The European Council for Steiner Waldorf Education


Published on August 22nd, 2016 | by ECSWE


FAQ on Qualifications, Awards, Certificates and Diplomas

Version 24th of July 2016

The world of educational qualifications has undergone many changes over the past 20 years in Europe, the main one being a trend towards standardization, 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 about some of the main changes and the accompanying terminology.

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

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

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 Advance 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 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.

What is the European Qualification Framework (EQF)?

The European Qualifications Framework (EQF) 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 is a very basic level of knowledge, skills and competences; level 8 is the level of a doctorate.

This allows all qualifications on national qualifications frameworks (NQFs) in Europe to be mapped onto the EQF levels. Learners, graduates, providers and employers can then use these levels to understand and compare qualifications awarded in different countries and by different education and training systems.

What is a National Qualifications Framework (NQF)?

A National Qualifications Framework is a formal system describing qualifications that are put on different levels. Countries are free to define their levels in any way they like. 47 countries participating in the Bologna Process committed to producing national qualifications frameworks.

What is the link between a National Qualifications Framework (NQF) and the European Qualifications Framework (EQF)?

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 their qualification framework. The levels of the national qualification frameworks are mapped onto a level of the European Qualifications Framework.

The recognition 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 It has been recommended to take EQF levels into account when deciding on recognition, but this recommendation is not binding.

What is the Lisbon Recognition Convention?

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 inaugurated and put in place together with the UNESCO. As of 2012, the Convention had 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.

What are the preconditions for attending a higher education course?

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 an entitlement to university entrance. There may be other additional conditions for certain courses. Knowledge of the language the university courses are taught in may also be an additional precondition. It is not impossible to even 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.

Does the European Portfolio Certificate Folder offer university entrance?

The European Portfolio Certificate (EPC) Folder is created for students who complete a Steiner Waldorf School education at secondary level, open to adaptation by other interested schools.

It is not a qualification in itself but a folder of certificates that give evidence of competences. These may or may not be needed to earn a qualification, a diploma or educational certificate. It is generally not used for university entrance, although this cannot be precluded. The portfolio folder can contain a diploma or school leaving certificate itself along with portfolio and other certificates.

What is the New Zealand Steiner Certificate? (SSC)

This is a qualification that has a similar structure to the National Certificates of Educational Achievement (NCEA) of New Zealand. The SSC has been recognised by the New Zealand Qualification Authority (NZQA) and put on their National Qualification Framework and, at Level 3 with University Entrance, been recognised by the UNZ (Universities New Zealand) for university entrance (Ad Eundem Statum, meaning “at equivalent level”). 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 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 SSC 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 in order to assure uniform levels.

The SSC 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.

On level 3 (EQF 4) at least 3, but preferably 4, elective subject domains must be deepened. Basic skills in numeracy and literacy are also mandatory.

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

The meaning of the word curriculum depends on the context. It may refer to the content taught in a school, 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 increasingly preferred. 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, whilst taking into account what they need to reach the goals.

Those designing and planning the curriculum are expected to work backwards once an outcome has been decided upon, they must determine what knowledge and skills will be required to reach the outcome.

Why use the New Zealand Steiner School Certificate outside New Zealand?

The use of the SSC may be an alternative to national qualifications, based on standardised testing, which do not take the Steiner Waldorf curriculum, methods and ideals into account.

Can the New Zealand Steiner Certificate give access to universities outside of New Zealand?

It can if the country has signed the Lisbon Recognition Convention. However, a recognition 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 For countries that have not signed and ratified the Lisbon Recognition Convention, it may also give access on the basis of bilateral agreements or other criteria which would need to be researched for each country individually.

Does the New Zealand Steiner Certificate replace other national qualifications?

The school and its parents can make a conscious choice to work with the SSC. This can be done alongside a national qualification, but also on its own.

Does a school need a license to use the New Zealand Certificate?

Yes. The school needs to sign a contract with the Steiner Education Development Trust (SEDT) in New Zealand, which stipulates what rules it has to follow.

Can Steiner Waldorf schools with state funding use the SSC?

This 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 SSC 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 will always depend on the specific situation.

Are there international school leaving qualifications with university entrance?

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 qualifications have roughly the same drawback as many national qualifications for Steiner Waldorf schools: they are not specifically related to the Waldorf Curriculum.

What is the Bologna Process

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). It 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.

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  • ECSWE Newsletter 51, May 2018

    In this volume:
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