Here's a list of terminology relating to courses, certificates and qualifications 

Not all programmes of learning lead to regulated qualifications, some offer a certificate or a record of achievement. 

But what's the difference? 

Hopefully the information on this page will help you to understand the terminology used, as it can sometimes be misleading or confusing. 

Please note:

  • An awarding organisation (AO) can approve any organisation (known as a centre) to offer regulated qualifications and/or endorsed programmes of learning. The centre will need to meet certain criteria which are set by the AO.

  • All awarding organisations are regulated by Ofqual's General Conditions of Recognition. You can find out if an awarding organisation is recognised by Ofqual here.

  • Qualifications in England are on the Regulated Qualifications Framework (RQF). Vocational qualifications usually begin with the word: Award; Certificate; or Diploma. These terms relate to how much content is covered as part of the qualification i.e. its size. They do not relate to progression.

  • If you are planning on working towards a regulated qualification, make sure the organisation you sign up with is an approved centre with an awarding organisation which is regulated by Ofqual. You could carry out an online search on review websites for past learners' feedback (however, bear in mind that they might not all be genuine).

  • You can check out these tips to find a legitimate qualification provider.



A programme of learning which is supported by a person or an organisation (i.e. a trade/professional body or an awarding organisation).

It might not be recognised by others, and is only a regulated qualification if it is on a regulated qualification framework (RQF).

The certificate will prove that a person has completed a programme of learning, or has achieved a qualification on the RQF.


Any person or organisation can approve or certify another person or organisation to offer a programme of learning. For example, a trade/professional body might approve an organisation to promote a particular programme of learning (and allow them to use their name and logo), after they have met certain criteria. The logo can assure others that the organisation is following certain standards. It can mean that any certificate issued will be recognised by another organisation in the same sector. However, the certificate is not a qualification and might not be accepted outside that particular sector (unless it has specifically been added to a regulated qualification framework).


Any person or organisation can 'award' something, which might not have any meaning elsewhere. For example; the employee of the month was awarded a certificate by XYZ organisation. However, the term could be used for the achievement of a qualification. For example; all successful learners will receive a certificate awarded by XYZ Awarding Organisation.


A certificate can be issued by anyone for anything, and it is not necessarily recognised by others unless it is for a nationally regulated qualification. Some organisations issue their own certificates, which might only be recognised in-house. For example; to reward the achievement of a particular job role or task. Many organisations issue an electronic copy and a hard copy of a certificate. Electronic copies can be easily forged. See the section towards the end of this page as to what to do if you think you have received a fraudulent certificate. 


An endorsed programme of learning has usually been created to fill a gap i.e. to meet a particular job role or area of expertise. Any organisation can apply for their own programme of learning to be endorsed, usually by an awarding organisation or a trade/professional body, who will issue a certificate upon successful completion. Endorsement shows that the organisation has met the high standards which are required to offer particular programmes of learning. The certificate might not be recognised by others, and is not a regulated qualification (unless it has specifically been added to a regulated qualification framework). Similar to accredited/customised, and approved/certified.


Organisations who offer publicly funded qualifications (which are regulated), will be inspected to ensure that they meet certain standards, for example, by Ofsted in England. Trade/professional bodies will inspect their members to ensure they are meeting the requirements of their membership, and the conditions for offering programmes of learning. Awarding organisations will inspect their approved centres, known as external quality assurance (EQA). Centres must carry out internal quality assurance (IQA) and adhere to the requirements of their centre approval.   


An official record of successful achievement, usually issued by an awarding organisation (AO). The qualification content will have been subject to scrutiny, as will the approved centre who delivered and assessed it. The qualification will usually be on a regulated framework, and a nationally recognised certificate will be issued by the AO upon successful completion of the programme by the learner.


A recognised qualification is one that is accepted nationally and is usually on a framework (see RQF). A recognised certificate might only be accepted by the organisation which issued it. A recognised centre has gone through an approval process with an awarding organisation to offer qualifications and/or endorsed programmes of learning, and is subject to monitoring and quality assurance processes.

Record of Achievement

Any person or organisation can issue a record of achievement to someone who has successfully completed a programme of learning. This might be useful as evidence of continuing professional development (CPD). The programme might be specific to a particular organisation, or be one which is offered openly to anyone.       

Record of Attendance

Any person or organisation can issue a record of attendance to someone who has attended an event; conference or a programme of learning. Its only benefit it to prove someone was there, however, they might not have learnt anything. 


Qualifications which are officially recognised (often by government) and are therefore subject to scrutiny. They are usually on a framework (the RQF in England). For example, vocational qualifications, GCSEs, A and AS levels.

Awarding organisations who recognise and approve centres to offer regulated qualifications must abide by regulations (i.e. the Ofqual Conditions of Recognition in England). The conditions are used by awarding organisations for designing qualifications, and for quality assuring the centres who deliver and assess them (in England). 

If you are outside England, you will need to check which body regulates the qualifications. 


Set criteria which a person or an organisation must meet to achieve something. They can be set by any person or organisation. 

However, unless they are nationally agreed and recognised, they will differ between sectors.

National Occupational Standards (NOS) are statements of performance (knowledge and skills) for particular job roles. They are often used to assess a person’s competence, but are not qualifications.

Apprenticeship standards are developed by employer groups for particular occupations (in England). The standards will be used by the person training the apprentice on behalf of an organisation which is on the Register of Apprenticeship Training Providers

When an apprentice has been assessed and deemed successful, they will receive an apprenticeship certificate. This is not a qualification. However, some apprenticeship programmes also include programmes of learning which can lead to a regulated qualification.


A status is usually conferred by an organisation to a person who has achieved something by demonstrating certain criteria. For example, QTLS status (Qualified Teacher Learning and Skills) is achieved by demonstrating a commitment to the ETF Professional Standards.  QTLS is the badge of professionalism for teachers and trainers in England who teach ages 14+ in the learning and skills sector. It is not a qualification, but a way of demonstrating good practice.