What Is A QCF Qualification?

What Is A QCF Qualification?

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Understanding your course and the resulting qualification is vital before embarking on it. And, up until 2018, the QCF helped to do this. Whether you complete home learning courses in your own time or embark on an in-person qualification, a framework must support and assist you and your class. Although this is now the RQF, or Regulated Qualifications Framework, here in the UK, QCF qualifications are still widely recognised and appreciated. But precisely what is the QCF? And why was it replaced by the RQF? Read on to find out all you need to know!

What Is QCF?

The QCF, or the Qualifications and Credit Framework, was introduced fully in 2011 to replace the National Qualifications Framework and uses a credit transfer system. Under the QCF, all qualifications, exams and awards are provided with a number of awarding credits. These awarding credits represent the total time required for students to complete the course to a satisfactory standard: the more difficult and time-consuming the award, the more credits someone studying it will receive. Up until 2018, when the RQF took over, most further education qualifications across the United Kingdom were based and assessed under the QCF.

The History Of QCF

The QCF had a long inning as the primary educational framework for qualifications, courses and examinations, entirely replacing the previous framework, the National Vocational Qualifications (NVQ), in 2008. In turn, ten years later, OFQUAL transitioned all QCF qualifications to RQF qualifications. Here’s a brief history of QCF, from its beginnings in the 1980s until its replacement in 2018, so you can better understand how these course frameworks are closely related.

  • 1987 – The government introduces the NVQ qualification. As the first qualification framework, the aim of the NVQs was to guarantee that training and studying throughout the UK were standardised and that the quality of learning courses was high. For the first time, industry specialists examined and assessed adult education so that current and future employees could be certified and qualified in the specific skillset needed for success in the industry. 
  • 2008 – The QCF framework is introduced to take over from the NVQ. Combining the lessons learnt from NVQ and new knowledge gained from students and employers, the Qualifications and Credit Framework brings an enhanced, building block approach to studying and learning. Under this framework, you can build on every qualification you earn and transfer credits from other qualifications. This provides students with more freedom and flexibility when it comes to learning. 
  • 2011 – OFQUAL were slowly beginning to phase out the National Qualifications Frameworks across the UK. Therefore, NVQs were slipped into the QCF instead. This significant move meant that OFQUAL could provide all qualifications obtained within the United Kingdom with a QCF credit value. So, all awards were more portable and flexible than ever. 
  • 2014 – The government conducted an independent review, which found that the OCF system placed too much importance on the framework’s structure and the qualifications it supported. As such, the framework didn’t focus enough on the value of the courses.
  • 2015 – Following the review of QCF, OFQUAL introduced a new framework, the RQF. An official transition from the use of QCF to RQF began in October. The critical change between these frameworks was that students could study for their qualifications at their own pace for the first time. Whereas QCF focused on providing a restricted deadline for an entire course, the RQF concentrates on the time each individual needed to complete a qualification. This allowed time for all students, including those juggling full-time employment and the demands of family life, to complete their courses at their own pace.
  • 2018 – By the 1st of January 2018, OFQUAL entirely changed all QCF qualifications to the new framework. Following this transition, education providers list and mark all past QCF qualifications as RQF qualifications. 

The Benefits Of This Framework

person studying towards a qcf qualification

Although they were replaced by the RQF, QCF qualifications and courses still amount to the same respect. So, if you have taken a QCF course in the past, don’t panic – your qualification still stands. There are many benefits to having a qualification monitored under this framework, including the following:

  • They provide you with the right skillset – One of the main benefits of QCF qualifications is that they are vocational qualifications, which means they provide the right skills necessary to do a job right. Therefore, this award will increase your value to future employers.
  • They are nationally recognised – QCF courses remain nationally recognised, even with the introduction of RQF. So, all employers will know the value of these awards and understand that your skills will be transferable.
  • They demonstrate commitment – Studying to a deadline under this framework demonstrates your commitment, which future employers will be able to see. Plus, the QCF has a significant impact on career development.
  • They remove repetitive learning – Repetitive learning is studying the same units and topics more than once, and the QCF prevents this in adult learning. Once you have completed a unit, you can bank the credits and transfer them to other qualifications, keeping learning new and fresh. Plus, learning in this way guarantees that you will understand more in better detail.

What Are QCF Qualifications?

Under the Qualification and Credits framework, there are three different qualification types that you can earn. These are:

  • An Award – A student needs 1 – 12 credits to achieve this.
  • A Certificate – A student needs 13 – 36 credits to achieve this
  • A Diploma – A student needs over 37 credits to achieve this

Each QCF credit that you earn should take you approximately 10 study hours to achieve. So, for example, to achieve a diploma under the QCF, you must study for at least 370 hours. The qualification level of each award relates to its level of difficulty and academic challenge.

QCF Levels

Although the type determines the length of the course, the level of the qualification shows how complex it is. There are eight different levels under the QCF framework. These range from level 1, which are the most fundamental qualifications, to level 8, which are more complex courses. For example, a level 1 diploma will take over 370 hours to complete but will cover straightforward topics, and a level 8 award will take around 12 hours to complete but will tackle more advanced subjects.

Here’s a breakdown of the QCF levels:

Qualification LevelQualification Levels
Level OneGCSE grades 3-1 (or D-G)Level one NVQA first certificateLevel one diplomas, certificates and awards
Level TwoGCSE grades 4-9 (or A*-C)Intermediate apprenticeshipsLevel two diplomas, certificates and awards
Level ThreeA and AS levelsInternational BaccalaureateLevel three diplomas, certificates and awards
Level FourLevel four NVQLevel four diplomas, certificates and awards
Level FiveFoundation degreesDiploma of Higher Education
Level SixBachelor’s degreesGraduate diplomasDegree apprenticeships
Level SevenMaster’s degreesPostgraduate Certificate in EducationBTEC Advanced Professional diplomas, certificates and awards
Level EightDoctoral degreesPHDSpecialist diplomas, certificates and awards

What Are The Differences Between The Qualifications and Credit Framework and The Regulated Qualifications Framework?

As we have mentioned, the Qualifications & Credit Framework was replaced completely in 2018 by the Regulated Qualifications Framework. Unfortunately, this is because the QCF had more of a focus on the framework than it did the students’ learning. This is one of the key differences between the two, in that the RQF provides flexibility and ease with their qualifications. Where the QCF has a designated deadline, and a ‘one size fits all’ ideology behind them, the RQF allows students to fit their qualifications and courses around themselves.

Additionally, the RQF qualification size differs from that of the QCF. An RQF qualification is measured using the Total Qualification Time (TQT), which is the average total number of hours OFQUAL expects a learner to take to complete their course. However, with QCF, the size of a qualification was determined by the credits that the student had acquired. 

Essentially, the key differences in the QCF and RQF frameworks are in their set up. The QCF provided a certain view of what qualifications, and their rewards should look like. However, the RQF provides a simple system that catalogues all regulated qualifications.  

Read More: What Is An RQF Qualification? 

Understanding The QCF

Although the Regulated Qualifications Framework is the primary framework when it comes to regulating examinations and courses, understanding the Qualifications and Credit Framework helps better understand the importance of having the RQF. However, if you have a QCF qualification, knowing the benefits and meaning behind them will be great peace of mind should you be worrying about the relevance and importance of your qualification for the future of your career.

 Do you prefer the QCF framework for your qualifications? Leave your thoughts with us.

Nick Cooper
Nick is NCC's resident blog author and covers a range of subjects, including teaching and health & social care. NCC is an international learning provider with over 20 years’ experience offering learning solutions. To date, NCC has engaged with over 20,000 employers, and delivered quality training to over half a million learners.
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