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 an SQA Unit or Units and which may or may not have been developed through a course of learning.

The following questions and answers explain SQA's policy on Recognition of Prior Learning (RPL).

Is Recognition of Prior Learning new?

No, but this is the first time SQA has had a Recognition of Prior Learning (RPL) Policy. Other terms have been used in the past, 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 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; 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 an 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 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. Gaelic may be used when the SQA Unit(s) are themselves assessed in Gaelic. Reflecting 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?

Yes, 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 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 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 Recognition of Prior Learning an exemption from a Group Award?

No, recognition of prior learning is not an exemption from the 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 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. 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 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 in 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.

SCQF - Recognition of Prior Learning (RPL) Tool

SCQF has produced a tool for RPL. This guide is designed to signpost users to a range of information relevant to their needs or interests in Recognition of Prior Learning (RPL). It highlights in straightforward language the different ways in which RPL can be used by learners and by those providing an RPL service.

Vist SCQF RPL Tool

Recognition of Prior Learning in NextGen: HN Awards

SQA’s RPL policy also applies to NextGen: HNs. This FAQ guidance helps you apply RPL to these qualifications. In this guidance, we refer to non-NextGen HNs as current HNs.

If a learner has completed a NextGen HNC, can they move onto a current HND?

Yes. The knowledge, skills and understanding learners develop during their NextGen HNC puts them in a good position to articulate to the HND. The centre should use SQA’s RPL guidance to facilitate this.

NextGen HNCs don’t have a graded unit. Does this mean a learner can’t move onto to a current HND?

No. The absence of a graded unit does not affect a learner’s ability to progress to the next level. The evidence learners generate across the award determines their grade. The NextGen: HN award is still graded, with learners receiving a grade of ‘achieved’, ‘achieved with merit’ or ‘achieved with distinction’ when they complete the award. Centres should use our RPL guidance to help them with this. You can find more information on grading models in NextGen HNs on our website.

If a learner has completed a NextGen HNC and moves onto a current HND, the centre must enter a grade for the graded unit for them. How should they go about this?

The NextGen: HN grading model differs from the current HN model. In NextGen: HNs, instead of using a single 1-credit unit as the grading vehicle, grading is generated across the award. The NextGen: HN award is still graded, with the learner receiving a grade of ‘achieved’, ‘achieved with merit’ or ‘achieved with distinction’. These grades are not aligned to the graded unit model of A, B and C.

In this situation, we expect practitioners to use their professional judgement of the learner’s NextGen: HNC grade to make a fair decision on the graded unit element, while following the existing requirements and guidance for the current HND. Practitioners use their professional judgement when using our RPL policy when learners enter any SQA course.

Does a NextGen HNC together with a current HND give sufficient credits needed for direct entry to university?

Yes. NextGen: HN awards distinct qualifications consisting of 15 credits each, while current HNDs consist of 15 credits. This means that if a learner completes a NextGen HNC and then completes a current HND, they have achieved 30 credits, equal to university entry requirements when articulating from an HND to a degree programme.

Does a NextGen HND together with a current HNC give sufficient credits needed for direct entry to university?

No. NextGen: HN awards are distinct qualifications consisting of 15 credits each, while current HNCs consist of 12 credits. This means that if a learner completes a current HNC and then completes a NextGen: HND, they have achieved 27 credits. In this situation, the centre should support the learner by providing a route to the 30 credits required for articulation.

Can a learner move onto a current HND in a different centre having completed a NextGen: HNC?

Yes. NextGen: HNs are stand-alone qualifications. A learner who has successfully completed a NextGen: HNC brings 15 credits as an entry offer to a NextGen: HND. Centres must assess whether the learner has sufficient relevant knowledge to indicate their potential success in an HND and beyond. Centres must enter and result the learner for the units in the current HNC. This is the same approach they would use for a learner coming from a current HNC in one college to a current HND in another. Centres can use RPL to facilitate this.

If a learner has completed a NextGen HNC and moves into a current HND, are there any additional entry cost implications for centres when implementing the RPL guidance?

No. When a learner completes a NextGen: HNC and moves onto a current HND, the delivering centre should use our RPL policy to facilitate this. This means that the centre enters and results the learner for the first year of the HND (HNC year). There is no additional cost for this; the current pricing structure for an HND still applies.