Apprenticeship Reforms – Setting the Occupational Level 

By Tom Cheek, Apprenticeship Lead at the Science Council

With the implementation of apprenticeship standards from frameworks, it has seen a shift from being qualification focused to that of occupational competence.  This has resulted in many standards no longer containing a mandatory on-programme qualification.  However, all standards are still assigned a level during the development and publishing of the occupational standard.  The guide for how this is defined and applied is explained below.

The levels are guided by an occupational level descriptor table by Ofqual.  This defines the following by levels 1-8:

  • Knowledge descriptor
  • Skills descriptor
  • Occupational competence (based upon earlier National Qualification Framework levels)
  • Autonomy & accountability (based upon earlier National Qualification Framework levels)

The descriptors are to act as a guide, so there is the expectation from the Institute for Apprenticeship and Technical Education (IFATE) that the majority of the content of an occupational standard meets these descriptors.

For example the descriptors for Level 3 are provided below.

(Apprenticeship standard occupational level guide, 2020)

A table that covers levels 1 to 8 and the comparison between each is available here.

The Department for Education (DfE) provides apprenticeship standard criteria to further guide on the expectation of an apprenticeship.  For example, occupational criteria includes the need for it to be:

  • Transferrable
  • Sufficiently broad, deep & skilled
  • Offer full occupational competence
  • Be ‘recognised and stand-alone’. It also notes that it should ‘be recognised by relevant professional bodies and/or regulators’.  (Apprenticeship standard occupational level guide, 2020)


Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education. 2020. Apprenticeship Standard Occupational Level Guide. [online] Available at: <> [Accessed 29 June 2020].

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