Quality assurance

Guide to BTEC Quality Assurance

Level 4-7 (QCF)

This page provides information on External Examination (standards verification) for our:

BTEC Level 4 and 5 Higher Nationals
BTEC Level 3 and 4 Foundation Diplomas in Art & Design
BTEC Professional qualifications at levels 4 and above

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External Examination performs the same quality checks as other forms of standards verification but also ensures that the processes and procedures you have in place are consistent and appropriate for qualifications at higher and professional levels.

The QAA UK Quality Code for Higher Education outlines your responsibility to ensure that your Standards Verifier is informed about your organisational procedures, practices, and academic regulations. You must also ensure that Standards Verifier feedback to assessors and learners is part of your broader system of quality assurance and enhancement.


If you're delivering a Higher Apprenticeship, the knowledge based qualifications that make up the apprenticeship will follow the External Examination quality assurance model outlined below. However you should read the information on this tab in conjunction with the BTEC Apprenticeships Quality Assurance Handbook.

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We'll begin allocating Standards Verifiers to all centres with active registrations at the start of the calendar year.  If a programme is no longer running but still has active registrations, you must either claim certificates or withdraw the learners.

Once programmes have been allocated, we'll let the Quality Nominee know and the Standards Verifier will then get in touch to ask for contact details for the programme leader.

External examination usually takes place through an annual visit although we may visit Private Colleges up to four times a year to take into account their varying programme start and end dates and certificate requirements.

Your programme leader will agree a date for the Standards Verifier to visit and confirm in writing the programme(s) the Standard Verifier is appointed to. It is important that you identify any customised provision or units added through the Meeting Local Needs process, if you have it.

If appropriate, your visit may be timed to fit with your assessment board processes towards the end of a programme, but this is not necessarily required.

For HN programmes, your Standards Verifier will want to speak to your learners to gauge their opinion on your assessment processes and access to resources. Therefore, visits should be arranged on a day when students are on site.  

Where programmes have particularly large cohorts or operate across multiple sites, we may operate a ‘team approach’ to external examination. This means that a Standards Verifier will be allocated, but they will coordinate a team of Standards Verifiers who will support them in conducting sampling.

For multiple sites, your Standards Verifier may arrange to visit each site to sample each group of learners and talk to your staff.

Once a plan for the visit has been agreed, your Standard Verifier will confirm this in writing.

All samples must be completed by 30 June if certificates are required for mid-August. This is to ensure that learners completing in the current academic year have their results in time for college and university admissions.

During the visit the Standards Verifier will need access to:

Assignment briefs

  • all assignment briefs used to generate learner evidence for each unit. Your Standards Verifier will want to see the relationship between any exams and related assignments.

Learner evidence and assessment records

  • a list of learners registered on the programme
  • all learner work for units that have been assessed (which the Standard Verifier will sample from)
  • assessment records for the learner work

For BTEC Level 3 and 4 Foundation Diploma in Art and Design, your Standards Verifier will also need to see:

  • the Statement of Intent produced by the learners in the sample
  • details of who has successfully achieved Units 1-9 (subject to the rules of combination for the level to be claimed)
  • the related assessment records showing achievement of Units 1-9

Learners can only progress to the Confirmatory Stage Unit 10 once they have successfully achieved Units 1-9 (subject to the rules of combination for the level to be claimed).

Internal verification documentation

  • internal verification documents for the assignment briefs
  • internal verification documentation relating to the assessment decisions
  • staff documentation

CVs for all staff with a list of the units that they have delivered and assessed

During the visit, your Standards Verifier will make arrangements to meet the relevant people at your centre to discuss the management and delivery of the programmes, and their understanding of the QAA UK Quality Code for Higher Education.

Your learners will be asked for their opinions on teaching, assessment and support, including the:

  • quality, variety and effectiveness of teaching methods
  • quality, quantity and variety of assessments
  • clarity of task descriptions and grading criteria, outcome coverage and skills development of assessments
  • quality and promptness of feedback and academic support
  • appropriateness of physical resources to support teaching and learning
  • effectiveness of the tutorial system in covering academic and pastoral care

Staff will be asked about their views on the management of the programme(s) including:

  • how they’re kept informed about updates to Pearson policies, including changes to our assessment practices
  • how often they meet as a programme team
  • how they are given opportunities to develop to support the programme.

Your Standards Verifier may make arrangements to attend an Assessment Board meeting but you should also provide minutes from the previous year’s Academic Board or Quality Standards Board wherever possible.

Your Standards Verifier will also sample each programme you're delivering within the sector. Where possible, they will want to see work for whole units, more than one learner per unit/assessor and assessment decisions covering a range of grades.

The sample size will depend on the:

  • number of learners and units delivered
  • number of assessors and the size of the programme team
  • levels of units in the programmes
Number of registrations Minimum number of learner samples
1-8 learners All
9-100 learners 9
More than 100 learners 18

The minimum sample will always include one sixth of each programme's units with no fewer that 3 units reviewed. Learner work is sampled across units so, if you have 100 learners, your Standards Verifier needs to see work for 9 learners across at least 3 units, not 9 learners for each of the units.

