Developing Qualifications Differently

Developing Qualifications Differently

What does CFI Awarding do?

Did you know that there are currently over 16,000 qualifications on the Regulated Qualification Framework? But many of them do the same thing and test the same or very similar things in the same way.

The challenge that CFI Awarding embrace is to create new and different qualifications – often in specialist fields where nothing currently exists. More than this, we look to help develop qualifications which feel meaningful and relevant to today’s learners and their aspirations for the future.

A wonderful example of this is something like the Crossfields Institute Level 3 Certificate in Community Orcharding, as community orchards are consistently growing in popularity and will need skilled people to develop and maintain them in years to come.

Similarly, the Certificate in Lifestyle Medicine was developed to reflect rising levels of interest in lifestyle interventions and person-centred medicine, and is designed to help clinicians and non-clinicians develop their personal practice.

The Qualification Development process

The process of developing a qualification begins with CFI Awarding talking to schools, learners, employers, the public, government – anyone really, to establish a need.

If a new qualification is needed, how many students are likely to want to take the qualification in any given year and then: what knowledge, abilities and skills the qualification should be instilling?

This is not a simple process. A qualification can be for hundreds of schools, or just one college or employer; it can be a large qualification that takes up to 3 years to complete or a small qualification that only lasts for one day.

Having agreed that a qualification is necessary and desirable the next step is to work together with a group of staff and stakeholders and agree what should be covered and how the student’s progress and achievement should be measured or tested.

Traditionally a lot of assessment of learners has been done by exam, but this can be unpopular with learners and many argue that this “high stakes testing” is just not the best way to find out what a student actually knows. 

Exams are also rarely designed to show what a student can do. A person’s future can rise or fall on the outcome of one day – and that is very stressful.

Because of this, CFI Awarding favour using portfolio-based assessment which looks at a wider variety of what a learner can do over a longer period of time, and in context.

If an awarding organisation is developing a qualification with this kind of assessment in mind, it has to be done carefully and with very strict quality controls around it so that the evidence of student achievement can be relied upon. Our role is to ensure rigorous quality assurance procedures around assessment before certificates are issued to learners.

Qualification Development in a changing world

Many people these days are more concerned with knowing that a learner can actually demonstrate what they have learned, rather than simply writing about it in a test. So some awarding organisations are evolving to make their qualifications more integrated, and about practice as much as theory.

Also, with information being so readily available, good qualifications these days shouldn’t be just about facts, but about how you interpret them, what you think about what you have learned and how it relates to your life or work.

Qualification development is an intense process of making sure that the qualification is asking the right questions of the learner, in the right way, at the right time and that you can be confident of the result.

Typically we will work with the stakeholders and ask questions like:

  • What exactly is the subject of the qualification?

  • What level should the qualification be? (for example, level 2 – GCSE level – or level 6 – degree level)

  • Who are the learners taking this qualification?

  • What experience or qualifications do they need before they start?

  • What are they likely to do after they complete this qualification? (for example, further study/work)

Once we have a clear idea of who the learners are and what the qualification is aiming to do, the next stage is to ask more detailed questions, such as:

  • What are the key things that the learner needs to know, understand and be able to do at the end of the qualification? (these are the learning outcomes and are a key part of any qualification)

  • How are we going to confirm that the student understands what they have been taught?

  • What experience or qualifications do those teaching the students need?

  • What quality assurance processes and systems do we need to put in place so that we can be sure that the qualification can be relied upon?

All these are important to know in order to contextualise the qualification and ensure that it is relevant and valid. This is how employers or the public in general know that someone really can do what a qualification says they can.

After asking all these questions, a qualification specification will emerge, examples of which can be found here. The specification is the key document which full information about the qualification as well as guidance to teachers.

Does my programme need to be regulated?

In many cases, developing an Ofqual-regulated qualification is the option which best meets the needs of all stakeholders.

However, there will be occasions when it makes more sense to develop a CFI Quality Mark programme.

This could be because:

  • the learners are already educated to a level where a regulated qualification wouldn’t benefit them and are looking instead to further their professional development.

  • the course sits within an industry that doesn’t require a regulated qualification.

