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Explaining the RQF

Posted by: , Posted on: - Categories: Vocational and technical qualifications

Today (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. You can read more about the end of the QCF in my last blog. I also spoke to FE Week about it.

You may have already seen our bookcase postcard, which shows you how the framework is constructed using two points of reference: size and level. I want to explain here a little more about these.

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.

Jeremy Benson
Executive Director for Vocational Qualifications

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  1. Comment by Linda posted on

    Bit worrying your link to the postcard is not working!

  2. Comment by Sarah F posted on

    I really don't think the bookcase illustration is useful at all. It doesn't show qualification equivalents which is what employers really need. More confusing than ever before!

    • Replies to Sarah F>

      Comment by Patrick Douse posted on

      Totally agree.
      pointless piece of graphics with no content.

  3. Comment by Theo posted on

    the link to the postcard is not working

    • Replies to Theo>

      Comment by Philip McAllister posted on

      Hi Theo,

      Thanks for the comment. We've checked the link and it appears to be working as expected.

      • Replies to Philip McAllister>

        Comment by frances posted on

        Hi Philip,

        The link isn't working for me either

  4. Comment by Matthew Dean posted on

    The link to the register is not working

  5. Comment by prudence posted on

    the link within your postcard still does not work.
    if you were to unhide the link text (in the exam element screen) people can at least copy and paste it into a new window currently we cant even do that.

  6. Comment by sean f cunningham posted on

    what do you mean by regulated

  7. Comment by Amy Gault posted on

    Thank you

    I love the bookcase illustration

  8. Comment by Barry R posted on

    So how do I find an RQF code for a particular course I'm offering? The register is fairly useless.

    How can I create a code if a course does not yet exist

    • Replies to Barry R>

      Comment by hannahbradley posted on

      Hi Barry, there is no RQF code as such. Perhaps you mean the QN (qualification number)? You should be able to see the QN on the register. Depending on what you are looking for, it could well be worth speaking to the ESFA (Education and Skills Funding Agency) about providing a new course.

  9. Comment by Ellie posted on

    Hi, I’m looking at starting a beauty course and they’ve told me that I would receive a RQF qualification after which they said is an updated version of an NVQ. I’m confused as to what the difference is between them? And whether if I get this qualification if I’ll be able to get work after. Or if it’s better to gain an NVQ? Any advice you have on this would be much appreciated
    Thanks Ellie