Explaining the Regulated Qualification Framework (RQF)

On 1 October 2015, the Regulated Qualifications Framework (RQF) is officially launched.

The framework should help people understand all the qualifications we regulate, general and vocational in England, and vocational in Northern Ireland, and how they relate to each other. Its intention is to improve consistency around how awarding organisations describe the size and challenge, or demand, of the qualifications they offer.

We’ve introduced the RQF because we think it’s important that there is still a frame of reference available now that the Qualifications and Credit Framework (QCF) rules are no longer in operation.

Sizing up qualifications

We’ve asked the awarding organisations that we regulate to begin describing the size of their qualifications using some new terminology – Total Qualification Time (TQT). TQT is, essentially, an indication of how long a typical learner might take to study a qualification, including the time spent on their individual study and on assessment. It also includes Guided Learning Hours (GLH), which is the time spent actually being taught.

We know that some learners will study faster or slower than others, so size really is a guide, not an absolute. But we know it’s useful to have an estimate of things like teaching and assessment time, not least for those who plan timetables or who are responsible for funding. It’s also helpful to get an understanding of how long an employee might need to be away from work to study, or knowing as an individual how much time you might need to dedicate to achieving your qualification.

On the level

We’ve been careful to build on what already worked with qualification frameworks, and so the RQF uses the same levels that we are already familiar with: entry 1 to 3 and levels 1 to 8. The RQF maps to the Framework for Higher Education Qualifications, as well as to the European Qualifications Framework too, as we know that portability is important to those looking for jobs or seeking to employ people from across the continent.

While we have updated how the levels are described, we have not changed the demand of the levels themselves. The level descriptors are more outcomes-focused now, covering both academic and vocational qualifications, and setting out the ‘skills’ and ‘knowledge and understanding’ that you might typically expect of someone with a qualification at that level.


Qualifications can serve a wide variety of different purposes and assess very different skills and knowledge. So being at the same level, or of similar size, does not make qualifications directly equivalent to one another.

To understand how qualifications might compare, you need to look in more depth, and not just at size and level. To go back to our bookcase analogy, with qualifications as the books, we’d encourage you to take the books off the shelf and flick through the pages, and our online Register of Regulated Qualifications helps you to do this. We’re currently improving how our register works, and you can test out the prototype and provide feedback to us to help make it even better.

Our intention is that the RQF acts as a simple tool for describing qualifications. We don’t claim it will transform the qualifications landscape, but we do hope it will help people to understand qualifications a little better and to use them more confidently.

Source: Jeremy Benson
Executive Director for Vocational Qualifications – Ofqual

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