There are a number of routes through which learners can have their non-formal and informal learning recognised and validated in England and Northern Ireland. Recognition of Prior Learning (RPL) is used in relation to formal, regulated qualifications.
In vocational education, RPL is mainly used to tailor the learning offer and in higher education (HE), it can be used for access, exemption and award.
Progress and achievement in non-regulated learning (nonaccredited learning) can be recognised through a five-stage process known as RARPA, which however does not lead to any form of certification.
National Vocational Qualifications (NVQs) represent an opportunity to validate workplace learning. They are aimed mainly at people in work and lead to a nationally-recognised qualification, proving the ability to perform an occupation to a nationally-recognised occupational standard.
VPL in Higher Education
For HE, the responsibility for RPL lies ultimately with the degree awarding body or other AO (as that is where ultimate responsibility for academic standards lies). Although there is no legislation that regulates RPL, there is a long tradition of recognising prior learning and encouraging mature students to participate in higher education.
In 2012-13, the Quality Assurance Agency (QAA) introduced the UK Quality Code for HE, which is ‘the definitive reference point for all UK higher education providers’. The Quality Code sets out the ‘expectations’ that all providers of UK HE are required to meet (the Code applies to England, Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland). Each expectation is accompanied by a series of indicators that reflect ‘sound practice’.
By bringing together assessment in relation to formal learning and RPL in one chapter, the aim was to demonstrate that both forms of assessment share common principles and that the quality assurance of RPL should be as firmly embedded as quality assurance for any other aspect of HE provision.
Validation in the Labour Market
National vocational qualifications (NVQs) are work-related, outcomes-based, competence-oriented qualifications which are based on national occupational standards (NOS3 ). They are mainly targeted to people who are currently in work and provide evidence of professional competence. They can be taken as a qualification on their own, or as part of an apprenticeship.
NVQs are assessed through evidence of performance against certain workrelated tasks, rather than formal examinations. They can be individualised to the learner, to fit around his/her work commitments. There are no time limits on the completion of NVQs, no age limits and no special entry requirements.
At sector level, Skills Passports have been developed.
Validation in the Third Sector
It is possible to identify individual examples of validation projects in this sector, which tend to be formative in nature. There is no overarching approach however, for example to cover youth or voluntary work.
The Informal Learning in Communities (ILIC) project has now come to an end. One of its outputs was training modules for practitioners in the field of adult education wanting to develop and validate informal and non-formal learning within different communities. In the third sector, the focus tends to be on initial guidance, reflection and recognising and identifying skills, and gathering evidence.
Funding of VPL
Providers are required to assess the prior learning of each individual learner against the learning outcomes of the qualification concerned and tailor the learning accordingly, so that the learner is not required to repeat learning already achieved. Where prior learning is accredited, funding awarded to the learning provider for the delivery of the qualification has to be reduced proportionally.
Where prior learning is not accredited, the training provider still receives funding for providing the qualification, to cover the costs of the assessment activity required to ascertain whether the learner has achieved the learning outcomes in question and accredit that learning. In the HE sector, institutions have the autonomy to decide whether/how much to charge for an RPL procedure – the QAA Quality Code states only that there should be clear information on how much they charge.
In Northern Ireland, there are no specific funding arrangements for RPL. It is funded in the same way as formal learning would be.