Why ISO 21001 and not ISO 17024 or EXEMPLAR or IRCA Approvals?

Woman taking online classes


deGRANDSON holds ISO 21001 Certification for our e-learning business, and this was a considered choice.


We started by asking what would be the best choice for Lead Auditors, Consultants and others wishing to audit, implement or maintain ISO Management Systems to a high standard. 

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deGRANDSON Global's ISO Certifications

From August 2015 to August 2021 we held certification from BQAI, an accredited Certification Body, for ISO 29990. a management system for Learning Services for non-formal education and training. We have now updated and upgraded our Certification to ...

  • ISO 21001:2018, Educational organizations - Management systems for educational organizations and incorporating the additional requirements of ...
  • ISO 29993:2017, Learning Services outside formal education – Service requirements
  • ISO 29994:2021, Education and learning services - Requirements for distance learning


We are the only ISO Auditor Training provider in the world to hold this challenging set of independently-audited management system standards.

ISO 17024 Certification

The obvious choice is ISO 17024, Conformity assessment – General requirements for bodies operating certification of persons,  offering the possibility of auditors having accredited certification for their auditor training. And this standard got a mention in ISO 19011:2010 as a possible step towards competency in auditingBut that was the end of it.  We found one company offering such accredited certification training some years ago based in Australasia but nothing since. 

No organization is promoting such certification and, more importantly, no accreditation body requires such training for the lead auditors of the CABs they audit. So, there is no demand from the marketplace from CABs, accreditation boards, industry, commerce or elsewhere.

Social media around ISO 9001 and other Standards is constantly carping on about auditors making findings based on opinion, freely interpreting standard requirements based on their own preferences, consultants who don't understand the requirements of updated Standards, and still implementing systems near-identical to those they implemented 10-15 years ago, etc. 

ISO 17024 offers a way of significantly improving things.  However, until such time as ISO 17024 accredited certification is mandatory, the current situation where, effectively, professional training of auditors is optional will persist.

From the viewpoint of a training organization, then, ISO 17024 accreditation is a non-starter.  So, the question becomes:

IRCA Approved vs. ISO 21001 Certified - which is better?

This is a question prospective ISO auditors frequently ask themselves when selecting a suitable training course.  It was also the question that we at deGRANDSON asked when we established the business in 2011.

With the recent amalgamation of IRCA with their parent CQI (it will be CQI/IRCA from now on), we decided to compare IRCA Certification with ISO 21001 Certification, both from the training organisation’s viewpoint and from the learner’s viewpoint. Below is what we found.

Click here to learn more about the 40+ ISO Auditor Certification Courses we offer


IRCA Approval vs ISO 21001 Certification Side-by-Side Comparison


IRCA Approval

ISO 21001 Certification

Courses Approved Yes Yes
Approved Training Providers/Educational Organization (EO) Yes Yes
Published ATP/EO approval criteria No Yes
Internationally recognised ATP/EO approval criteria No Yes
Initial Auditing of Providers Yes Yes
Annual Auditing of Providers No Yes
Independent 3rd-party Auditing No Yes
Low ongoing Fees for ATP/EO No Yes
Recognised internationally No Yes
Free Register of Auditors No Yes
No ongoing Fees for auditor registration No Yes
Curriculum approval & monitoring No Yes
Trainer/instructor approval & monitoring * No Yes
Learning environment approval & monitoring * No Yes
Monitoring delivery of learning services No Yes
On-going evaluation of learning goals and scope No Yes
On-going evaluation of the learning service No Yes
Ongoing evaluation of the learner experience No Yes
ISO Certification  No Yes


deGRANDSON's Courses are delivered online by Learning Management System (LMS) so no trainer/instructor is involved and the Learner chooses their own learning environment (could be the back of a bus going to work).

And so, our opinion has not changed. We still consider that, for all learners and for our business, ISO 21001 is the superior choice.

Click here to learn more about the 40+ ISO Auditor Certification Courses we offer

What About EXEMPLAR Approvals?

Same story as with IRCA; it's a badge and does not demonstrate compliance with the internationally recognized ISO Standards for educational organizations.


ISO Compound Logo


7 Reasons why we think ISO 21001 Certification is the 'Gold Standard' for e-Learning

  1. IRCA (and Exemplar) approved Courses; they do not deliver them. Training is delivered by IRCA Approved Training Partners (or ATPs). Note that claims that organisations are ‘IRCA accredited training organisations’ or that courses are ‘IRCA accredited’ are no longer made.

  2. While ATP selection criteria are not in the public domain, organisations seem to be initially vetted prior to approval. On the payment of ongoing fees, their status is maintained with little formal auditing of their performance.

  3. We find that there is little recognition of IRCA outside the United Kingdom. And so, costly IRCA approval would provide little, if any, benefit to overseas-based Auditors.

  4. IRCA's register of certified auditors has been redundant for several years now. In the past, IRCA's register was often used by certification bodies when selecting competent lead auditors. That is no longer the case.

Since about 2011, the standard for certification bodies, ISO 17021, has required that the certification bodies themselves take responsibility for deciding on the competence of the lead auditors and the other auditors they select for their audit teams. 

And that competence is based on a suitable combination of training, technical expertise, knowledge of relevant standards, and auditing experience - no mention of a register.

  1. To become certified, ISO 21001 requires Educational Organizations (EOs) to be subject to periodic independent audits. This ensures that standards of performance having been established, are maintained and improved on over time.

  2. And, of course, ISO 21001 certification has international recognition built in.

  3. The standard has requirements in relation to both learning services and the management of the EO. In brief, these are:

Learning services

    • Determining learning needs incl. Stakeholder needs
    • Design of the learning services incl. Curriculum planning
    • Provision of learning services incl. a suitable learning environment
    • Monitoring the delivery of the learning services
    • Evaluation of goals and scope, of learning and of the learning service

Management of the Learning Service Providers

    • General management requirements
    • Strategy and business management
    • Management review
    • Preventive actions and corrective actions
    • Financial management and risk management
    • Human resources management incl. competencies of the LSP's staff and associates
    • Communication management (internal/external)
    • Allocation of resources
    • Internal Audits
    • Stakeholder feedback


ISO 21001's Recognition and Acceptance

Overall - ISO 21001 is the one for us - recognised and accepted worldwide by L&D Directors, CABs and Accreditation Boards

We consider that IRCA and EXEMPLAR 'certification', both of which have been around and well-respected for more than 30 years, is not the best option for the 2020s.  

Instead, we believe that these days, ISO 21001 certification is a superior option. This is because it offers both the Learner and the Sponsor, who often pays for the Learner, real assurance as to the performance and capabilities of the chosen training organisation.

That is of course until, if ever, the market decides that personal certification as per ISO 17024 is a better option. But that’s a story for another day.


Choice of ISO 45001 Courses


Note:  First published in August 2017; revised and updated in October 2021.

Written by Dr John FitzGerald

Director & Founder of deGRANDSON Global. Spent 15 years in the manufacturing industry and 25 years training, consulting & auditing management systems
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