Recognition of Prior Learning

Our Policy

SQA’s policy is to recognise prior learning as a method of assessing whether a learner’s experience and achievements meet the evidence requirements (ie the standard) of a SQA Unit or Units and which may or may not have been developed through a course of learning.

The following questions and answers have been prepared to explain SQA’s policy on the Recognition of Prior Learning (RPL).

Is the Recognition of Prior Learning (RPL) new?

It is new in the sense that this is the first time SQA has had a policy statement specifically relating to the Recognition of Prior Learning (RPL). However, other terms have been used in the past to refer to very similar concepts, for example, Accreditation of Prior Learning (APL), Accreditation of Prior Experiential Learning (APEL).

What types of prior learning may be used in the assessment of SQA Units?

SQA recognises that learners gain knowledge and skills acquired through formal, non-formal and informal learning contexts. Formal learning is learning certificated by a recognised awarding or professional body; Non-formal learning includes learning such as employer's in-house training courses, which may or may not be assessed and/or certificated; finally, Informal learning is learning based on experience from a variety of environments which is not formally assessed.

How closely should a learner’s evidence of their prior learning and experience match the requirements of a SQA Unit?

Evidence to support prior learning assessment decisions must be valid, reliable and of equal rigour to the standard assessment of the Unit concerned. This means that the evidence should broadly match the evidence requirements specified in the Unit and reflect the SCQF level and credit value attached to the Unit.

Can evidence of prior learning and experience be presented in a language other than English?

Evidence in support of recognition of prior learning assessment decisions should be presented in English, or where appropriate, Gaelic. Gaelic may be used in evidence to support the recognition of prior learning assessment decisions only where the SQA Unit(s) are themselves assessed in Gaelic. This reflects SQA's policy on the language of assessment.

Can the Recognition of Prior Learning be used to assess partial SQA Units?

The recognition of prior learning may be used to assess complete or partial SQA Units. Where evidence of prior learning only partially meets the evidence requirements of a Unit, other methods of assessment should be used to complete the outstanding requirements. The minimum level of awarding and certification will be a complete SQA Unit.

Can previously attained qualifications be used as evidence of prior learning?

Previously attained qualifications may be used as evidence of prior learning as long as they have been awarded by a recognised awarding body or professional body. It is a Centre’s responsibility to ensure that the content, level of demand and assessment approach of the prior attained qualification broadly matches the evidence requirements specified in the SQA Unit(s). A qualifications certificate on its own is unlikely to be sufficient evidence for assessment and verification purposes. This should be supported by module descriptors or equivalent which provides information on the level, demand, content and assessment of the previously attained qualification.

Is there a different quality assurance approach for the Recognition of Prior Learning?

The assessment of prior learning should be subject to the same internal verification by Centres as other methods of assessment. SQA will also adopt the same approach to quality assurance as any other method of assessment. Appeals from learners will follow the same process applicable to standard assessment of the Unit(s) or Group Award and/or Centre type concerned.

Is the Recognition of Prior Learning an exemption from a Group Award?

The recognition of prior learning is not an exemption from a Unit(s) within a Group Award. Candidates should to be entered for the Unit(s) and/or Group Award as normal. Standard Unit and Group Award entry fees also apply.

How current does a learner’s evidence of prior learning or experience have to be?

Evidence to support prior learning decisions needs to ensure the currency of the learner’s knowledge, skills and achievement within the context of the Unit(s) being assessed. SQA does not set a general time limit for the currency of evidence of prior learning or experience. Currency is likely to differ depending on the sector. Supplementary questioning may be undertaken by assessors in order to ascertain the currency of a learner’s prior learning or experience

Can the Recognition of Prior Learning be used to assess a full SQA Group Award?

The recognition of prior learning can be considered in relation to the internal assessment of one or more Units in the following types of SQA Group Award:

  • Higher National Certificate and Diplomas (except Graded Units)
  • Professional Development Awards
  • Scottish Vocational Qualifications
  • National Progression Awards
  • National Certificates
  • Awards

In some instances, a full Group Award may be achieved through the recognition of prior learning. However, it is unlikely that a learner would have the appropriate prior learning and experience to meet all the requirements of a full Group Award.

Are there any types of Units or assessments where the recognition of prior learning may not be used as a method of assessment?

The recognition of prior learning may not be used as a method of assessing in the following types of Units and assessments:

  • HN Graded Units
  • Course and/or external assessments
  • Other integrative assessment Units (which may or not be graded)
  • Certain types of assessment instruments where the standard may be compromised by not using the same assessment method outlined in the Unit
  • Where there is an existing requirement for a licence to practice
  • Where there are specific health and safety requirements
  • Where there are regulatory, professional or other statutory requirements
  • Where otherwise specified an assessment strategy, for example, in Scottish Vocational Qualifications.

What is the difference between the Recognition of Prior Learning and Credit Transfer in SQA Group Awards?

When a SQA Group Award is updated or replaced by another award consideration is given to the relationship between the old and the new Group Award. This allows candidates to convert old units to new units and to allow them to gain credit towards the new, for example, HNC/HND awards. These arrangements are also known as credit transfer. Credit transfer may be viewed as a form of the recognition of prior learning where SQA clearly specifies Unit to Unit equivalences.

Does SQA’s Recognition of Prior Learning policy apply to Core Skills?

Specific information on the recognition of prior attained Core Skills may be found in the Core Skills Bulletin (September 2010). This may be accessed by clicking on this following link: http://www.sqa.org.uk/sqa/files_ccc/CoreSkillsBulletin_Sept%2010.pdf