How it all works together

First, let me tell you about the earliest train lines. Every rail operator in Victorian England built his own railway line. No one built tracks the same width. So no one’s trains could run on anyone else’s railway lines. That’s what National Occupational Standards are there to avoid – but for training, not for trains.

Let’s say you know you need to get some qualification for your job in the beauty industry so you can move jobs, or get a raise, or just prove you know what you’re doing. Merely from asking around and looking online, you’ll quickly pick up whether what you need is an NVQ Level 2 or Level 3, for example, in your line of work. But then, when you look into it further, you’ll find a confusingly large number of courses, all with slightly different names and qualifications, offered by different companies, such as City & Guilds or VTCT, and no obvious way to tell how similar they are, or how relevant to you they are. It’s enough to make you want to take an NVQ in meditation instead.

You’ll be delighted to know that the government got involved and set up a regulator. Everything always works so much better when the government gets involved. (Maybe keep your finger in the page about that meditation course.) You know how they have those silly names, like Ofcom and Oftel for regulators, well they’ve got one for this as well: Ofqual. (Honestly, I’m not joking.) It’s full silly name is the Office of Qualifications and Examinations Regulation. There’s bound to be some pretty hefty salaries being paid with an important name like that. This is referred to – when politicians discuss these things – as ‘the exam watchdog’ – which would be comforting if we weren’t aware how much time watchdogs spend sleeping. Anyway, this body has a couple of responsibilities which are relevant to you as someone thinking about getting a qualification in the beauty industry.

Ofqual is responsible for regulating and accrediting British examination boards. That one I will get back to in a separate article. The job which matters most for our purposes is in connection with National Occupational Standards.

National Occupational Standards – ‘NOS’ for short – are standards of performance for particular jobs. Someone somewhere has figured out exactly what you need to know to do a particular job – such as giving a pedicure – and how you should go about doing it, and other necessary background knowledge such as health & safety. Then they put that all down in writing and, there you have it, an NOS on pedicure. There are National Occupational Standards for just about every job and role you can imagine.

For pedicures it is ‘SKANSN3 Provide Pedicure Services’. Just for fun, I tried a few things in the NOS search engine. I tried ‘pig farming’ and discovered there is a standard for ‘Preparing Livestock Accommodation’ – turning down the sheets in the pigsty every evening. ‘Dictators’ produces several courses for sports coaching! Even ‘magic’ produced an NOS which includes ‘This standard is about making … crowds move under the forces of physics’. I’m almost interested in taking that course.

More relevantly, searching for ‘eyelash extensions, produces two standards or units ‘Provide single eyelash extension treatments’ and ‘Enhance the appearance of the eyelashes’. A search using the keywords ‘beauty treatments’ produces 116 potential units or standards on all kinds of topics from ‘Providing facial electrical treatments’ to ‘Photo rejuvenation of the skin using intense pulsed light’ to ‘Nail art’.

These standards are all created or arranged by yet another public body called SkillsActive, which is recognised by the government as a ‘Sector Skills Council’ – an ‘SSC’. An SSC is an independent, employer-led, organisation whose job is to help people to achieve work-related skills. (I know, I am bored by it too.) Anyway, SkillsActive covers seven sectors: sport, fitness, outdoors, playwork, caravans, hair and beauty. (Why caravans get a special mention, rather than, say, tents, I just do not know.)

SkillsActive then work with a number of training providers and ‘awarding organisations’ to run courses and provide qualifications in relevant topics. Those topics would consist of NOS units or standards. These include some names you will be familiar with if you have been trawling the Internet trying to understand the qualification system: names such as City & Guilds, ITEC, and VTCT. Those are only three out of about 40 organisations listed on the SkillsActive website, but one of the others may be more relevant to your particular interest – e.g. British Judo or British Equestrian Federation. There is also one called Super Camps – probably for those caravanners.

This brings me back to Ofqual, one of whose jobs it is to maintain a ‘Register of Regulated Qualifications’ which tells us that a particular qualification is on the RQF system, and also gives us the details such as ‘Level’ and ‘Credits’ which allows anyone to compare it with qualifications offered by other organisations.

This long excursion through the highways and byways of government regulation and organisations with strange names will soon get back to something useful to you – I promise. The apparent chaos does actually have some kind of order to it.

So, now we’ve got the NOS standards or units for particular work-related topics, which are quite specific. And we’ve got SkillsActive who have been responsible for putting these together, at least for the beauty sector which we are interested in. And then we’ve got the awarding organisations like ITEC, VTCT, and City & Guilds who give a qualification to someone for passing a course (like getting a GCSE or university degree). And finally, we have Ofqual and its ‘Register of Regulated Qualifications’ which allows us to compare one course with another.

Did I promise I would eventually get back to something useful to you? For that you need to read the next page – ‘Diplomas, Certificates, Awards’.