B4a: ORMS Recognition of Prior Learning (RPL) for RQF courses

This policy is for Recognised Qualifications Frameworks (RQF) awards, not Higher Education awards provided through Robert Gordon University


Recognition of Prior Learning (RPL) is a method of assessment leading to the award of credit within the UK’s Recognised Qualifications Frameworks (RQF). This document applies to all qualifications on credit-based frameworks. These include the National Qualification Framework (NQF), the Qualifications and Credit Framework (QCF), the Scottish Credit and Qualifications Framework (SCQF) and the Credit and Qualifications Framework for Wales (CQFW). It considers whether a learner can demonstrate that they can meet the assessment requirements for a unit through knowledge, understanding or skills they already possess, and so not need to develop these through a course of learning.

Regulatory arrangements for the Qualifications and Credit Framework

RPL enables recognition of achievement from a range of activities using any valid assessment methodology. Provided that the assessment requirements of a given unit or qualification have been met, the use of RPL is acceptable for accrediting a unit, units or a whole qualification. Evidence of learning must be: valid; reliable; safe; fair.

What is ‘the recognition of Prior Learning’?

In recent years, there has been an increasing interest within qualifications frameworks across the world in how to recognise individuals’ previous achievements. There are several different ways in which this process is described. Terms like ‘the accreditation of prior learning’, ‘the recognition of experiential learning’ or ‘the validation of informal learning’ are all used in different frameworks in different countries. In the Recognised Qualifications Frameworks (RQF) the term ‘recognition of prior learning’ has been adopted and abbreviated to RPL.

Principles of RPL

Principle 1

RPL is a valid method of enabling individuals to claim credit for units and qualifications in the QCF, irrespective of how the learning took place and the assessments undertaken. There is no difference between the required standards through prior learning and through a formal program of study.

Principle 2

RPL must comply with all regulatory requirements for assessment. RPL policies, processes, procedures, practices and decisions should be transparent, rigorous, reliable, fair and accessible to individuals and stakeholders to ensure that users can be confident of the decisions and outcomes of RPL.

Principle 3

RPL is a learner-centered, voluntary process. The individual should be offered advice on the nature and range of evidence considered appropriate to support a claim for assessing RPL, and be given guidance and support to make his or her claim.

Principle 4

The process of RPL is subject to the same standard of quality assurance and monitoring processes as any other form of learning and assessment.

Principle 5

Assessment methods for RPL must be of equal rigour as other assessment methods, be fit for purpose and relate to the evidence of learning. An individual can claim RPL against any whole unit unless the assessment criteria of the unit states otherwise. For example if an external assessment sets the standard of the learning outcome that the learner must achieve, then the learner must pass the external assessment to achieve the unit and gain the credit.

RPL in Practice – Advice through to Appeal

The RPL process

The process of RPL involves individuals from the moment they consider making a claim and supports them through to the result of the assessment. Where procedures for RPL are new or underdeveloped, representative bodies, learning providers and awarding organisations will need to go through a planning and pre-implementation phase to ensure they lay a solid foundation for successful RPL. It is possible for an individual to follow more than one route to claim credit within the RQF.

The following are the stages that an individual would take to make a claim for credit through RPL using an individually tailored route. The process described below has been adapted from the European guidelines on the validation of non-formal and informal learning

Stage 1: General awareness about claiming credit — information, advice and guidance

When an individual indicates an interest in registering for a qualification in the RQF, the possibility that they may be able to claim credit for some of their previous learning needs to be raised with them. If the offer of RPL interests the individual at this initial stage they will need to know about:

  • The process of claiming credit through RPL
  • The sources of professional support and guidance available to individuals and employers
  • The administrative processes for RPL applications
  • Timelines, appeals processes and any fees and/or subsidies available to support the process.

Stage 2: Pre-assessment — gathering evidence and giving information

If an individual decides to claim credit for prior learning, it is important that all the implications of this decision are made known, prior to any decision to begin collecting evidence to support this claim.

This stage is vital to ensure that the candidate is:

  • Fully informed of the RPL process
  • Has sufficient support to make a viable claim
  • Able to make decisions about evidence collection and presentation for assessment.

During this stage the candidate will carry out the process of collecting evidence against the requirements of the unit or units through which credit is claimed. In some cases this may entail the development of an ‘assessment plan’ or similar tool to support the individual through this process. The evidence required for the award of credit will need to meet the assessment standard of the unit(s) expressed through the learning outcomes and assessment criteria, as well as any additional assessment requirements established for the unit(s).

Stage 3: Assessment/ documentation of evidence

Assessment as part of RPL is a structured process for gathering and reviewing evidence and making judgments about an individual’s prior learning and experience in relation to unit standards. Assessment must be valid and reliable to ensure the integrity of both the award of credit and the RPL system as a whole. The assessment process for RPL must be subject to the same quality-assurance procedures of the awarding organisation as any other assessment process

Stage 4: Feedback

After the assessment the assessor will, where practically possible, need to give feedback to the candidate, discuss the results and give support and guidance on the options available to the candidate which may include, for example, further learning and development. It is assumed that the assessor will also confirm to the individual whether or not a recommendation for the award of credits will be made. In all cases, once the assessment process is complete, the standard procedures for reporting results leading to the award of credit should be followed.

Stage 5: Awarding credit

Awarding organisations are responsible for awarding credit. The procedure is the same as for other forms of assessment and may vary between awarding organisations and between different centres. All credits achieved through RPL are recorded by the awarding organisation in the personal learning record in exactly the same way as all other credits.

Stage 6: Appeal

If Learners wish to appeal against a decision made about their claim for credit they would need to follow the standard appeals processes that exist within learning provider organisations and awarding organisations