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FAQ on Qualifications, Awards, Certificates and Diplomas

The world of educational qualifications has undergone many changes over the past 20 years in Europe, the main one being a trend towards standardisation, testing and international comparisons of standards in education. Waldorf education is affected by many of these changes. The following FAQ aims to inform people in Waldorf schools what the main changes and terminology are.

Moreover, it hopes to address questions around a possible alternative school leaving certificate based on learning outcomes, developed in New Zealand, which presupposes the Waldorf Curriculum.

Questions for schools

Q: What is the difference between a qualification, a certificate and a diploma?

A: A certificate is a written statement, made by someone in authority that may be used as evidence of something. In education it may be evidence of knowledge and skills.

In many English-speaking countries, the word certificate is used for educational qualifications: e.g. General Certificate of Secondary Education (GCSE) and the General Certificate of Secondary Education Advanced Level (A level). These certificates give evidence of a qualification in one or more subjects.

A qualification is a degree or a diploma, etc., awarded at the end of a period of training or schooling that certifies that a person has reached certain standards.

A diploma is an educational certification of proficiency, issued by an educational institution. In some countries the word is only used for academic awards, in others it may be used for a certificate that ensures university entrance after secondary education.

Q: What is the European Qualification Framework (EQF)?

A: The European Qualifications Framework  is a translation tool that helps communication and comparison between qualifications systems in Europe. Its eight common European reference levels are described in terms of learning outcomes: knowledge, skills and competences.

Each of the eight levels is defined by a set of descriptors indicating the learning outcomes relevant to qualifications at that level in any system of qualifications. It can be used for educational as well as professional qualifications. Level 1 indicates a very basic level of knowledge skills and competences; while level 8 is for doctoral study.

This allows a comparison between national qualification systems, national qualifications frameworks (NQFs) and qualifications in Europe relating them to the EQF levels. Learners, graduates, providers and employers can use these levels to understand and compare qualifications awarded in different countries and by different education and training providers.

Q: What is a National Qualifications Framework (NQF)?
A: A National Qualifications Framework is a formal system within a country for describing qualifications. 47 countries participating in the Bologna Process committed to producing national qualifications frameworks.
Q: What is the link between a National Qualifications Framework (NQF) and the European Qualifications Framework?

A: All countries of the European Higher Education Area have committed to developing national qualifications frameworks compatible with the overarching framework of the European Higher Education Area, created by the Bologna Process and the Lisbon Recognition Convention.

In each country a national agency is responsible for the qualification framework. The levels of the national qualification frameworks are mapped onto a level of the European Qualifications Framework.

The declaration of equivalence of foreign qualifications is another matter. Information can be found on the ENIC (European Network of Information Centres) – NARIC (National Academic Recognition Information Centres) website

Q: What is the Lisbon Recognition Convention?
A: The Lisbon Recognition Convention, officially the Convention on the Recognition of Qualifications concerning Higher Education in the European Region, is an international convention of the Council of Europe elaborated together with the UNESCO. As of 2012, the Convention has been ratified by all 47 member states of the Council of Europe in Strasbourg except for Greece and Monaco. It has also been ratified by the Council of Europe non-member states Australia, Belarus, the Holy See, Israel, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and New Zealand. Canada and the USA have signed but not ratified the Convention.
Q: What are the preconditions for attending a higher education course?
A: Preconditions for attending higher education differ from country to country, and sometimes from university to university and from course to course. Some countries have school qualifications, mapped to EQF level 4 with a right to university entrance. There may be other additional conditions for certain courses and knowledge of the language the university courses are taught in, may also be a precondition. It is not impossible even to enter a higher education course without a secondary school qualification. The higher education institution may provide a procedure for evidencing and acknowledging the necessary knowledge, skills and competences.
Q: What is the New Zealand Certificate of Steiner Education (NZCSE)?(Formerly Steiner School Certificate or SSC)

A: This is a qualification that has a similar structure to the National Certificates of Educational Achievement (NCEA) of New Zealand. The NZCSE has been recognised by the New Zealand Qualification Authority (NZQA) and put on their National Qualification Framework. It has 3 levels: Level 1 (equivalent to EQF 2) after class 10, Level 2 (equivalent to EQF 3) for most pupils after class 11 and Level 3 with University Entrance after class 12 (or optionally 13 – both equivalent to EQF level 4). Level 1 and 2 can also be used as school-leaving certificates.

