What is the AAT and how do you enrol for an AAT qualification?

What is the AAT and how do you enrol for an AAT qualification?

Find out all you need to know about the AAT and how you can get an AAT qualification

What is the AAT and how do you enrol for an AAT qualification?

Of all the world’s accountancy bodies, the Association of Accounting Technicians has traditionally been the least well-known. But times are changing. A 2018 YouGov poll found that 68 percent of MPs had heard of AAT and had a favourable view of the organisation (compared to just 32 percent in 2016), and the organisation now features frequently in the national media on a wide range of topics beyond tax and accountancy, including business responsibility and corporate governance.

Founded in 1980, the AAT is a professional membership body that now numbers 140,000 members in over 100 countries. The organisation is renowned for its myriad skills-based accountancy and bookkeeping qualifications, offering a first step towards a career in these fields. In fact, the AAT is now so important that it offers 90 percent of all vocational accountancy qualifications around the world. Eighty percent of the FTSE 100 now has an AAT apprentice within their finance function, whilst 60 percent of AAT members work for or own their own small or medium-sized enterprise.

Designed with insight from employers, the AAT’s level 2 and 3 courses provide an entry-level pathway for those who want to take up accountancy careers. They are aimed at people who have left school or college, or work in an alternative career. Although the courses were originally designed as a path to juni0r or administrative roles, those who complete the AAT’s highest qualifications go on to find work in a plethora of advanced roles including financial accountant, commercial analyst and senior finance officer. The AAT level 4 qualification (the Professional Diploma in Accounting) enables successful candidates to become an AAT licensed accountant.

Gateway

With the exception of its level 4 qualification AAT should best be viewed as a gateway or ‘feeder’ to other accountancy and finance bodies,. Each of the other major bodies – the Chartered Institute of Management Accountants (CIMA), the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants (ACCA) and the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales (ICAEW) – offers AAT members clear progression routes into their own courses, providing fast-track options and exemptions to those who have completed the AAT’s qualifications. Likewise AAT offers exemptions to candidates who have taken exams from these other bodies (more on this later).

These bodies work closely with the AAT, and used to play a role in designing its courses, ensuring the material dovetails with their own material. In some areas, the bodies continue to collaborate; for example, the AAT has teamed up with the ICAEW to provide a fast-track to the ACA qualification and has a joint CIPFA apprenticeship scheme.

Variety of courses

Although the AAT’s courses are focused on accountancy and bookkeeping, this is really only part of the story. In fact it offers a number of different courses, covering several different skills within the world of accountancy and catering for students on various different experience rungs.

The AAT’s courses can be grouped into four distinct categories: accountancy, bookkeeping, business skills and ‘essentials’, a series of one-day courses designed to offer quick, immersive tuition. Here we look at each of these branches in detail.

The accounting qualifications cover four distinct courses: Foundation Certificate, Foundation Diploma, Advanced Diploma and, as previously noted, the Professional Diploma. The equivalent academic level of each courses varies significantly, from GCSE (for the foundation certificate) to foundation degree (for the professional diploma). The first three courses last between six and 12 months; the professional diploma is slightly longer, lasting between 9 and 18 months.

Each accountancy course is aimed at a specific experience bracket. The foundation certificate and the foundation diploma (aimed at those aged 16 to 19) is aimed at those who are completely new to accounting, looking for junior or entry-level accountancy positions. The advanced diploma is designed for those who want to move onto more complex processes including bookkeeping, final accounts and accounting ethics, and provides a jump-off point to AAT associate bookkeeping membership. Finally, the professional diploma covers higher tasks such as drafting financial statements, as well as specialist administrative functions such as external auditing and treasury management.

Provider fees range from £600 to £3,000, with additional AAT fees.

The bookkeeping qualifications, meanwhile, include five distinct courses: The Access Award in Bookkeeping, the Access Award in Accounting Software, the Foundation Certificate in Bookkeeping, the Foundation Award in Accounting Software and the Advanced Certificate in Bookkeeping. Again, the courses cover a full sweep of the experience spectrum.

The access awards, whose level is equivalent to GCSEs grades D-G,  carry no need for any prior accounting knowledge; the foundation certificates, a stage further on, are equivalent to GCSEs grades A*-C. The advanced certificate in bookkeeping, aimed at those with experience in the profession, is equivalent to A-level and covers complex areas such as double-entry bookkeeping, financial statements and intermediate spreadsheets.

The first four courses are designed to be quick and compact, lasting no more than 12 weeks. The advanced certificate is considerably longer, lasting six months, but this is a fair investment given the skills imparted. Provider fees range from £150 to £800, with AAT fees of £44.

