Qualifications in the UK are designed and awarded by awarding organisations (AO). An AO, often in collaboration with a Sector Skills Council (SSC) and employers, creates the units, learning outcomes and assessment criteria that learners must meet in order to successfully achieve a qualification.
Education providers such as schools, colleges and training providers can deliver and assess qualifications that an awarding organisation develops. In order to offer a qualification through an awarding organisation, an education provider must become an approved centre of the awarding organisation.
Centre approval from an awarding organisation confirms that a provider has met a set of standards, developed by the awarding organisation. The provider or ‘centre’ have met the standards and has the relevant qualified and experienced employees and appropriate resources, to deliver and assess the qualifications.
Approved centres can be large schools, colleges, training providers or small, sole trainers.
When a centre gains centre approval, they are agreeing with the awarding organisation to adhere to their terms, conditions, regulations and requirements for delivering and assessing a particular qualification.
The centre is also agreeing to allow the awarding organisation to externally quality assure their internal quality procedures, policies, administration, staff, delivery and assessment decisions.
An awarding organisation will assess the above through the use of External Quality Assurers (EQAs).
EQAs undertake external quality assurance activities with an approved centre. These activities can be remote based, where an EQA works from their own home or awarding organisation premises or they undertake a visit to the centre visits.
During EQA activities, an EQA will make judgements on the quality of the qualifications, assessment judgements and quality assurance activities within a centre. They will produce a report of their findings for the AO.
Once an approved centre offers an awarding organisation’s qualifications, they are subject to EQA activities on a regular basis. If during EQA activities, an EQA identifies an issue or problem at the centre, the AO can impose sanctions on the centre.
Sanctions can include:
- More regular EQA activities
- EQAs having to check all assessments judgements made in a centre, before a certificate is issued by the AO
- A centre being prevented from registering any more learners with an AO
- The AO withdrawing a centre’s ‘approved centre’ status.
An approved centre must allow an EQA to visit them when a request has been made. EQA visits are usually planned in advance between the centre and EQA.