by taking into account the number of taught learning hours the student will undertake, as well as an estimate of how much unsupervised study or assessment time each student will be expected to complete
  • The levels of demand of the RQF are the same as they were for the QCF, but each level has been assigned updated descriptions of what qualifications they will cover. This makes it much easier to understand what level you are working towards, and whether the general and vocational qualifications you are studying for will meet your needs
  • The RQF does not set qualification design rules, so the way qualifications are developed and formatted will remain the remit of the awarding body. This means that the framework simply applies credit values to qualifications that already exist. This gives a little more freedom to the awarding bodies and gives them the ability to tailor their qualifications to suit the needs of their learners and the employers who are generally funding the process

Wondering why the QCF system was replaced? RQF replaced QCF because, in 2014, a Department of Education review found that the QCF system was ineffective because it placed too much focus on the structure of the awards it monitored, and not enough focus on the validity of those awards. By replacing QCF with RQF, students were given an opportunity to focus on studying for the qualifications they needed at their own pace: this is important for individuals combining study with their careers. Whilst each award is allowed a total qualification time (TQT) there is no time limit in place on how long you have to complete these studies, which is often beneficial to distance learners.

The shift from QCF to RQF has been a positive one for learners, because it gives much more freedom in the ways that courses can be taught, and qualifications can be received. The QCF imposed its own very formalised view of what qualifications should look like: this imposition has been removed by the RQF. Instead, the RQF can be viewed more as a cataloguing tool: much like a bookcase in a library, the RQF categorises qualifications by their size and their level, but it doesn’t make any judgements about what those books (or in this case, those courses) contain. For this reason, the RQF is a much better choice than the QCF, both for learners and employers, and for educators.

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