The business skills qualification, lasting 12 weeks, is aimed at young, entry-level candidates and covers basic accounting techniques and principles, as well as an immersion in the business environment. The course costs £250 in provider fees, with additional AAT fees of of £44.

Finally, the one-day ‘essentials’ courses provide a fast-track practical introduction to key areas such as budgeting, financial reporting and managing cash flow. The courses are not a full degree, but are specifically designed for accounting professionals, as well as non-finance staff looking to increase their knowledge. The courses are provided in small groups, each class taught by an expert AAT trainer, and clients can choose their own location for larger gatherings.

What are the advantages of AAT courses?

Firstly, the courses are accessible to everyone. No matter an applicant’s experience, even if they have no experience at all, they will find a course tailored to their needs and AAT allows them to start work earlier than other providers.

Previous academic qualifications are not required apart from A-Levels, and indeed the AAT courses provide a great debt-free alternative to university. They also provide a direct route to employment, with immediate earning potential and even a holiday allowance. To some employers, a candidate boasting an AAT qualification is more appealing than those bearing other titles. They may prefer those who have gained qualifications while working in the real world to rivals who have studied full-time. Several major employers, including KPMG and Grant Thornton, provide an AAT apprenticeship as an alternative a University-based entry route to work.

Another key benefit is flexibility. The courses are designed to fit around people’s other commitments, so if you’re already in full-time work and want to study while you earn, the AAT courses offer an ideal balance. They’re also ideally designed for those who have recently been made redundant, are enjoying a career break or have caring responsibilities.

Although the courses don’t offer Chartered status, they do provide a fast track to chartered accountancy. And they are respected by big companies, such as Sainsbury’s, P&G, Morgan Stanley and the Ministry of Defence, all of whom hire AAT professionals.

What are the limitations of an AAT course?

Although AAT courses are quicker, and have a lower entry than bar, then alternatives such as CIMA, ACA or ACCA. AAT is less widely known than these rivals, so may carry less caché with certain employers.

There are some practical limitations to an AAT qualification, primarily centring on auditing. AAT members cannot call themselves an auditor, carry out an audit or sign off the accounts of any companies up to the audit threshold, meaning those turning over more than £10.2 million a year.

So applicants may wish to think about the company they are, or will be, working for. If they’re working for a small or medium-sized company, there’s a good chance the firm will be exempt from auditing requirements, making this particular restriction irrelevant. And the good news is that the majority of UK business don’t meet the audit threshold.

Are there any exemptions for AAT courses?

Yes. Candidates may be able to fast-track their way through certain aspects of the AAT’s courses, depending on the qualifications they already possess. If an applicant has already gained a qualification from a body such as the ACCA or ICAEW, it’s highly likely they’ll qualify for an exemption.

Each previous qualification carries a specific set of exemptions. For example, a candidate who has achieved a Higher National Diploma in accounting can bypass the AAT’s units on Using Accounting Software and Bookkeeping Controls. The AAT website includes detailed notes on possible exemptions as well as a comprehensive table here.

Note that exemptions are only available for 50% of the units that go into an AAT qualification, and AAT will not accept exemptions more than three years old.

How do I go about enrolling with the AAT?

The enrolment process is designed to be short, simple and user-friendly. Just follow these key steps.

Choose the right course

First you need to choose the course that’s right for you. All the information can be found on the AAT’s courses page, detailing the fees, course components, duration and requirements of each course.

It’s hard to offer too much advice on which course to choose. It really depends on where you’re at and how quickly you want to progress. Those who are just starting out may wish to choose bookkeeping, while those who already have a base may prefer accountancy. The shorter courses provide a bite-size alternative for those looking to top up their skills or master a very specific area.

If you’re not sure which course to choose, the AAT website explains the key differences between the two options, and also offers a skills test to help applicants determine which course suits them best.

Find a training provider

As well as choosing a course, you also need to find a training provider in your area. The AAT has compiled a list of over 500 providers, carefully selected to meet their specifications.

When choosing a provider, don’t just think about where you want to study: consider how you want to study. The AAT’s providers offer a range of different study options, primarily classroom learning (great for making contacts and challenging yourself against your peers) and distance learning (an ideal option for those who are juggling their study with full-time work or family commitments). You can also choose a ‘blended’ option that combines both classroom and remote learning.

When you’ve decided where you want to study, and how, you can find a full list of providers on the AAT website. These providers will be happy to sit down and chat through their options, without charge.

Registration

Once you’ve decided on the course and the provider, it’s time to register. To do this, you need to fill out a form on the AAT website, asking for a range of details.

The required details include previous studies, gender, ethnic background and certain health details, which are optional.

If you want to see a real-life example of AAT qualifications at work, AAT has published a video showing Andy’s journey from working in catering and hospitality to getting his AAT qualifications and receiving a promotion at work. 

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