  • the training provider prefers the additional flexibility that a Quality Mark programme offers them in terms of shaping their course just the way they want.

A Crossfields Institute Quality Mark means that a programme and centre is endorsed by Crossfields Institute. We will develop the Quality Mark with an approved centre and then monitor and review its delivery to learners. A Quality Mark can be quite flexible with regards to process and structure and is built around the specific needs of the provider. Nevertheless, our quality assurance team will work closely with the centre to ensure that standards are upheld and learners are at the centre of all assessment and administrative processes.

Quality Mark certificates bear the training provider’s logo and the CFI logo. As with the process for the delivery of regulated qualifications, a prospective centre must go through the Centre Approval process, in which we ensure that the centre has the correct staff, systems and processes in place to deliver this training (our existing centres would not need to repeat this process if interested in developing a Quality Mark programme). This is reviewed at least annually with an external quality assurer to ensure all our centres are delivering programmes to an CFI-approved standard.

Why develop a qualification?

Qualifications are important because they confirm to a learner, a future employer, a member of the public or whoever sees the certificate that this person has successfully studied and achieved something at a particular level.

Usually the certificate has a front sheet with the name of the qualification and a transcript, which describes in detail that modules that have been covered, the level of study and length of time it took to complete.

This is important because it allows (for example) a future employer to know what you are capable of. The transcript also shows exactly what a student knows about a subject and how to carry out particular tasks or processes. This is particularly important in some areas, for example, health and social care.

The real point of an awarding organisation is that an independent organisation, separate from a learner’s college or workplace, is confirming through a rigorous process what the learner has achieved.

This is very different from when a college, employer or training provider issues its own certificates. With an awarding organisation the level of independence and the “outside in” perspective gives a strong measure and assurance of the quality of the learning.

If you’d like to explore the qualification process further, or have an idea you’d like to discuss with us, please get in touch:

About Crossfields Institute

Crossfields Institute is an educational charity specialising in holistic and integrative education and research. The Institute develops specialist qualifications which aim to support the development of autonomous students with the intellectual rigour, practical skills, social responsibility and ability to think creatively and act decisively.

Crossfields Institute
Stroud House | Russell Street | Stroud GL5 3AN | United Kingdom
T: +44 (0) 1453 808118
Company no: 06503063 | Charity no: 1124859


Internal Quality Assurance – Questions & Answers

As the Level 4 Award in Internal Quality Assurance enters its second year since launch, we wanted to dive a little deeper into the topic of IQA, for those who are interested in learning more about the area in general and how our qualification prepares participants to undertake high-quality quality assurance within their organisation.

Below, we explain what IQA is, why it matters to an organisation and how our course works.

To get more information on the qualification or register on the course, please contact course providers Kato Education via:

What is ‘IQA’?

Internal Quality Assurance. It is a process that seeks to ensure that assessments are undertaken using a consistent and fair approach across one or several assessors.  It monitors the teaching, learning and assessment systems and processes of a programme of learning as well as the evidence produced by the learners. This ensures that the requirements of the awarding organisation and the qualification have been fully met and helps to keep the centre in a continuous improvement cycle.

Why is IQA important?

Internal Quality Assurance helps a centre to identify areas of good and not-so-good practice. When used as a continuous process throughout the year, a well-planned IQA strategy can efficiently and effectively scrutinise every aspect of a programme to allow for continuous improvement of the process and the assessment practice of the assessor.

What can effective IQA do for an organisation?

Effective IQA will support the whole assessment process from all aspects of teaching and learning through to assessment of the learner.  Areas of good practice will be identified, shared and built upon whilst any areas of poor practice can be addressed through working with individuals who need professional development to improve their teaching and assessment skills.  Ultimately effective IQA will ensure that a centre is meeting all relevant requirements whilst also giving the learners a positive teaching, learning and assessment experience.

What makes the IQA course delivered by CFI unique?

The CFI course is unique because it allows the trainee IQA to focus on their own organisation’s programme(s) of learning and to generate naturally-occurring IQA evidence that they will be required to undertake by their awarding organisation as part of being an approved centre.  

