Recognition of Prior Learning Policy

As part of our commitment to quality assurance BCE seeks to provide learners with guidance and support to help them achieve their learning and development goals while meeting any regulatory requirements. This policy is about prior learning and recommends ways a learner can meet any requirements while avoiding repetition of learning and assessment.

This policy applies to all qualifications delivered by BCE, including those on the National Qualification Framework (NQF), the Qualifications and Credit Framework (QCF) and the Regulated Qualifications Framework (RQF).

Policy Statement

Recognition of Prior Learning (RPL) is a method of assessment [leading to the award of credit] that considers whether learners 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 through a course of learning.

Regulatory arrangements for the Qualifications and Credit Framework (Ofqual/08/3726) RPL enables recognition of achievement from a range of activities using any appropriate 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 and reliable.


RPL policies and procedures have been developed over time, which has led to the use of a number of terms to describe the process. Among the most common are:

  • Accreditation of Prior Learning (APL)
  • Accreditation of Prior Experiential Learning (APEL)
  • Accreditation of Prior Achievement (APA)
  • Accreditation of Prior Learning and Achievement (APLA).

BCE encourages the use of RPL where it is of value to learners in facilitating assessment.

We follow the following principles:

Principle 1 RPL is a valid method of enabling individuals to claim credit for units, irrespective of how their learning took place. There is no difference between the achievement of the learning outcomes and assessment criteria of a unit through prior learning or through a formal programme of study.

Principle 2 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 credit through RPL, and be given guidance and support to make a claim.

Principle 4 The process of assessment for RPL is subject to the same quality assurance and monitoring standards as any other form of assessment. The award of credit through RPL will not be distinguished from any other credits awarded.

Principle 5 Assessment methods for RPL must be of equal rigour to other assessment methods, be fit for purpose and relate to the evidence of learning. Credit may be claimed for any unit through RPL unless the assessment requirements of the unit do not allow this, based on a rationale consistent with the aims and regulations of the framework.

RPL is also of value to learners transferring across various learning programmes who have relevant learning but do not hold relevant credits or certificates. This may include learners transferring from NQF to QCF specifications.

The use and application of RPL is of particular value to learners without formal qualifications, who are either in employment, preparing to enter, or returning to employment. It enables them to gain all or part of a qualification without having to undertake a formal learning programme.

RPL can be used where a learner has not had their prior learning formally recognised. If a learner has certificated learning, then they should apply for exemption, not RPL.

Exemption is the facility for a learner to claim exemption from some of the achievement requirements of a qualification, using evidence of certificated achievement deemed to be of equivalent value.

RPL focuses on assessment and awarding of credit for prior learning which may count as evidence towards:

  • a unit accumulated towards a full qualification
  • unit or units recognised by a Certificate of Achievement
  • The full qualification.

Where units are assessed against assessment criteria or grading criteria, then all evidence must be evaluated using the stipulated criteria. In assessing a unit using RPL the assessor must be satisfied that the evidence produced by the learner meets the assessment standard established by the learning outcome and its related assessment criteria. Centres must have personnel with appropriate expertise and knowledge to facilitate this.

Most often RPL will be used for units. It is acceptable to claim for an entire qualification through RPL although this is not the norm. However, it would be unusual for a learner to be able to offer prior achievement that completely matches every aspect of a qualification’s assessment requirements. The prior achievement that would provide evidence of current knowledge, understanding and skills will vary from sector to sector. It will depend on the extent of the experience, technological changes and the nature of the outcome claimed.

If the currency of any evidence is in doubt, the assessor may use questions to check understanding, and for competence. Note also that the assessment strategy for each qualification must be adhered to. The RPL process is not concerned with allowing for exceptional entry to, or exemption from, a programme of study. The RPL process does not allow the recognition of any unit assessed by external assessment only because such units are subject to specific evidence requirements. Centres wishing to carry out RPL must ensure that:

  • Learners are registered as soon as they formally start to gather evidence
  • Records of assessment are maintained, as for any other unit/qualification
  • Certification and claims are made according to normal procedures
  • All relevant evidence is assessed before assessment decisions are confirmed.
  • There is designated personnel with the appropriate expertise to support and assure the RPL process.

In the event any member of the IAG, tutor or assessment team are unsure of whether they can apply RPL or exemption to a learner or potential learner’s situation or current qualifications please ensure you contact the Lead IQA for clarification before confirming with the learner.