Higher National Certificates (HNCs) and Higher National Diploma (HNDs) programmes from the same specification, with the same title, are considered to be 'nested' programmes. Work will be sampled from both the HNC and HND, however the sample size will reflect that they operate as one. This means that your Standards Verifier would only need to see work for 9 learners from the two programmes if you have up to 100 learners.

Where units rely on learners determining the brief (e.g. project units), your Standards Verifier may choose to look at several briefs during the visit. For BTEC Level 3 and 4 Foundation Diploma in Art and Design programmes the sample must include work from the Confirmatory Unit 10.

There is no maximum sample size and your Standards Verifier may continue looking at evidence if initial sampling suggests that further investigation is required. However, Pearson will need to approve any additional visits required to increase the sample size.


Report A will provide you with feedback on your management and delivery of higher level programmes and may include essential actions or recommendations. Essential actions are mandatory but won't prevent your current learners from being certificated.

If a team of Standards Verifiers visited your centre, this part of the report will be completed by the person allocated to your centre.

The report will cover the following:

Actions from your previous report

Your Standards Verifier will check the progress you've made against any actions for your previous report and will highlight anything that hasn't been addressed.

Management of academic standards

During your visit, your Standards Verifier will be looking for evidence that you have effective management procedures in place that are supported by appropriate systems and regulations/policies. This will include arrangements for any programmes run on a collaborative basis in other institutions.

They will check the operation of your ongoing assessment meetings, including:

  • the scope of the minutes of previous meetings
  • organisation, conduct and administrative support for the meetings
  • decision making processes and fairness and consistency of these decisions.

If a Standards Verifier does not attend an Assessment Board, they will still need to confirm that:

  • Assessment Boards do take place at the centre
  • there are appropriate regulations and rules of operation covering their conduct
  • minutes of Assessment Boards have been received and recommendations have been discussed with the Programme Leader or Chair of the Assessment Board.

Your Standards Verifier will also review your regulations to ensure you have procedures in place for managing the activities listed below, and provide feedback on how your regulations relate to the QAA UK Quality Code for Higher Education:

  • Assessment Boards
  • late submission of learner work
  • referrals and resubmissions
  • extenuating circumstances
  • appeals

Information about these policies has to be available for your learners and your Standards Verifier will review the evidence for how your regulations have been applied.

Effectiveness of assessment instruments

Your Standards Verifier will confirm whether the assessment instruments are appropriate for the level of qualification and that their design and nature permit the aims and learning objectives of each programme to be met.

They will consider whether:

  • the assignment outcomes and related assessment criteria are clearly stated and assessment tasks are matched to the outcomes/assessment criteria and level
  • there is a variety of assessment tasks which relate fully to the unit content
  • there is clear guidance to learners on the content/scope of tasks and the grading
  • the assessments are appropriate to the learner profile, level and mode of study
  • assessments promote learning, allowing learners to develop skills as opposed to rote learning/accumulation of facts
  • there are both formative and summative assessments
  • there are opportunities for learners to take responsibility for their own learning and have some freedom of choice for completion
  • there is a unit assessment plan detailing coverage of all assessment criteria and grading opportunities
  • there are sufficient assessments for each unit and the workload realistic
  • there is equality of opportunity for all learners, including those with particular requirements, to achieve the stated outcomes and associated grading criteria.

Maintenance and audit of records

Your Standards Verifier will check that your assessment records are accurate, up-to-date and stored securely. They will also confirm that your process for maintaining and auditing assessment records is secure and effective.

Registration and certification claims

During your visit your Standards Verifier will check that you have a process for ensuring that learner registration and certification information is accurate and monitored effectively. This means registering learners on to the correct programme within 30 days of the course commencing and making any amendments, transfers or withdrawals in a timely manner.

The programme team should have a good working relationship with the exams office to ensure that our learner registration details accurately reflect your own records. Your Standards Verifier will confirm that you have adequate procedures for:

  • checking of the accuracy of learner registrations
  • ensuring that timely and accurate certification claims are checked and verified against assessment records
  • checking a sample of certificates received against assessment records, prior to issue to students
  • investigating and reporting all inaccurate, early/late and fraudulent registrations or certification claims, via your senior management, to us.

Student support and review

During your visit, you Standards Verifier will speak to staff and learners, reviewing the support given to students. They will provide comments on:

  • your assessment process and assessment feedback to learners
  • the quality of teaching and the expertise and experience of staff
  • opportunities available for students to undertake independent learning and how these are integrated into the programme
  • opportunities for staff to develop to provide better support for your learners
  • availability of learning resources, computer facilities and specialist software required for the programme
  • tutorial and pastoral support
  • opportunities learners are offered to give feedback on their programme
  • any concerns your programme team have about the current and future operation of the programme.

Areas of good practice

Any areas of particularly good practice mentioned in other sections of the report will be highlighted.

Report B will provide you with feedback on your sampled learner work. Your Standards Verifier only needs to report in detail on samples which affected the outcome of standards verification and advice provided.