This means that the evidence requirements are possible to meet (unlike other similar IQA qualifications).  Another unique point is that the course starts with the trainee IQA demonstrating that they understand the assessment requirements of the qualifications they will be quality assuring before moving on to the knowledge they are required to have around IQA systems and processes.  It then moves on to a more practical element, where by doing their job, the trainee IQA will be generating appropriate evidence.

What kinds of organisations have taken the IQA course?

Organisations that have a programme of learning with learning outcomes and/or assessment criteria.  These organisations have had a mixture of regulated (RQF), self regulated (SRQ) and quality mark (QM) programmes.  The types of organisations have ranged from schools and training organisations to employers who train their own staff.

What is important for people to know about IQA?

Knowing about IQA is the first step to being able to implement IQA.  Without it, a centre is not likely to be meeting the requirements of the awarding organisation and therefore the qualification.  They will also less likely to be in a position to ensure consistency and fairness in the teaching, learning and assessment of the learners within their centre.  They certainly will not be demonstrating best practice.

How can people sign up to the next course?

They can contact the course providers, Kato Education, via, to express an interest in signing up or ask for more information about the qualification.

What is an English Awarding Organisation?

What is an Awarding Organisation?

Awarding Organisation

If you have ever gone to a mainstream school or college, you will most likely have taken exams along the way. Since the 1850s when test-based education became popular in English schools, exams have been devised and scrutinised by independent boards of experts and, more recently, mandated organisations. A board, or an organisation, that is mandated to set and monitor exams is commonly called an examination board (or exam board).

These days, only certain organisations are responsible for exams such as GCSEs and A/AS levels. Other organisations are approved to design, award and monitor ‘Vocational Qualifications’. Those kinds of qualifications come in all sorts of subjects and sizes but they have certain things in common that make them ‘regulated qualifications.’ Below, we will look at what that means, but first we need to get to know the regulator.

Who regulates the awarding organisation?

Today, it is the Office of Qualifications and Examinations Regulation (also called Ofqual) that regulates all awarding organisations in England and the qualifications they provide. Ofqual is a non-ministerial government department that reports directly to Parliament. Ofqual’s purpose is to “[…] maintain standards and confidence in qualifications in England:

  • GCSEs
  • A levels
  • AS levels
  • vocational qualifications” (2)

So in order to become an awarding organisation, the applicant body has to show that it can meet the official requirements set out by Ofqual. Those requirements are called ‘the general conditions of recognition’ (3) and they describe in detail how qualifications should be designed, delivered, awarded and quality assured on an ongoing basis. They also set out how the organisation needs to be governed and structured.

A body wishing to become an awarding organisation needs to demonstrate to Ofqual that it can meet all the general conditions of recognition. Once approved, Ofqual monitors awarding organisations on an ongoing basis by looking closely at how they manage all the required processes, procedures and policies.

Ofqual regulate over 160 awarding organisations that between them award approximately 13,000 different qualifications. All qualifications that are regulated by Ofqual are listed on a framework called the Regulated Qualifications Framework (RQF).

Awarding organisations you may have heard of are City and Guilds, Open College Network, AQA, Pearson and OCR. But there are many others. Some of them specialise in particular approaches, subjects or technical skills development, for example: British Wheel of Yoga (specialising in Yoga); Royal Horticultural Society, (specialising in horticulture), Signature (specialising in sign language), or CFI awarding (specialising in – amongst other things – integrative education). There is a ‘Federation of Awarding Bodies’ (FAB), a professional association that offers guidance and advice to over 145 members.

What does an awarding organisation do?

As a student you will rarely have direct contact with the awarding organisation that issues the certificate you receive when you graduate from education or training. But that certificate represents a lot of work behind the scenes.

In order for you to get the certificate, your college or education centre has to be formally approved by the awarding organisation. This means that the awarding organisation needs to make sure that all teachers, leaders and administrative staff are doing the right things when it comes to the teaching and assessment, management and administration of the qualification you want to take. Also, the place of learning needs to be fit for purpose and policies and procedures must be in place to protect you if things go wrong. Only when a centre has been approved by the awarding organisation can it start to offer the qualification to you.

