Section 96 Approval Process Guidance

Summary of the section 96 approval process

Regulated awarding organisations use Ofqual’s Portal system to submit or amend qualification data to Ofqual. When Ofqual regulate a qualification, they give it a qualification number. To avoid asking awarding organisations for the same data twice, the data entered into Ofqual’s Portal system is shared with other systems used by the government and its funding agencies.

The Education and Skills Funding Agency (ESFA), only use Portal data to identify qualifications seeking section 96 approval or ESFA 16 to 19 funding validity.The ESFA take a copy of Ofqual’s Portal data, on the last Tuesday of each month to identify both newly regulated and amended qualifications. Qualifications regulated by Ofqual actually on the last Tuesday of each month will be included in the following month’s data.

Regulated awarding organisations should therefore ensure that the following key fields are completed in the Portal:

  • offered in England
  • funding in England
  • operational end date (or in the absence of an operational end date the review date)

This information informs the DfE and the ESFA:

  • that a qualification is intending to be delivered in England
  • that a qualification is seeking section 96 approval and 16 to 19 public funding
  • the operational duration for a qualification

Awarding organizations should also ensure that the age category and links to specification fields are correctly completed, so that section 96 approval and funding validity are considered for the appropriate ages.

We consider qualifications for section 96 approval against a set of core approval principles to assess the suitability of each qualification to be delivered to students in the following age categories:

  • Pre-16
  • 16 to 18
  • 18+

Once we complete the section 96 approval process, we update the section 96 website with new approved qualifications and amendments to existing section 96 qualification data. The section 96 data also displays the approved section 96 age categories for a qualification.

The section 96 approved qualifications are then published on the Learning Aim Reference Service (LARS).

A list of section 96 approved qualifications is available to download or can be searched individually.


Section 96 process timescales

We complete the section 96 approval process monthly, beginning on the last Tuesday of each month when the ESFA gets a copy of Ofqual’s Portal data. As a cut of the Portal data is taken once a month, the date at which a qualification is submitted or amended in the Portal will impact on the overall time taken for a qualification to complete the section 96 approval process.

The ESFA complete the section 96 approval process within ten working days of receiving the Ofqual Portal data. It can therefore take up to 7 weeks from the submission of a qualification for Ofqual regulation to the publishing of section 96 approval data on the section 96 website.

You can find further information on the complete process for seeking public funding for qualifications to be delivered by young people in England on GOV.UK. This detailed guidance page provides full details of the process as well as timescales and information on the key organisation involved.


Section 96 withdrawal of qualifications

Section 96 approval of qualifications does not automatically expire on a given date. Once granted, approval is open-ended.

The Secretary of State may at any time, revoke section 96 approval of a qualification. This may happen if:

  • the awarding organisation requests it
  • the qualification no longer meets one or more of the principles which originally set out suitability for approval (for example it is no longer regulated by Ofqual)

If the section 96 approval for a qualification is withdrawn, then the section 96 archive date will be amended to reflect the withdrawal date and may not replicate the operational end date in the Portal. The withdrawn qualification will then appear on the section 96 archive download of qualifications. Ofqual and the awarding organisation will be notified of any withdrawn qualifications.

Institutions can register students for a qualification at any time between the section 96 approval start date and the section 96 archive date. Any student registered for the qualification at the archive date may complete their qualification up to the certification end date, even if that qualification has been withdrawn.


Understanding qualification dates

The date information recorded in the Portal reflects a qualification’s current status. We also use it to determine the section 96 approval dates and the 16 to 19 funding validity for a qualification.

The date information recorded in the Portal reflects a qualification’s current status. We also use it to determine the section 96 approval dates and the 16 to 19 funding validity for a qualification.

Awarding organisations are responsible for maintaining date information for a qualification. They should promptly resubmit changes to the status of a qualification to Ofqual through the Portal. This will ensure that we make timely amendments to the section 96 approval and 16 to 19 funding validity dates.

Below is a summary of the relationship between the date fields in the Portal, section 96 and LARS:

The Portal Section 96 LARS for 16 to 19 funding validity
Operational end date Archive date 16 to 19 last date for new starts
Review date (in the absence of an operational end date) Archive date 16 to 19 last date for new starts
Certification end date Certification end date 16 to 19 end date

Operational end and review dates

A qualification’s operational end date as recorded in the Portal is used for:

In the absence of an operational end date, we will use the Portal review date for the section 96 archive date and the corresponding ‘16 to 19 last date for new starts’ field.

When a qualification reaches its section 96 archive date, although the qualification remains approved by the Secretary of State, it is automatically removed from the section 96 approved list and added to the section 96 archive list until a new operational end date or review date is recorded in the Portal.

The 16 to 19 last date for new starts field in LARS indicates the last date at which a student can be recorded as starting a qualification and be eligible for ESFA 16 to 19 funding.


Certification end dates

A qualification’s operational end date as recorded in the Portal is used for:

  • the section 96 archive date
  • the 16 to 19 end date field populated in LARS

The 16 to 19 end date indicates the last date that a qualification is eligible for ESFA 16 to 19 funding.

A student registered for a qualification by the section 96 archive date may complete their qualification up to the certification end date, even if that qualification is on the section 96 archive download.

Likewise, a student registered for a qualification by the ESFA 16 to 19 last date for new starts may complete their qualification and be eligible for funding up to the ESFA 16 to 19 effective end date.

If an awarding organisation has not inserted a review date or certification end date for a qualification on the Portal, when the qualification is added to section 96 we will use a default date of 31 December 2099 for the review date or certification end date field.