What is Recognition of Prior Learning?

Recognition of Prior Learning (RPL) describes a process where evidence of a learner’s previous learning and / or achievement is assessed and can be used to exempt the learner from all or part of a qualification.  

The learner needs to show that through knowledge, understanding or skills they already have, they do not need to repeat the course or complete extra assessment activity. An assessor will review whether the evidence is enough to show that a learner has met the assessment requirements for a current qualification or part of a qualification. 

Other names for Recognition of Prior Learning include: 

  • accreditation of prior learning (APL) 
  • accreditation of prior experiential learning (APEL).

Who is it for?

Recognition of Prior Learning is all about the learner.  

It is a learner-centred approach intended to recognise prior learning and support learners to progress in education, training and / or the workplace.  

It is not limited to those currently in education or training. It can be accessed by learners who have previous experience that they can bring to a qualification who wish to be exempted from certain parts of the qualification or wish to seek accreditation for previous learning. 

What is our policy on the use of RPL?

We recognise that RPL offers many benefits to learners and other stakeholders. These include:  

  • recognising the value of learning, achievement and experience outside of formal educational settings 
  • validating non-formal and informal learning achieved independently 
  • encouraging and facilitating educational or career progression through less traditional pathways  
  • reducing the length and potentially the cost of learning, training and assessment time  
  • promoting lifelong learning 
  • providing pathways for migrant work / movement of labour, and  
  • improving learner self-esteem and pride. 

We also believe it is important that awarding bodies outline their approach to RPL in a clear and transparent way. This is why we require all awarding bodies to publish a policy statement outlining their approach to RPL. This policy statement must make it clear whether prior learning is recognised and, if it is, when and how RPL is applied, so that learners are aware and informed about the process. 

Awarding bodies, while required to have a published RPL policy, are not required to recognise prior learning.  

It is for each awarding body to determine its approach to the recognition of prior learning, including the extent to which it retains flexibility to deal with exceptional cases. Similarly, it is for each awarding body to decide how best to set this information out in its policy, including the level of detail it wishes to provide. What matters is that an awarding body’s approach is clear and transparent to qualification users. Depending on an awarding body’s choice of approach, this might be achieved with a short statement, or a more detailed policy. We want awarding bodies to have this flexibility.

General principles of RPL

When developing and implementing their RPL policy, we expect awarding bodies to give due regard to the following principles:  

  • RPL policies and processes are accessible, inclusive and flexible to meet the reasonable needs of all learners, of all backgrounds, and experiences, 
  • information about the circumstances in which learners can access RPL are clear and transparent 
  • RPL assessment approaches are rigorous, consistent and fair for all learners and are underpinned by robust and effective quality assurance mechanisms 
  • RPL processes promote confidence in the process and the outcome 
  • RPL removes unnecessary duplication in assessment  
  • roles and responsibilities are clear and understood and where necessary, support is provided 

For further information about our regulatory policy in relation to Recognition of Prior Learning, please see our rules and guidance