The background to any APL request within Common Awards is as follows. A student is (or seeks to be) registered by a particular TEI on a Common Awards programme, leading to an award (such as a Diploma or a BA). The relevant programme specification sets out several Programme Learning Outcomes for each level in that programme. The student’s receipt of the award will depend upon successful demonstration of these Programme Learning Outcomes.
Each student is placed on a specific pathway through that programme, set out in the TEI’s Programme Regulations [T3]. That pathway sets out the compulsory and optional modules that, if passed, will allow the student to meet all the Programme Learning Outcomes. Each of these modules also has its own Module Learning Outcomes, set out in the relevant Module Outlines. The TEI’s Curriculum Mapping document [T5] indicates (in a rather un-nuanced way) which modules on the pathway are deemed to meet which Programme Learning Outcomes.
The Accreditation of Prior Learning (APL) is the process by which a student applies for and, if successful, is granted an exemption from some of the modules on their pathway, because an academic judgment is made that they have already met most or all of the Learning Outcomes for that portion of their programme.
For the Accreditation of Prior Certificated Learning (APCL) the student will have met these Learning Outcomes by passing all or part of a course of study that was formally assessed and certificated by a higher education provider, thereby gaining credits at a specific level, as defined by the Framework for Higher Education Qualifications (FHEQ).
For the Accreditation of Prior Experiential Learning (APEL), the student will have met these Learning Outcomes in other ways, perhaps through work, through private study, or through uncertificated training.
Direct Entry is a special case of APL, in which a student is granted exemption from the whole of Level 4 of a BA programme, and enters directly into Level 5. See more on Direct Entry below.
If an APL application is approved, the applicant is awarded a number of credits equal to the credit-weighting of each module from which he or she is being exempted, at the same levels as those modules. The term ‘APL’ is used as a name both for the process of approval, and for the credit that is awarded: we might therefore say, ‘Abby has been awarded 30 credits of APL.’
No mark is attached to credits granted by APL. The final mark, and any classification, of the student’s award will only be based on the marks gained in modules taken under Common Awards.
TEIs should ensure that students who are granted APL are left with a coherent programme of study, and one that makes sense for them at a level appropriate to them in the subject areas they will be studying (within any constraints imposed by the need to cover certain subject areas to meet professional requirements). APL is a way of recognising existing work that a student has done, so that they can then build on it and progress from it. The modules that a student takes under Common Awards should therefore allow them to progress through their programme toward the highest level covered by it, both overall and within each major subject area. APL should not be used as a means to allow a student who has already reached a higher level to gain an award by means of an arbitrary collection of modules at lower levels.
The maximum quantity of APL credit that Durham allows is normally one-third of the whole programme. We don’t normally allow more than 60 credits of that to be APEL. We also don't normally allow more than 40 credits of APL at Level 5, and no more than 40 at Level 6.
Maximum APL claim
Normally ⅓ (i.e. 40 credits) of APL (APEL and APCL combined).
Normally ⅓ (i.e. 60 credits) of APL (APEL and APCL combined).
Normally ⅓ (i.e. 80 credits) of APL (APEL and APCL combined), including no more than 60 credits of APEL.
Normally ⅓ (i.e. 20 credits) of APL (APEL and APCL combined).
Normally ⅓ (i.e. 120 credits) of APL (APEL and APCL combined), including no more than 60 credits of APEL.
Individual TEIs may (see below) decide not to offer APL for all or some of their programmes, or to allow lower maximum credit quantities for APL claims. This will be set out clearly in the TEI’s APL policy; a document which will have been approved by Durham University.
Within the totals set out above, APL credit can be awarded at any level. So, for instance, a student might be awarded 60 Level 4 credits and 20 Level 5 credits towards a Diploma.
APL is not available for the Foundation Award.
APL can’t be used to exempt students from a Common Awards dissertation or major project (i.e., one worth 40 credits or more). It also can't be used to exempt students from a 20-credit Independent Learning Project if they would be taking that rather than a dissertation or extended project as their main independent project at Level 6 of the BA; BA students always have to take either the Dissertation, the Extended Project in Theology, Ministry and Mission, or a Level 6 Independent Learning Project, and can't use APL to exempt them from that requirement.
APL can only be awarded in relation to exemption from whole modules. A student cannot, for instance, be exempted from half of a 20-credit module, gaining 10 credits of APL to cover that exemption.
For programmes primarily designed to run at a single level above Level 4 (the MA, PG Certificate and PG Diploma at Level 7, the Graduate Diploma and Graduate Certificate at Level 6), any APL granted should normally be at that level: e.g., only Level 7 APL can be used toward an MA, only Level 6 APL for the Graduate Diploma. Exceptions to this in extraordinary circumstances must be approved by Durham.
