Responsibility for the regulation of 'relevant qualifications' and keeping under review all aspects of such qualifications rests with the Welsh Ministers under Part 5 of the Education Act 1997 (EA 1997). Welsh Ministers also have other related functions related to qualifications and school examinations and assessment under Part 5. Their functions under Part 5 must be exercised for the purpose of advancing education and training in Wales and with a view to promoting quality and coherence in education and training (section 28 of EA 1997).
Relevant qualifications are academic or vocational qualifications awarded or authenticated in Wales, other than higher education qualifications (a foundation degree, a first degree or a degree at a higher level). A qualification is awarded or authenticated in Wales if there are, or may reasonably be expected to be, persons seeking to obtain the qualification who are, will be or may reasonably be expected to be, assessed for those purposes wholly or mainly in Wales.
Welsh Ministers regulate the bodies that award or authenticate relevant qualifications ('awarding bodies'). They set requirements for awarding bodies to comply with, and requirements for the relevant qualifications they award or authenticate. This is done in the following ways:
The Welsh Ministers set criteria for recognition of awarding bodies, and must recognise (in respect of a specified relevant qualification or description of relevant qualification) any awarding body which applies to be recognised and which meets the criteria (section 30(1)(d) and (e) of EA 1997);
The Welsh Ministers can determine that a specified relevant qualification or description of relevant qualification is to be subject to a requirement of accreditation (section 30(1)(f) of EA 1997);
The Welsh Ministers can also set criteria for the accreditation (section 30(1)(g) ) and
accredit qualifications which are submitted for accreditation by a body recognised in respect of the qualification, providing that it meets the criteria for accreditation (section 30(1)(h)).
If recognised, an awarding body is subject to ongoing conditions of recognition. Similarly, an accreditation of a qualification may be subject to ongoing conditions. The Welsh Ministers have various powers under sections 32A to 32BC of EA 1997 to enforce conditions of recognition or accreditation. Those sections contain further details on how the Welsh Ministers may exercise their powers and how those powers can be enforced and challenged. The powers include the following:
- issuing a direction to a recognised awarding body if it appears that the body has failed or is likely to fail to comply with a condition; this would require the body to take, or not to take, specified steps with a view to securing compliance with the condition (section 32A);
- imposing a monetary penalty on a recognised awarding body if it appears that the body has failed to comply with a condition. The penalty cannot be more than 10% of the body’s turnover (sections 32AA - 32AD);
- withdrawing recognition from a recognised awarding body for failure to comply with a condition (section 32B).
An awarding body is not legally required to be recognised by the Welsh Ministers, nor to have its qualifications accredited. In this sense, the regulation by the Welsh Ministers is voluntary. However, a key consequence of a body being recognised is that its accredited qualifications may be awarded to learners on publicly funded courses of education or training for under 19 year olds. This is because under sections 96 to 102 of the Learning and Skills Act 2000, courses of education or training for under 19 year olds which lead to qualifications, may only be publicly funded (i.e. provided by maintained schools, funded by local authorities or the Welsh Ministers) if the qualification is approved. One way of a qualification being approved for funding is if it is awarded or authenticated by a body recognised by the Welsh Ministers and (if it is subject to a requirement of accreditation) accredited.
Proposed changes to the law
The law in this area is in the process of being changed. The Qualifications (Wales) Bill has been passed by the National Assembly for Wales and is awaiting Royal Assent.
The purpose of the Bill is to:
- establish an independent arms-length body for regulating qualifications in Wales (‘Qualifications Wales’);
- making changes to the recognition and accreditation process.
For further information on this Bill see: