What does accreditation mean?

We hear and read a lot about accreditation (especially us), but what does it actually mean, both in theory and in practice? We attempt to summarise.

A definition of accreditation

Accreditation is the external recognition of your adherence to a set of standards to perform an activity or hold a certain status. Typically, accreditation is held by education institutions or organisations. However, schemes exist in a variety of industries. It can show that an organisation subscribes to certain quality standards or adheres to a voluntary self-regulatory code.

Well-known accreditation schemes include the Red Tractor Scheme, the National Landlords Association, CHAS, and Law Society Accreditation. Sometimes, such schemes may not be called as such, or may be a part of a larger scheme. For example, the Federation of Master Builders is effectively an accreditation scheme, even though it calls itself a 'trade association'.

Benefits of accreditation

There are numerous benefits to accreditation, depending on the scheme. In general, it shows that the organisation takes their responsibilities seriously. This gives confidence to external regulators and customers. It can lead to more business or more engagement, and can give customers or service users confidence in your standards and your ability to comply with regulations and laws.

It can give an organisations confidence in itself, too. Many schemes give you advice on best practice or advice on common problems. The National Landlords Association, for example, offers commonly used forms that members can use and offers advice on common disputes between landlords and tenants. CHAS provides model procedures and documents that members can use to help become health and safety compliant. At Advantage, we offer curriculum updates so that centres can be sure they're using up to date and compliant course materials.

Who decides what accreditation is valid or not?

The United Kingdom Accreditation Service (UKAS) is the body recognised by the Government to assess against "internationally agreed standards". In their own words, UKAS "check the checkers".

UKAS aren't the only body with a role in the accreditation 'market', however. Sector skills bodies such as Skills for Care and Energy and Utility Skills have an input, even if indirectly, into accreditation and quality standards and sometimes have their own accreditation or assurance schemes. Voluntary industry bodies or professional associations such as the Association of British Travel Agents (ABTA) and the British Insurance Brokers Association (BIBA) also have a big role to play. The Federation of Awarding Bodies in one such organisation.

How do I find the right accreditation scheme?

To identify the right accreditation, assurance or association body for you, you should ask the following questions:

  • Is this scheme right for my sector or niche? ISO standards are often the go-to certifications, but they may not actually say anything about your technical competence.
  • Do they have evidence of their expertise? What are their quality processes? Do they have in-house experts that provide advice to their staff and to you and make sure that the body is up to date with the latest knowledge and best practice? Can they help you with technical queries?
  • Do their values match yours? Do they actually do anything for their money? Some bodies want your membership fee, but then do not offer any real help.
  • Do they conduct audits? It may not seem to be in your interest to welcome audits, but a body that audits their members takes their standards and responsibilities seriously.

And of course, make sure they're responsive to your needs.