APCL can be awarded irrespective of whether the credits gained previously contributed to a final award or an exit award. In other words, it is possible to ‘re-use’ credits that have already been used towards some other award.
APCL should only be granted for studies that have been completed, and where the credit has been formally awarded by the institution.
The APL process can’t be used in place of an ‘articulation agreement’ – that is, a general agreement to allow some non-Common-Awards programme of study to stand in for some portion of a Common Awards programme. We can’t, for instance, make a general agreement to allow all students who in future successfully complete a particular non-Common-Awards Certificate to have direct entry into Level 5 of a Common Awards BA.
APL applications are always made, and judged, on a case by case basis.
The period between the time when the prior learning took place and the time at which an APL application is submitted should normally be no more than five years.
For APCL, we normally measure currency from the point at which the relevant certificate was awarded, or a transcript issued.
For APEL, we measure from the point at which either the original learning took place, or the events or practices in which the applicant has demonstrated that she or he has kept that learning alive.
Students sometimes attend and are assessed on Common Awards modules without being registered as Common Awards students.
This might happen, for instance, if a TEI allows students to take a ‘taster module’, to help them decide whether to undertake full Common Awards study. The Common Awards Framework allows students to take one 10- or 20-credit ‘taster module’ without being formally registered on a Common Awards programme.
When a student takes such a taster module, and then decides to register for the full programme, and where that registration takes place within the same academic year, information about the student’s completion of the taster module, and the marks they have gained, can simply be included when TEIs submit their data for that academic year to Durham, providing that the TEI has undertaken the full complement of quality assurance arrangements. See our page on Taster Modules for detailed guidance.
Where a student has taken more than one 10- or 20-credit module before registering for a Common Awards programme, or where he or she has taken a taster module but has not registered for a Common Awards programme until a later academic year, he or she will need to make an APEL (not APCL) application to have that learning recognised in their programme. Those non-accredited modules will not have been formally considered through Common Awards assessment processes (e.g. moderation, double-marking), nor will they have been to exam boards that normally confirm students’ achievement of the relevant learning outcomes, nor will they have been reviewed by external examiners. The APEL process provides a substitute for this, and when assessing such APEL applications TEIs therefore need to provide a broadly equivalent form of scrutiny to that provided by exam boards. For instance, the written work submitted by students for their unregistered modules could be sampled by a suitably qualified member of staff who was not involved in the original marking, who would be asked to confirm that the student has met the relevant learning outcomes at the appropriate threshold level. Outcomes of APEL should be reported to exam boards, with assessed work available to external examiners (for sampling, if necessary). Alternatively, TEIs may also consider the other forms of evidence used in standard APEL applications (see below).
An APL application will involve the student demonstrating either
Ultimately, a student gains the award for a Common Awards programme because he or she has met the Programme Learning Outcomes. In principle, therefore, it makes sense for an APL application to focus on demonstrating that the applicant will still be able to meet all those Programme Learning Outcomes.
Each TEI keeps a ‘Curriculum Mapping Table’ [T5] that lists which modules are deemed to meet which Programme Learning Outcomes at each level of each programme offered by that TEI. In principle, therefore, an APL applicant can simply look up which of the Programme Learning Outcomes for his or her whole pathway are met only in the modules from which he or she wishes to be exempted, and ensure that just those Learning Outcomes are covered by his or her prior learning.
There are, however, also questions of balance and coverage to take into account. The tick boxes in the Curriculum Mapping Table are a blunt tool for describing how each module contributes to the overall programme. A single Programme Learning Outcome may be met by several modules in a pathway, and the contribution of each of those modules might be needed to secure the full breadth of the Outcome. It might therefore be necessary for an applicant seeking exemption from one of those modules to demonstrate that their prior learning has covered that module’s contribution to this Programme Learning Outcome, even though the T5 on its own makes that look unnecessary.
In some cases, a TEI may therefore advise that the module’s contribution to the programme are better captured by focusing on the Module Learning Outcomes rather than by trying to set out exactly what contribution it is meant to make to Programme Learning Outcomes.
These are matters for the TEI’s academic judgment, not of hard and fast rules. TEIs have designed the pathways that they offer through the Common Awards programmes, aiming to provide balance, depth, and appropriate progression. They will be aware of the contribution that each module is supposed to make to those pathways, and of what a student who is exempted from certain modules will really miss. They will be seeking to ensure that, if granted this exemption, the student will still be capable of achieving learning of a similar depth, scope and coherence to that of a student who has taken the whole programme under Common Awards. It is on this basis that the TEI should advise the applicant on whether his or her application should list simply those Programme Learning Outcomes that on his or her pathway are only met by the modules from which he or she seeks exemption, or a broader set of relevant Programme Learning Outcomes, or the Module Learning Outcomes for each of those modules.