But it doesn’t stop there…

Once you are enrolled and you start taking the qualification, the awarding organisation will start to monitor how things are going, and in particular, how you are being assessed. It is the awarding organisation’s job to make sure that you are assessed appropriately and fairly at all times. The college, or centre, where you are taking the qualification is in ongoing contact with the awarding organisation. Only when the awarding organisation is content that everything is in order will you be issued with a certificate.

If things are not in order at the centre, the awarding organisation has to step in. If an awarding organisation fails to intervene at the right time, Ofqual will get involved and hold the awarding organisation responsible for any wrongdoing at the centre. So it is really important that there is good dialogue between the centre and the awarding organisation. This ensures that learners can rest assured that things are in order – and if things go wrong, they will be dealt with swiftly and appropriately according to Ofqual’s general conditions of recognition.

A lot of the work that an awarding organisation has to do is about communicating well with all the centres that are approved to offer their qualifications. The better that communication is, the better the experience for learners.

Students Receiving Certificates
Students receiving certificates

Designing qualifications

Awarding organisations offer qualifications in many different subjects. There are some that just offer one type and some that offer a whole range. On the RQF you will see just how many different subjects there are – and, indeed, how different all the awarding organisations are. But whatever the subject or approach, all awarding organisations have to follow the same rules about how qualifications should be designed, delivered, assessed and monitored.

Awarding organisations design their qualifications with different subject experts and educators. Qualifications are designed to meet a certain educational level. The different levels basically represent what is expected of a learner in order to complete the qualification and graduate successfully. There is a lot to say about levels, but, for now, you can learn more about what the different levels mean here. Levels of a qualification often determine what you can go on to do after you have graduated.

Some qualifications also offer ‘credit’. Credit is like an educational currency that you can bring with you and accumulate as you study throughout your life. Credit represents the volume of a qualification, and sometimes also level of achievement. So when you have an educational level and a certain amount of ‘credit points’, universities or employers can see what you have achieved and how long it took. They can rely on the fact that you were taught particular content and they know what you are qualified to do or ready to study. Essentially, that is what a certificate represents.

Power and influence

When you consider the level of responsibility that awarding organisations have, it is quite interesting that these bodies are so in the background. You don’t see as many adverts telling you about what awarding organisations offer as you see adverts for what colleges or education centres offer. In terms of having an influence on what kind of education and training is available in England, awarding organisations are incredibly influential.

Imagine that you wanted to develop a new discipline, or promote an idea through educating people in how to use your product or method? If you wanted to be sure that the employers and universities recognised your new idea, you would go to an awarding organisation, ask them if you can develop a new regulated qualification with them and apply to become a centre that delivers it. In England this is possible through the system that we currently have.

Some, but not all, awarding organisations will welcome ideas for new qualifications from people like you. If there is a strong case for why the new qualification will serve society and that it answers a real need out there, you may be able to get it regulated through one such awarding organisation.

Marking your own homework

Awarding organisations cannot deliver the qualifications they award. They are there to assure that those who do are qualified and competent educators and trainers. If an awarding organisation were to deliver its own qualification, it would, in effect, be like you marking your own homework. The reason it is good for your homework to be marked by someone else is that you can learn a lot from the feedback that someone else can provide.

When it comes to education centres and colleges, it is the same thing: they improve their practice when they, too, get feedback from people who care about educational standards and who are equally committed to your success as a student. So, all in all, awarding organisations are to your college what your teacher is to you: someone to learn with and someone to learn from.

Is education all about being assessed?

Sometimes it looks and feels like education and training these days is all about being assessed all the time. If you are wondering where all those things that cannot be measured and weighed fit in, that would be understandable. In the education sector, and within the community of awarding organisations, there is some exciting research taking place about assessment and how to find different ways of approaching this within our current system.

There are many experts and educators out there who are asking good questions about what education in the 21st century should be like. One very interesting educator, called Ken Robinson, has a lot to say about exactly this issue. Watch this short video and you will get an idea of what his views are but also about the kinds of conversations that may take place when awarding organisations go back to first principles and research them:

Hopefully, you now have an idea about what an awarding organisation is and what it does. If not, Ofqual’s website is a good source of more information.

You may also be interested to read our article about qualification development.


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