Aug 08, 2023
Read time : 12: 03 mins
To be honest, all these acronyms and abbreviations previously made no sense to me at all.
And, if you’re in the same situation as I once was, no worries — I’ve managed to simplify it to the point where even someone without a relevant educational background won’t struggle to understand different levels and sizes of these qualifications.
Now, let’s get right into the meaning behind RQF, its significance, and the role that qualification sizes and levels play.
RQF, short for Regulated Qualifications Framework, is a nationally recognised system that governs qualifications in England, Wales, and Northern Ireland.
In essence, the primary goal of the RQF is to establish a versatile educational framework throughout these regions. In other words, it ensures consistency and facilitates mobility. It enabling a fair comparison of educational levels while preserving their rightful significance within the country.
Before we dig into the RQF levels and their equivalency to other educational credentials, let’s uncover some historical facts to build context.
How do employers compare qualifications? To address this, regulatory bodies have associated credits or other quantifiable metrics. This enabling them to evaluate the difficulty and time required for learners to complete a qualification.
Up until approximately 2008, the National Qualifications Framework (NQF) was in place and served as a means for employers to compare qualifications.
In 2008, the Qualifications and Credit Framework (QCF) replaced the NQF. It introduced a new system that assigned a credit value to each unit of a qualification. This change provided learners with greater flexibility, as they could complete the units at their own pace.
However, the QCF was eventually succeeded by the Regulated Qualifications Framework (RQF) around 2015. Operational since October 1, 2015, the RQF offered a single and more straightforward solution, not only simplifying the process but also providing descriptive information.
The RQF framework describes the sizes and levels of qualifications in a manner that allows for easy comparison of qualifications from anywhere in the world to this system. As a result, individuals can get a rough idea of how their qualifications stack up in terms of difficulty and size in England, Wales, and Northern Ireland.
Now that we know what RQF is and how regulatory approaches have evolved, let’s proceed to explore the different RQF levels and their equivalency to other educational credentials.
The RQF levels serve as indicators of a qualification’s difficulty.
As the level number increases, the complexity of the content also rises, requiring learners to invest more time to complete the qualification.
Consequently, this directly influences the size of the qualification.
The RQF encompasses a total of 8 main levels, accompanied by 3 supporting entry levels. Below, I’ve provided a table comparing these RQF levels to their equivalent certificates:
GCSE (grades 3-1)
GCSE (grades 9-4)
Higher National Certificate (HNC)
Higher National Diploma (HND)
Doctor of Philosophy
Having a clear understanding of the equivalent qualifications at each RQF level will help to easily compare any qualification against awards, certificates, or diplomas you may be pursuing. However, it’s essential to consider suitability when deciding which RQF level to opt for, especially if you aim to specialise in a particular subject. While there are no strict rules to follow, there is a general idea to help you gauge the complexity of these levels.
Entry Levels: These levels typically aren’t compulsory or required by organisations as they provide only basic knowledge. They are suitable for individuals entering a new field.
RQF Level 1: The RQF Level 1 marks the initial step towards formal recognition of your knowledge across England, Wales, and Northern Ireland. It caters to learners aged 15-16 and offers foundational knowledge.
RQF Level 2: Building on the previous level, RQF Level 2 takes it a step further. It covers the basics of the subject while also delving into additional modules. It is suitable for learners aged 15-16.
RQF Level 3: At this level, you become a specialist in your chosen subject area. It assumes that you have covered the basics and takes a more in-depth approach to learning compared to the previous levels.
RQF Level 4: This level is equivalent to the first year of a bachelor’s degree, representing a step up from secondary level content.
RQF Level 5: RQF Level 5 acts as a preparatory phase if you plan to pursue the Level 6 qualification. It lays the necessary foundation to surpass secondary education.
RQF Level 6: Equivalent to a 3-year bachelor’s degree, RQF Level 6 is intended for learners aged above 19.
RQF Level 7: Corresponding to a master’s degree, RQF Level 7 takes the subject matter to a deeper level of understanding compared to previous levels.