For any APCL element of the application, the student will need to provide at a minimum the following information about their prior certificated learning:
For any APEL element of the application needs to contain information about the applicant’s prior learning:
All APL applications needs to include a mapping exercise, in which the relevant Programme Learning Outcomes or Module Learning Outcomes are listed, and a note is made of which ones the applicant is claiming to have met in their prior learning, and of what evidence is being submitted to back up that claim.
The evidence supplied needs to be sufficient to allow the assessors to exercise their academic judgment, and confirm that the student’s learning is in the right area, at the right level, and broadly equivalent in scope and depth to the learning of a student who has met the relevant Learning Outcome by means of Common Awards study. As long as this is kept in view, there can be a great deal of flexibility about the kind of evidence that is needed.
Where an application claims that a Learning Outcome is met by APCL, the applicant can refer to whatever is the most straightforward bit of evidence to make that case. The following examples are indicative, not exhaustive:
The application needs to be accompanied by evidence that the prior learning took place as described: a transcript of results from the awarding institution, for instance. If the student has used assignment titles as part of the evidence, those judging the application may ask to see further evidence (e.g., a copy of the essay, or evidence of the mark given).
Evidence of the syllabus followed in the prior learning is not normally by itself good evidence for an APCL application, as it provides no direct insight into how well the student learnt from that teaching. The APL process involves judging what applicants have learnt, not just what they have been taught. A syllabus might, however, be used to clarify the relevance of other evidence.
Note that, with APCL, assessors are relying on the previous institution’s judgment of the appropriate credit weighting for the volume, level and complexity of the study undertaken. The number of credits of exemption granted on the basis of an APCL request will, therefore, be no greater than the number of credits that applicants gained for the relevant work in their previous institutions. If, for example, a student on a pathway towards the Diploma applies for exemption from modules amounting to 80 credits, but submits evidence of a successful course of prior study for which he or she gained only 60 credits of certificated learning, he or she will be granted no more than 60 credits of exemption.
Where an applicant claims that a particular Learning Outcome was met by APEL, the application needs to provide sufficient evidence to allow the assessor to make an academic judgment of the applicant’s learning in that area. Such evidence can include any or all of the following, or other similar items:
The TEI will need to assure itself that:
This might be achieved in a number of ways, such as by requiring the applicant to sign a declaration regarding the authenticity of evidence provided; requiring the applicant to submit a detailed reflective account to provide assurance; or by corroborating or authenticating the claims and evidence by obtaining reports or references from objective sources such as employers.
Reports or references from objective third parties can, therefore, provide important corroboration of the evidence supplied in an APEL application. However, unless they record an academic judgment made by an appropriately qualified person in relation to the Learning Outcomes in question, at the appropriate academic level, they cannot replace the need for the assessors to make their own academic judgment of the student’s learning.
Putting together a portfolio of existing pieces of work might be the right approach in some cases, but it can often be quite a complex matter to find work that allows the TEI to make the right kind of academic judgment. When advising students on APEL applications, TEIs may sometimes wish to suggest that an interview or new piece of work provides a more straightforward approach. For instance, in some cases a phone call with a relevant tutor, who asks questions which probe the learning that the student has claimed, and which is recorded in some brief notes, may well be a lot less effort for all involved.
For example, an applicant may claim that in the process of preparing sermons over several years she has met the Learning Outcome ‘Analyse selected biblical texts in the light of contemporary issues’. It might work perfectly well to provide texts of a number of sermons as evidence. In some cases, however, the TEI might advise that it would be better to submit a single text, and then have a phone call with a relevant tutor to talk through the kind of preparation he or she did and the thinking that went in to the sermon, because that might make it easier for the tutor to make the necessary judgment.
In setting out the evidence that applicants need to provide, TEIs should take account of equal opportunities, and make sure that they are providing students from disadvantaged backgrounds, students from under-represented groups, and students with disabilities appropriate ways of demonstrating their prior learning.
Whilst the process of assessing a student’s prior learning might, as described above, involve the setting and assessment of new pieces of work, it is important to stress that what is being assessed by these means is the applicant’s prior learning. The process of preparing and producing this work should not itself be the primary learning experience upon which the application is based.
In deciding whether the learning demonstrated in the evidence is sufficient to cover the quantity of credit for which the applicant is seeking exemption, TEIs should remember that they are not assessing the length or arduousness of the experiences described. They are assessing the breadth and depth of the learning that has been gained and demonstrated.
