RQF - Regulated qualifications framework

This page covers:

  • What is the RQF?

  • The previous Qualifications and Credit Framework (QCF)

  • Levels  

  • Awards, Certificates and Diplomas

  • Size and time to achieve

  • Teaching qualifications

  • Ofqual

  • Ofqual videos

What is the RQF?

It stands for the Regulated Qualifications Framework (RQF) and all qualifications regulated by Ofqual (in England) are on this framework. It became effective on 1st October 2015. Other frameworks may exist in different nations and countries. When a qualification is due for renewal, or a new qualification is created by an awarding organisation, it can go onto the RQF provided it meets their requirements. You can find out more about Ofqual in the videos at the end of this page.

The RQF model allows awarding organisations to have much more freedom to design their own qualifications (or create a bespoke one for an approved centre), and to give them an appropriate title other than Award, Certificate or Diploma (which all qualifications were called on the previous QCF). Most qualifications on the RQF are 'shared' i.e. several awarding organisations can use the same content, or they can be kept just for one organisation to use.

All qualifications on the RQF must be underpinned by a validity strategy that will show how they provide value for learners and employers. You can find out more about the RQF by clicking here and viewing the video further down the page. The original 2014 Ofqual General Conditions of Recognition were updated in 2020. These conditions are used by awarding organisations for designing qualifications, and quality assuring the approved centres who deliver and assess them (in England). The latest online version of the Ofqual Handbook: General Conditions of Recognition can be accessed by clicking here.

The previous Qualifications and Credit Framework (QCF)

The current teaching qualifications were developed based upon the Qualifications and Credit Framework (QCF) model which was effective until October 2015. This had mandatory and optional units at different levels and with different credit values. The units and credits could be built up over time to form relevant qualifications. All qualifications began with the title Award, Certificate or Diploma depending upon their size, and could be offered by any regulated awarding organisation. 


The levels in the RQF indicate the difficulty and complexity of the knowledge and skills associated with a qualification which is regulated by Ofqual (in England). 

The RQF has three entry levels: 1,2,3 plus levels 1 to 8.

A rough comparison of levels 1 to 8 to existing qualifications in England is:

1 – GCSEs (grades 3-1: previously D-G)
2 – GCSEs (grades 9-4: previously A*-C), CSE grade 1, O level grade A,B or C
3 – Advanced level (A level) grade A-E, AS level, Vocational level 3, Technical level 3
4 – Vocational Qualification level 4, CertHE, HNC, Higher Apprenticeships 
5 – Vocational Qualification level 5, Foundation Degree, DipHE, HND, CertEd
6 – Bachelor’s Degree (with or without honours), Professional Graduate Certificate or Diploma
7 – Master’s Degree, Postgraduate Certificate or Diploma, PGCE, PGDE
8 – Doctor of Philosophy (DPhil or PhD).

A guide to comparing qualifications in the UK and Ireland can be downloaded here.

Qualifications can be at different levels, but require similar amounts of study and assessment time. Similarly, qualifications at the same level can take different amounts of study and assessment time. 

Qualifications are usually made up of units which contain learning outcomes and assessment criteria. The learning outcomes are what the learner will do (i.e. theory), the assessment criteria are what the learners can do (i.e. practice). These types of qualifications require assessors to confirm the acquisition of specified learning outcomes (CASLO). You can find out more about this from Ofqual at this link.

Ofqual's (2015) qualification and component level descriptors were withdrawn in 2018, however, you can still download the document by clicking here. It contains examples of what should be covered to meet each level. See this link for further information regarding levels.

Awards, Certificates and Diplomas

These are part of the title of a qualification, for example, The Award in Education and Training. They are usually job-related and are designed to develop knowledge, understanding and practical skills for employment. On completion, many people move straight into work or choose to study at a higher level at college or university.

Awards can be studied at any level. They are more concise than certificates and diplomas of the same level. On completion of an award you may have the option to continue studying towards a certificate or a diploma, or to study at a higher level. An Award is 120 TQT or less.

Certificates involve more in-depth study of a topic than awards of the same level. They provide a broad base of knowledge and skills. They can also be studied at any level. On completion of a certificate you may have the option to continue studying towards a diploma, or to study at a higher level.  An Certificate is 121-369 TQT.

Diplomas are the most comprehensive of the three. They offer an extensive programme of learning, allowing you to learn more about a subject than awards and certificates of the same level. They can also be studied at any level.  A Diploma is 370 or above TQT. An Extended Diploma is 1080 or above TQT.

All the above can be taken as stand-alone courses, alongside other (academic or vocational) qualifications, or as part of a wider programme such as an apprenticeship.

The above is an extract from the Education and Training's downloadable guide to what the FE, skills and training sector is all about.

Size and time to achieve (TQT)

All qualifications on the RQF have a 'size' which is expressed in terms of total qualification time (TQT). TQT can be thought of as credits i.e. one credit equals 10 hours of learning. This learning time can be contact time with a tutor or an assessor, as well as non-contact time for assignments and studies. 

For example, if a qualification has a TQT of 12, it would take approximately 120 hours to achieve (12 x 10).

Ofqual's (2015) TQT document was withdrawn in 2018, however, you can still download the document by clicking here.

Guided learning hours (GLH) can also be used to determine how much time is guided by the tutor/assessor when with their learners, and often relates to the way funding is provided for a particular programme.

The title of a qualification can help you to determine its size, as most are called an Award, a Certificate or a Diploma. For example; a Level 3 Award in Education and Training is not as complex as, and would take less time to achieve, than a Level 5 Diploma in Education and Training. 

The terms Award, Certificate and Diploma do not relate to progression, but are an example of how long a qualification will take to complete. Awards, Certificates and Diplomas are often available at several levels for the same subject.

For example: 

an Award is 1 - 12 credits which means 10 - 120 hours of study e.g. the Level 3 Award in Education and Training is 12 credits (120 hours)

a Certificate is 13 - 36 credits which means 130 - 360 hours of study e.g. the Level 4 Certificate in Education and Training is 36 credits (360 hours)

a Diploma is 37 or more credits which means 370 or more hours of study e.g. the Level 5 Diploma in Education and Training is 120 credits (1200 hours).

Teaching qualifications

The content of teaching qualifications is regularly updated to ensure that they remain current, for example; due to developments in technology. If you have achieved a previous version, you do not need to take the latest version.

The Award, Certificate and Diploma in Education and Training were originally approved onto the QCF and replaced PTLLS, CTLLS, and DTLLS.

The book Principles and Practices of Teaching and Training (in the picture) should give trainee teachers all they need to know to start their role, and to work towards a relevant teaching qualification.

If you are a teacher or a learner of the teacher training qualifications, you can find resources to help you here.


Ofqual stands for the Office of Qualifications and Examinations Regulation. They regulate the following qualifications, examinations and assessments (in England):

  • GCSEs

  • A levels

  • AS levels

  • vocational and technical qualifications.

They are responsible for making sure that:

  • regulated qualifications reliably indicate the knowledge, skills and understanding students have demonstrated

  • assessments and exams show what a student has achieved

  • people have confidence in the qualifications that they regulate

  • students and teachers have information on the full range of qualifications that they regulate.

Ofqual is independent of government and reports directly to Parliament.

Ofqual videos