RQF Level 8: RQF Level 8 represents the highest achievement in England, Wales, and Northern Ireland, indicating a doctoral-level qualification in your subject.
Indeed, understanding the size of a qualification is crucial, and one way to gauge it is by considering the time it takes for a learner to complete the qualification. Each qualification is assigned a specific number of credits, with each credit generally representing 10 hours of learning. By multiplying the number of credits by 10, we can estimate the Total Qualification Time (TQT) for a course. For example, if a course has 12 credits, its TQT would be around 120 hours.
Let’s further break it down!
Total Qualification Time encompasses the entire duration from when you enrol on the course until its completion. This includes going through study materials, participating in assessments, engaging in guided learning sessions, and any other steps involved in the learning process. For instance, a course might have a core duration of 40 hours, but if it involves additional time for completing assignments and assessments, these hours are also factored into the estimated TQT.
On the other hand, Guided Learning Hours are distinct and only account for the time spent under the direct supervision of a lecturer or a training body.
Putting in a mathematical form,
Total Qualification Time (TQT) = Guided Learning Hours (GLH) + Directed Learning Hours + Assessment Hours
Knowing how long it will take you to go through the entire course prepares you to schedule your other responsibilities accordingly. So, it’s always best to know at least the TQT of the qualification.
If you’re considering a move to England, Wales, Northern Ireland, or Scotland, it would be a smart move to enrol on a relevant course or programme. In England, Wales, and Northern Ireland, they follow the Regulated Qualifications Framework (RQF), while Scotland has its own Scottish Credit Qualification Framework (SCQF).
The RQF starts with 3 entry levels and goes all the way up to level 8, which is the highest attainable level. On the other hand, the SCQF doesn’t have any entry levels and starts simply from Level 1, going up to a total of 12 levels.
To make it clearer for you, here’s a comparison table showcasing the RQF and SCQF levels, helping you to see how they correspond to each other:
|Entry Level 1||Level 1|
|Entry Level 2||Level 2|
|Entry Level 3||Level 3|
|Level 1||Level 4|
|Level 2||Level 5|
|Level 3||Level 6|
|Level 4/5||Level 7/8|
|Level 6||Level 9/10|
|Level 7||Level 11|
|Level 8||Level 12|
Back to sizes …
An award is the shortest qualification, typically taking up to 13 credits or 130 hours to complete, providing learners with basic knowledge and recognition. Moving up, certificates require learners to go through 13 to 37 credits, equivalent to approximately 130 to 370 hours of study, offering a more comprehensive understanding of a subject. And, diplomas, the longest form of qualification, extend beyond 37 credits or roughly 370 hours, providing in-depth knowledge and a higher level of expertise.
Are RQF levels recognised throughout the UK?
No, these levels are not recognised throughout the UK. The RQF Levels are accepted in England, Wales, and Northern Ireland.
What is an RQF Level 1 Health and Safety and Construction Environment qualification?
An RQF Level 1 Health and Safety and Construction Environment qualification, often required for obtaining a CSCS Green card, offers foundational knowledge and skills in health and safety practices within the construction industry. It covers hazard recognition, risk assessment, and safe working practices, making it valuable for individuals new to construction or seeking basic safety awareness in construction environments.
What is RQF Level 6 equivalent to?
RQF Level 6 is equivalent to a bachelor’s degree.
What do RQF Levels mean?
The levels indicate the complexity of the qualification. The higher the number goes, the more complex it gets.
What does “size” mean?
The size of a qualification is simply the time it takes to complete the course content.
If you’re landing on a page for the first time detailing RQF levels and what they mean, this could look like a lot. However, I’ve tried to keep it very simple on purpose so that you can cover everything you need to know about the Regulated Qualifications Framework (RQF).
Not that you need to memorise all of it, and nobody really does, but you can definitely bookmark this page so you can come back to it later when you decide on pursuing a qualification in England, Wales, or Northern Ireland. This guide can surely come in handy and help you compare your RQF Level qualification against the traditional educational credentials.
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