An APL application might refer to certificated learning too old to count as current for the purposes of APCL. In such cases, an APEL element can sometimes cross the gap. The application will need to describe the activities by which the applicant has kept their learning current, and provide evidence that will allow an assessment of the quality of the student’s current learning. If the certificated learning is only just out of currency, the additional evidence required can be correspondingly slight.
Such cases sometimes form the basis of a request to Durham for a quantity of APEL above the normal 60-credit limit. Suppose, for example, that a prospective student had completed 80 credits at Level 4 seven years before applying to join the Common Awards BA, and had used the knowledge gained in that study extensively in their role in the church over the intervening seven years. As well as providing evidence that he or she had successfully passed the original 80 credits, the applicant could provide a small portfolio of pieces of evidence – the text of a sermon or two, a reflective article for a parish magazine – demonstrating that they had drawn on and reinforced the learning outcome knowledge and skills in their ministry. If the portfolio enabled the assessors to judge that the main areas of learning covered on the earlier modules were being kept fresh, and that the student was clearly still demonstrating something of range, depth, and sophistication expected of someone working successfully at Level 4, it would be possible to grant exemption for the full 80 credits.
As mentioned above, Durham allows APL applications that request exemption from the whole of Level 4 of the BA – that is, for ‘direct entry’ to Level 5 (though this may not be available in every TEI).
Direct Entry is most straightforward where an applicant has already achieved 120 Level 4 credits in theology that map on well to Level 4 of the Common Awards programme, perhaps with minor gaps that will be covered at Level 5.
However, because in Common Awards learning outcomes at Level 4 can be covered by the achievement of the equivalent learning outcomes at Level 5, it is sometimes possible for applicants without a prior award in theology at Level 4 or above still to be granted Direct Entry to Level 5. Historically, Direct Entry has been used most frequently for students who have completed a BA/BSc (and/or higher awards such as MAs or PhDs) in another discipline. Such applicants would need to supply evidence that demonstrated, to the TEI’s satisfaction, that their prior study had readied them for work at Level 5. It is quite likely that students with a graduate or postgraduate qualification in any discipline will have evidence demonstrating that they have met the ‘key skills’ associated with Level 4 of the BA. The evidence would also need to demonstrate, however, that their prior learning had prepared them to tackle the specific subject matter of the Common Awards programme at Level 5. TEIs are reminded that only a maximum of 60 credits of APEL can be approved for the BA.
The core principles governing such applications for direct entry to Level 5 are the same as those governing any APL application. The TEI must be able to make an academic judgment, on the basis of the evidence available to it, that the student will be able by the end of the programme to meet all the Programme Learning Outcomes, and that he or she will not be disadvantaged in his or her ability to meet those outcomes by missing out on the preparation for higher levels normally gained by students completing of Level 4 of the programme.
Sometimes, a student will be able to demonstrate in their APL application that they have met most of the relevant Learning Outcomes in their prior learning, but not all. In such cases, the application will need to indicate how the applicant will go on to meet the missing Learning Outcomes in one or more of the modules that the student goes on to take under Common Awards.
In some cases, APL may also be granted when the evidence demonstrates that a learning outcome has been achieved in part. In such cases, the approval of APL will be conditional on the successful completion of a specific module or modules that would enable the student to achieve the relevant learning outcome in full. For example, in the case of the Level 5 Subject Specific Knowledge (SSK) 1 learning outcome for the BA (‘engage in detail with selected texts of the Old and New Testaments in their cultural and religious Contexts…’), a student might have evidence to demonstrate that they have acquired this learning in relation to the New Testament, but not for the Old Testament. In this case, APL might be granted on the condition that the student undertakes a specific module that includes learning outcomes relating to Old Testament study.
Most straightforwardly, the Learning Outcome in question might be met at the same level in one of the Common Awards modules that the applicant is going to take.
The design of the Common Awards programmes can, however, sometimes allow students to can pick up some Learning Outcomes at a higher level, in such a way as to cover a gap at the lower level. For instance, a student who met SSK outcome 1 (relating to Biblical Studies) at Level 5 in the BA would thereby also have met SSK1 at Level 4. This can sometimes mean that gaps in an APL mapping exercise at one level can be covered by a commitment to take a relevant module at the higher level.
In such cases, however, the student does need to be well prepared to take the higher-level module. The judgment that a student is ready to take a Biblical Studies module at Level 5, for instance, is likely to involve determining that he or she has prior learning in that area of a breadth and quality equivalent to that of a student who has met the Level 4 Learning Outcome. Nevertheless, it is sometimes possible to use a commitment to take certain higher-level modules on the relevant pathway to cover gaps in an otherwise complete APL application.