If a team of Standards Verifiers visited, the allocated Standards Verifier will collate the allocated Standards Verifier will collate the sampling evidence for Section B and complete the final report. For multiple sites, feedback from the visits will be collated into a single report.

Essential Actions will be identified where your assessment doesn't meet national standards for any of the learners sampled. Essential actions in Report B will block certification for current learners on the programme.

For each programme sampled

Your Standards Verifier will comment on the internal assessment process, including:

Fairness and consistency of grading/validity and standardisation of assessments across assessors

  • Are all assessment criteria associated with an outcome being assessed and is there sufficient coverage of unit content?
  • Are the contextualised grading criteria for each grade being applied correctly in assignments?
  • Are the grading decisions for units correct and consistent with a range of Pass, Merit and Distinction grades within a unit?

Evidence of internal verification

  • Is there a documented assessment strategy giving details of internal verification/internal quality assurance expectations? Is this being followed?
  • Is there evidence that assignment briefs have been internally verified on an annual basis?
  • Is there any indication that assessment decisions have been internally verified?
  • Do internal verification records show the names of internal verifiers and learners?
  • Has the internal verifier included any written feedback/comments or authors of assessment briefs/assessors?

Quality of feedback to students

  • Is there written feedback to students indicating errors or omissions?
  • Is the feedback sufficient to enable students to correct errors and develop learning skills in future assignments?
  • Does the feedback indicate why a grade has been awarded
  • Is there a formal procedure for reaching agreement if internal verifiers and assessors disagree about a grade?

If student feedback could be improved this will result in a recommendation but not a programme block to certification.

For each piece of student work sampled

Your Standard Verifier will judge whether:

  • the learner has achieved the aims of the learning objectives and the targeted criteria at the appropriate level
  • the learner displays knowledge and understanding, key (transferable) skills, higher level cognitive skills such as evaluation, analysis, literature searching etc. and subject specific skills including practical/professional skills
  • there is a range of Pass, Merit and Distinction grades
  • there is a variety of responses/topics/literature sources in learners' answers. If not, whether any similarities suggest evidence of excessive staff guidance or plagiarism
  • there is progression of higher level skills/subject specific skills/employment skills between assessed work for HNC and HND learners.

Any evidence of plagiarism in learner work will result in an Essential Action and a block to certification. 

Your External Examination reports will be available on Edexcel Online within 10 working days of your visit.

As outlined in the QAA UK Quality Code for Higher Education, at both centre and programme level, you must give full and serious consideration to the comments and recommendations contained in external examination reports. The actions taken as a result of reports, or the reasons for not following recommendations, should be formally recorded and circulated to those concerned.

You should ensure that student representatives are given the opportunity to be fully involved in this process, enabling them to understand all the issues raised and your response. At centre level the general issues and themes arising from the reports should be reviewed. The report is split into Report A (management and delivery) and Report B (assessment sampling), which allows you to share the detail of Report A without compromising the confidentiality of the students sampled.


Report Status Outcome
Release for all programmes

You've provided a full sample and your Standards Verifier has confirmed you've got adequate quality assurance procedures in place and you are documenting assessment correctly.

Your Standards Verifier has agreed that learner evidence is valid, authentic and sufficient, and you're assessing learners to the national standard. However, they may identify essential actions or recommendations on how to improve on current practice.

Certification is released, programme by programme, and a further sample is not required.

Block for one or more programmes

You've provided a full sample but your Standards Verifier has identified one or more essential actions that need to be addressed before we can release certification. These may include:

  • learners haven’t been assessed to the national standard
  • assessment and/or internal verification hasn’t been documented correctly on one or more of the programmes in the sector
  • plagiarised work was found in the sample

This means that certification is blocked and a second sample will be requested.

Your Standards Verifier will give initial feedback on the day of the visit, so you should be prepared for the outcomes of the report. The external examination report is able to release or block certification separately for each programme within a sector. Therefore, if one or more programmes are subject to a certification block, this does not automatically affect certification of the other programmes

You'll need to submit a second sample if your first sample resulted in a certification block. Your Standards Verifier will get in touch to agree a timescale and to confirm the format for your second sample once you've accessed the original report.

The second sample will be conducted remotely.

Your second sample will include:

  • the elements of the first sample that caused the original block
  • evidence that amendments have been made to address the issues highlighted in the External Examination report
  • work for additional learners so that your Standards Verifier can check that standards are being reapplied consistently across a programme

Once your second sample has been reviewed, your Standards Verifier will submit a second report within 10 working days. Your Quality Nominee will receive an email to let them know the report is available to view on Edexcel Online.

There are two possible outcomes of your second sample:


Report Status Outcome
Certification Release (2)

Your Standards Verifier has agreed that you're now assessing learners to the national standard for all programmes but may offer recommendations on how to improve on current practice. Your quality assurance procedures will also have been confirmed as adequate.


This means certification is released.

Remedial action required

Your Standards Verifier still doesn't agree that you're assessing to national standards for one or more programmes.


At this point your Regional Quality Manager will meet with you to agree a remedial action plan. You'll need to complete the action plan before your Regional Quality Manager will release certification.

We have a formal appeals process to address any concerns you may have about the outcome of the standards verification process.

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