Qualification Levels

Judith Barton
Judith Barton, Director of Coaching and Mentoring

British School of Coaching offers training and development programmes leading to ILM accredited qualifications. These qualifications are available at a number of levels, which are defined by the regulatory body for qualifications in England, commonly known as Ofqual. We offer qualifications at Level 2, 3, 5 and 7 which include academic learning and a requirement for practical, ‘vocational’ skills – the ability to ‘do’ things as well as to ‘understand’ them.

So, what do these ‘Levels’ mean? The essential differences are, I suggest, based on the complexity of thinking skills required to achieve each level and the organisational context within which they are applied.

Levels 2 and 3 are about understanding – e.g., what the solutions-focussed approach in coaching is, what its key features are, how it works.

Level 5 is about analysing – why it works, what the theoretical model and assumptions are which underpin the approach.

Level 7 is about critiquing – what are the strengths and weaknesses, are there flaws in the underpinning model and assumptions which might limit its usefulness, are there other models which are more effective in particular circumstances?

In more detail, there are three ways of describing levels.

  1. The occupational status of the learners for whom the qualifications at each level are designed (organisational context).

Level 2 qualifications are designed primarily for team leaders and aspiring first time managers.
Level 3 qualifications are designed primarily for those in their first management role – including team leaders and first-line managers.
Level 5 qualifications are designed primarily for practicing middle managers.
Level 7 qualifications are designed primarily for those operating at senior manager/executive director level or equivalent.

Level 5 and 7 qualifications are also appropriate for those wish to start or develop their own coaching practice or business.

  1. Comparison with traditional academic qualifications (complexity of thinking). There is an agreed table of comparators, which is:

Level 2 is roughly equivalent to GCSE grades A* to C;
Level 3 is roughly equivalent to A Levels/International Baccalaureate;
Level 5 is roughly equivalent to the second year of an undergraduate degree;
Level 7 is roughly equivalent to postgraduate certificates, diplomas and Master’s degrees.

3.  Looking at the learning outcomes and assessment criteria for each level of qualifications and how these can indicate the difference between these levels (complexity of thinking). Following on from the blog on writing your assignment, I noted that the key element in the learning outcomes and assessment criteria which helps to indicate level is the assessment verb. This verb tells you what you are expected to learn and then demonstrate through your assignment. Here are some examples taken from the ILM coaching and mentoring qualifications – with suggested explanations of what the verbs mean.

Level 2:   ‘Describe the benefits of mentoring’ – what does it look like? This may involve selecting the most important features;
‘Explain the importance of agreeing goals for mentoring’ – how does it work? This involves some description of the topic and providing reasons;
Level 3:   ‘Describe the purpose of workplace coaching’ – what does it look like? This may involve selecting the most important features of workplace coaching;
‘Explain the role of an effective workplace coach’ – how does it work? This involves some description of effective workplace coaching and providing reasons what makes coaching effective;
Level 5:   ‘Analyse why coaches require effective communication skills’ – what makes this work the way it does? This involves exploring a topic in detail, breaking the topic into essential features so that you can identify possible causation and/or draw conclusions;
‘Review the responsibilities of the coach to manage relationship’ – how well does this work and what may need to be done about it? This involves making a judgement about a topic which relies on evidence which is evaluated within a theoretical model;
Level 7:   ‘Compare and contrast the application of different models, modes and methods of supervision’ – how do topics relate to each other? and, how ‘good’ is one example compared to another? Comparison requires a description of the relative features or effectiveness of each example; contrast requires an assessment of the relative features or effectiveness of each example.
‘Critically review own ethical and moral values, beliefs, attitudes and personal integrity’ – how well does this work and what may need to be done about it? This will involve more detailed, in-depth review and requires an informed judgement with reference to concepts, theories and ideas.

As well as the assessment verb itself, the complexity or the topic and the context in which the verb is applied will affect the level of the qualification. Whilst the ‘lower level’ verbs may appear in higher level assignments, the ‘higher level’ verbs will rarely, if at all, be a low level activity.

Essentially, the higher the level of qualification, the more complex the cognitive skills required to complete it successfully and the more senior the learner is (in an organisation) who will be able to successfully complete the assignments.

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