Although these tips are aimed at those looking for an online course provider, they can also be a guide to check out providers where you attend a course in person.
When searching for a provider, you will no doubt come across many courses for your chosen qualification. Some of these will seem to be at a very cheap price - if it seems too good to be true, it probably is. Do your research – don’t panic buy a course just because the website says it’s a limited time offer. Taking a little bit of time to carry out the following checks now, might save you a lot of time in the future, particularly if the 'qualification' you eventually receive is fraudulent.
Check if you will achieve a qualification, a certificate, a record of achievement or something else. The terminology means very different things, for example, receiving a certificate does not always mean you have achieved a qualification. You can find out the differences here.
For any provider you are considering signing up with, find
out more about them, and what their price includes. For example; will you be working through online
materials without any support, and without being registered with an awarding
organisation (AO)? If so, it will be cheaper than other providers. However, if you want a qualification, it’s the AO who will
issue your certificate, not the provider, so it's worth asking for your registration number once you have signed up. Some online courses will charge extra for registration with an AO, and for ongoing support; assessment of your work; developmental feedback; observations (where necessary); and certification.
online and compare prices across different providers – get an idea of an
average price for your qualification.
Ask the provider if there are any extra charges or if the price you see is the price you pay for everything (including registration and certification with an AO). A genuine provider will be happy to answer any questions that you have.
Look carefully at the provider’s website. Do they state what you will get for your money? Do they have the logo of the AO on there? They will have an AO ‘centre number’ which they should be able to provide to you if they are legitimate. If so, you can check with the AO that they are an approved centre. Some courses only offer a record of achievement, which is not a certificate for a qualification - make sure you know what you are getting.
When commencing a course, you should be required to complete an initial assessment, followed by an action plan with target dates for the submission of your coursework. If not, this might be an indication that the provider just wants to get you signed up without considering your capability to achieve. Ask them beforehand.
Ask the provider how and when you will receive ongoing guidance and support.
If the course includes an aspect of observed practice (e.g. a micro-teach session), find out if you must travel to a central location to deliver it, or if you can do it remotely by recording it for submission, or by being observed remotely online.
Find out what timescale you have to complete the course in, and what will happen if circumstances mean you can't meet any deadlines. Any legitimate provider will want to support you by extending the deadline if necessary.
Can you communicate with the provider by talking to them on the telephone or via a face to face online call? If communication is only available via an online ‘chat’ then you don’t know who you are dealing with.
Is the provider’s telephone number a landline number or just a mobile number? Is their address available on their website? Without an address, you can’t thoroughly check them out.
Are there real images of the people who work there (i.e. those who will train and assess you), with details of their experience and qualifications? If not, consider why they might not want this information to be in the public domain. Any legitimate provider will want to sing the praises of their staff.
Check out the provider by carrying out an online search for their company name. You might find lots of positive things about them, or not. If it’s the latter, beware. If they are a limited company, check their details online at Companies House.
Carry out an online search on review websites for past learners' feedback (however, bear in mind that they might not all be genuine).
Ask for feedback from people who have taken the course with the provider – either directly from the provider (if they are genuine they will be happy to provide this), or by asking in relevant social media groups such as LinkedIn and Facebook. Past learners, if they have received a good service, will always be happy to say so. Conversely, if they received a poor service they will not want others to go through what they have.
Don't be pressured by a 'special offer today only' or an image of a clock timing down. The special offer is probably available every day, and the timer will reset.
Don't be embarrassed about what has happened, you are not alone so don't be afraid to speak out.
Contact the organisation direct. If they are genuine, they will have a formal complaints procedure and they will want to put things right. Keep copies of all correspondence.
Check if the qualification is on the register of regulated qualifications.
If so, contact the awarding organisation whose logo has been used on the certificate. There should be a series of letters and numbers printed on it. These will denote the 'centre number' and your 'registration number'. The awarding organisation will need these numbers to check if the centre is approved to offer qualifications through them.
If they are not a legitimate centre, inform Ofqual via their whistle-blowing and malpractice procedure. They are the regulator of qualifications in England. If you are outside England, you will need to find out who the regulator is.
Contact your local Trading Standards office and the police.
Inform the Education and Training Foundation.
Contact your bank, credit card company, Paypal or other payment provider to see if you can get your money back.
Contact me to let me know, I am gathering information to see what the extent of the situation is.
If you have completed a training course for the Award in Education and Training (AET), but have since found out your provider was not legitimate; or you have received a fraudulent certificate, help is here.
Providing you have electronic copies of your coursework/assignments, Chris Vaines from KMF Training (who I collaborate with for my online courses) will provide a free consultation and informal assessment of your work. You can then decide if you wish to register with them to complete the qualification. You will only need to partake in additional online learning if there are any identified gaps in your work.
Click here for further information regarding this free service.