Durham University delegates all routine APL approvals to TEIs, on the understanding that they will work within the framework set out above (and the underlying university and QAA rules), and that they will abide by the following guidelines.
All TEIs should establish – through their Common Awards Management Committee or an appropriate decision-making body – and publish a policy for APL that should give clear information on all these points:
TEI APL policies should be submitted to the Common Awards Team for approval.
Each TEI has the right to decide, as a matter of principle, whether APL requests will be considered for any of its programmes, at what levels, and with what limits on the amount of APL (within the overall limits set by Durham). If TEIs do not allow APL applications up to the full amount allowed by Durham, it should be for a good reason (e.g., because the offering of APL would interfere with the cohesion of cohorts of students going through the TEI’s programmes, and so damage the overall learning experience for all students).
The onus on applying for APL and supplying the relevant information rests with the student, but TEIs should provide support for applicants, to help them understand how to prepare their applications.
TEIs should designate a specific member of academic staff as the first point of contact for students who are considering making a case for APL.
TEIs may also wish to consider providing example portfolios to help students understand how to compile and structure an APEL claim.
TEIs are responsible for all direct communications with individuals who wish to claim APL, including: making students aware of the opportunities for APL claims; providing support and advice in relation to the application process; ensuring that applicants are fully aware of how APL will be considered during the classification of awards, and how it will be recorded on their transcript; formally communicating to applicants the outcomes of all APL claims (and the reasons for those outcomes); providing feedback on rejected applications (if applicable). In non-standard cases where University approval is required, the Common Awards Team will report the outcome to the TEI with the expectation that the TEI will communicate the outcome to the applicant.
While the University does not charge a fee for the consideration of APL applications, TEIs may charge a fee to cover the costs of the application and assessment process. If a TEI does choose to charge a fee, they must ensure that
TEIs should create and retain clear records of all APL claims, the TEI’s decisions and the rationale for those decisions, and the evidence that the TEI has received and consulted as part of the decision-making process. We advise TEIs to use and retain the APL application itself, and all supporting evidence, as these may be requested by Durham, particularly as part of the Periodic External Review process.
TEIs should ensure that judgments about APL are made by competent people. This will normally mean that any given APL application will be scrutinized by someone in the TEI who assesses work in the relevant area and at the relevant levels within Common Awards, and that this person’s recommendation will be confirmed by a sub-committee of the Board of Examiners, and reported to the Board of Examiners.
Assessing an APL application should never simply be a ‘tick-box’ exercise. It is a matter of academic judgment. The assessors need to ask:
Assessors are judging whether an applicant has demonstrated learning of a broadly similar level, scope and quality to someone who has passed the relevant modules under Common Awards – i.e., the judgment is whether the student has reached the pass/fail threshold.
APL is not a right: it is granted at the discretion of the TEI.
Where an APL application is straightforward (i.e., where all the relevant Learning Outcomes are clearly met, or where they are largely met and where the minor gaps will be straightforwardly plugged by subsequent Common Awards study; where the quantity of APL falls within the limits set out above; and where the prior learning counts as current), the application can be assessed by the TEI, and the outcome reported to Durham. See our page on Submitting APL Credits for more information.
Any APL application that is not, by this definition, straightforward, but which the TEI nevertheless judges there might be good reason to approve, should be referred to Durham, by being sent electronically to the Common Awards Team.
In most cases in which an application is referred to Durham, the Chair of the Common Awards Management Board will act as moderator: that is, rather than making an independent judgment of the evidence supplied by the student, the Chair will examine a brief account from the TEI of the judgment it has made and of the evidence on which it was based, and decide whether to confirm that judgment.
For instance: a member of TEI staff may have conducted an interview with a student, and on that basis judged that he or she met a number of Learning Outcomes. The TEI would keep a record of that interview, including the staff member’s notes of what was discussed and of his or her judgments in relation to each Learning Outcome. When the application is referred to Durham, it will normally be sufficient to indicate when the interview took place, to note who conducted it, and to record the overall judgments made on that basis; the Chair will only request to see the more detailed notes if he or she has further questions.
In some cases, where a TEI does not feel able to make a judgment, an APL application can be referred to Durham with all relevant evidence, for the Chair of Management Board to make an independent judgment.
The Common Awards Team will report the outcome of the Chair’s independent judgement to the TEI with the expectation that the TEI will communicate the outcome to the applicant.
TEIs should return approved APL credits to Durham for inclusion on students’ records. See our page on submitting APL credits to Durham for more information, and the Common Awards Calendar for the deadlines for doing so.