The NZCSE is an outcomes-based qualification designed for Steiner Waldorf education. It has a rigorous quality control system. The teachers work together on an internal quality assessment system. Experienced Steiner Waldorf teachers external to the school moderate samples of internally moderated learning outcomes.

The NZCSE is not a curriculum in itself but presupposes the Steiner Waldorf curriculum with its broad focus on many subjects. The achievements of the pupils are compared to a catalogue for each level of broadly described learning outcomes.

There is no restriction on the method of assessment as long as it is valid and transparent for both teachers and pupils at the beginning of a series of lessons. On level 3 (EQF 4) at least three, but preferably four, elective subject domains have to be deepened. Basic skills in numeracy and literacy are also mandatory.

Points from NZCSE in New Zealand can be transferred to a school doing the qualification in Europe if a pupil spends a year abroad. Similarly, if a pupil from Europe wishes to attend a New Zealand school, their attainments in classes 10,11 or 12 in their home school can be given an NZCSE equivalent if they are adequately documented.

Q: What is the difference between a curriculum and an outcomes-based qualification?

A: The meaning of the word curriculum depends on the context. It may refer to the content taught in a school or course, and it may also refer to the knowledge or skills students are expected to learn in combination with specific assignments and projects, materials, readings and so on.

Traditionally education used a strongly content-based curriculum and the standards for reaching a qualification were oriented towards knowledge of this content.

Many countries have established a national curriculum for school education. Their school qualifications system is then linked to this curriculum. Often some kind of standardised testing is organised by the state to generate evidence whether the individual pupils have met the standards of the national curriculum.

Nowadays outcomes-based education, which is directed towards goals, is preferred more and more. It offers

  • a student-oriented approach;
  • a clear expectation of what has to be accomplished at the end of a course for both students and teachers;
  • flexibility and freedom for the teachers because they can choose how to teach their pupils, while taking into account what they need to reach the goals.

The curriculum is still the most important aspect and this is set and confirmed each academic year. Only then are appropriate Learning Outcomes chosen to assess the work

Q: Why use the New Zealand Certificate of Steiner Education outside of New Zealand?
A: The use of the NZCSE may be an alternative to national qualifications, based on standardised testing, which do not take the Steiner Waldorf curriculum, methods and ideals into account.
Q: Can the NZCSE give access to universities outside of New Zealand?
A: It can if the country has signed the Lisbon Recognition Convention. However, a declaration of equivalence from the competent national authority of the country in which the university is located is needed if the university does not decide on its own. See ENIC (European Network of Information Centres) – NARIC (National Academic Recognition Information Centres) website There are already students from New Zealand attending European universities with NZCSE as well as students from Steiner schools in England attending universities there.
Q: Does the New Zealand Certificate of Steiner Education replace other national qualifications?
A: No it does not in itself do that. The school and its parents can, however, make a conscious choice to work with the NZCSE. This can be done alongside a national qualification, but also on its own.
Q: Does a school need a license to use the NZCSE?
A: Yes. The school needs to sign a contract with the Steiner Education Development Trust (SEDT) in New Zealand, which stipulates what requirements the school has to follow.
Q: Can Steiner Waldorf schools with state funding use the NZCSE?
A: They could use it, but whether it fits their needs may differ from one situation to another. It may depend on the regulations regarding funding. Sometimes these stipulate a certain curriculum, evidence of a set of national learning outcomes or certain exams. This may make it difficult to use the NZCSE as an alternative to the national qualifications. Schools may also decide to use it alongside a national qualification. Whether this is a good choice or not always depends on the specific situations. State funded Steiner schools in New Zealand are already using NZCSE
Q: Are there international school leaving qualifications with university entrance?
A: Yes, there are. The European Baccalaureate (or EB), which may be awarded to students who pass the final year exam at a European School and the International Baccalaureate (IB).  Both give access to universities. Both qualifications have roughly the same drawback as many national qualifications for Steiner Waldorf schools: they do not presuppose the Waldorf Curriculum.
Q: What is the Bologna Process?
A: The Bologna Process is a series of ministerial meetings and agreements between European countries designed to ensure comparability in the standards and quality of small units that feed into higher education qualifications (European Credit Transfer System) and does not apply to secondary education. Through the Bologna Accords, the process has created the European Higher Education Area. It is named after the place where it was proposed, the University of Bologna, with the signing of the Bologna declaration by Education Ministers from 29 European countries in 1999, forming a part of European integration. All countries of the European Higher Education Area committed to developing national qualifications frameworks compatible with the overarching framework of the European Higher Education Area by 2010.