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This guidance aims to provide architects and those intending to register under the Architects Act 1997 (the ‘Act’) with an understanding of the Architects Registration Board’s (the ‘Board’) approach to maintaining competence, as well as the steps that individuals may need to take in order to demonstrate that they are competent to practise as an architect.

Why should practising architects, or those intending to register, maintain competence?

The Board’s requirement for demonstrating competence on application for registration and throughout an architect’s time in practice (see Standard 2 of ARB’s Code of Conduct) provides the profession’s assurance to the public that those on the Register and in practice will carry out their work with the appropriate knowledge and skill.

When existing architects in practice renew their annual ARB registration, they are automatically deemed to have confirmed that they are competent to practise.

What are ARB's rules on maintaining competence?

Under the Act, architects must ensure that they are competent to practise.  This applies at the time of registration and throughout an architect’s working life.

This is implemented through Section 9 of the Act, which is concerned with competence to practise.  In addition, Standard 2 of the Architects Code indicates that architects ‘are expected to keep (their) knowledge and skills relevant to (their) professional work up to date and be aware of the content of guidelines issued by the Board from time to time.’

The Board may prescribe the practical experience that must be gained for a person to be automatically retained, entered or re-entered onto the Register.  Architects, and those who intend to register, who can demonstrate that they have the prescribed practical experience are likely to be able to demonstrate that they are competent to practise.

In order to help architects and those who intend to register meet the practical experience requirements, the Board has defined ‘prescribed practical experience’ within Rule 20 of its General Rules. Rule 20 states that:

“Any person who falls within the categories described in section 9 (1)(a), (b) or (c) of the Act and who is engaged in the practice of architecture must have gained such recent practical experience as prescribed by the Board.

The prescribed practical experience for the purposes of this Rule shall be that they have undertaken activities in the practice of architecture, during the period of two years immediately prior to the application, as are sufficient in the opinion of the Board to maintain their competence to practise in accordance with the Board’s guidelines which shall be published from time to time.

Where the Board is not satisfied that a person has gained such recent practical experience, they may be required to satisfy the Board of their competence to practise in such manner as the Board may require.”

The guidelines regarding what might constitute “activities in the practice of architecture” as referred to in Rule 20 and which are likely to satisfy the Board are set out in Section 4 below.

Those wishing to be readmitted to the Register after a period of two or more years out of practice will need to consider what other relevant activities they may present to the Board in support of their application. These could include, but are not limited to, CPD, teaching or the study of architecture.

When does Rule 20 apply?

Rule 20 applies to those who are engaged in the practice of architecture and who:

  • are applying for initial entry to the Register; or
  • are applying for re-entry to the Register; or
  • wish to be retained on the Register for a further year.

Individuals who fall within one of the groups listed above must be able to demonstrate how they meet the Board’s requirements for maintaining competence.

However, those applying for initial entry to the Register will also have to meet the Board’s requirements under Section 4 of the Act.  Refer to ‘the Registration section of ARB’s website for further details.

Rule 20 will also apply to anyone who is not currently practising but is considering doing so.  Those returning to practice who are on the Register or who are seeking to be reinstated to the Register should bear in mind that they must be able to demonstrate how they have maintained their competence.

Rule 20 will not apply to those who are fully retired.  However, as noted above, anybody who has retired but who wishes to resume practice of any kind (including voluntary or pro-bono work) must also be able to demonstrate to the Board that they are competent to practise.

What are the guidelines for maintaining competence?

This section of the Guidance represents the ‘Guidelines’ referred to in Rule 20 of the Board’s General Rules.

Before first admission to the Register, an individual will have attained minimum levels of knowledge, understanding and skills in areas relevant to practice.  These are defined in ARB’s current Criteria.  These levels are the minimum levels of competence that an architect must maintain.

In addition, under Standard 2 of the Architects Code: Standards of Conduct and Practice, architects are expected to keep their knowledge and skills relevant to their professional work up to date.  Those who offer more specialised services should also be competent in these areas.

Although it is not a separate heading under the Criteria, individuals are advised to refer to the sections of the Criteria relating to health and safety which expect architects to have an understanding of and ability to apply relevant health and safety legislation.

Much of the day to day work of an architect is likely to contribute to the maintenance of an individual’s competence.  Activities which are undertaken as part of a CPD scheme should also help to maintain competence.  Such activities are not limited to attending formal courses, lectures or seminars, but can include work-based learning, professional activities and self-directed learning.  Maintaining competence does not rely solely on CPD, but could include any or all of the following:

  • active engagement in practice;
  • teaching
  • the study of architecture

The RIBA has developed a core curriculum for CPD, with input from the Board, which substantially reflects the Board’s Criteria.  It is anticipated that anyone satisfying RIBA’s requirements is likely to satisfy the Board that they have maintained their competence.  RIBA’s core curriculum can be found on RIBA’s website at www.architecture.com.  Architects or those intending to resume practice may also find it helpful to participate in CPD activities organised by other professional bodies.  Such bodies include the Royal Society of Architects in Wales (RSAW), the Royal Incorporation of Architects in Scotland (RIAS), the Royal Society of Ulster Architects (RSUA), and the Association of Consultant Architects (ACA).  (Please note that this list is not exhaustive.)

Assistance may also be sought from the Construction Industry Council (CIC), which has developed occupational standards for professional, managerial and technical occupations in the built environment – http://www.cic.org.uk/home/index.shtml

How does an architect, or an individual applying to register, demonstrate competence?

Each individual is best placed to know how to structure their own learning activities to maintain competence. It is important that they assess their own level of competence and identify where steps must be taken to address any deficiencies, i.e., that their basic competence is being maintained at the levels in the Criteria and that competence for their own chosen areas of practice are also maintained at the appropriate level. These steps should then be carefully planned, evaluated and subsequently recorded.

The way that an architect, or an individual who intends to register, chooses to maintain competence will depend on their own learning needs and actual or expected areas of practice.

For those returning to the Register after an absence or for those returning to practice after a period without practice, an individual may need to consider what resources are available to re-establish competence over the previous two years.  As well as supervised work, CPD, formal courses, lectures etc, professional bodies, such as the RIBA, may offer specialised courses for this particular purpose, which will help re-establish the individual’s competence.

How should activities relating to maintaining competence be planned and recorded?

Records as to how competence is maintained do not have to be in any particular format, neither do architects, or those intending to register, need to duplicate records that they maintain for other bodies, or for their employers.

Whatever form of planning and recording is chosen, it should aim to:

  1. Thoroughly review and evaluate the learning activities undertaken, identifying where future learning needs are required.
  2. Show that you have planned how these learning needs are to be met, including the activities to be undertaken, the necessary resources needed, the appropriate timescales, and how the successful outcomes will be recognised.
  3. Record and evaluate what activities have been undertaken, adding in any valid unplanned learning opportunities which have arisen.

Architects who decide to leave the Register are advised to record any activities they undertake whilst they are unregistered, in the event that they may wish to return to the Register at a future point.

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