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How ACA training works

The ACA qualification is one of the most advanced learning and professional development programmes available. It has integrated components which give your students in-depth understanding across accountancy, finance and business. When combined, they help build the technical knowledge, professional skills and practical experience needed to become an ICAEW Chartered Accountant.

Each component of the ACA is designed to complement each other. Students put theory into practice, and can understand and apply what they learn to their day-to-day work.

ACA qualification

Costs for employers

It is common but not compulsory for an employer or principal to pay some or all of the fees on behalf of their students. Fees relating to ACA training include student registration, tuition, exam registration, credit for prior learning and learning materials. Some fees are payable to ICAEW and some are payable directly to your chosen tuition provider. The ACA training agreement that you have signed with your student will provide specific details of what is and isn’t included in your students' study package and what is and what isn’t paid for with regards to study leave and associated study costs.

Find out more here.


Levy and non-levy paying employers can find out more about the fees and funding for apprenticeships here.
Professional development for Employees

This component will give your employees the skills to handle a variety of situations throughout their career. ICAEW Chartered Accountants are widely known for their professionalism. They know how to spot and communicate risks and provide interventions. They also know how to adapt to changing circumstances and engage with technology.

The professional development framework is made up of seven skills areas (also known as ladders), each ladder contains six to eight steps, and each step represents a skill. Your students will work their way through the ladders during their training agreement; where they start and how fast they progress is flexible and managed by you.

The seven ladders are:

  1. Adding value
  2. Communication
  3. Decision making
  4. Ethics and professionalism 
  5. Problem Solving
  6. Teamwork
  7. Technical competence

In order to progress, students are required to demonstrate each skill by providing an example from their practical work experience. They record this within their online training file and their progress is discuss every six months.

How professional development works

Our approach emphasises professional development to ensure that organisational needs and the needs of students are met throughout the training agreement.
Many authorised training employers have their own career progression and appraisal systems which can be accredited. Students will record their professional development via an online training file throughout their ACA training. The content of the file will be specific to your organisation’s professional development accreditation status.

There are four types of accreditation available:

  1. employer uses 100% ICAEW scheme;
  2. employer has professional development accreditation;
  3. employer has professional development and ethics accreditation; and
  4. employer has ethics accreditation. 

Your ICAEW training manager will be able to discuss the options with you and advise which path is best for you and your students. Whichever path your students are on, they will be able to access the professional development resources on the student area of our website.

Ethics and professional scepticism

Ethics is more than just knowing the rules around confidentiality, integrity, objectivity and independence. It’s about identifying ethical dilemmas, understanding the implications and behaving appropriately. We integrate ethics throughout the ACA qualification to develop students’ ethical capabilities – so they’ll always know how to make the right decision, even when no one’s looking.

Students registered from 01 July 2020 will access the new Ethics Learning Programme - find out more.

Students will develop their ethical capabilities in three ways and must complete all three elements before you can complete the final sign-off at the end of the training agreement period.

1. Learn

Ethics is examined in context within all 15 exams of the ACA qualification. There is also an online learning programme based on the ICAEW Code of Ethics that will ensure students' understand the ICAEW ethical framework, are able to identify ethical principles relating to a scenario and advise on appropriate ways of addressing an ethical threat. The programme includes six modules and an assessment which tests the student's ethical progress. The assessment is 60 minutes long, includes 30 multiple choice questions and students must achieve a minimum of 70%.

2. Practise

A series of webinars, Practising Ethics, is available for students to watch after completing each module of the ethics learning programme. Webinars have been designed to help develop ethics and professional scepticism skills and to facilitate ethical discussions within the workplace, either in groups or at each six-monthly review.

3. Apply

Having learnt the basic ethical requirements within each ACA module and the ethics learning programme, and practised them in the webinars, students can then apply these skills and principles in practice. This is done within their daily practical work experience and also within the ethical elements included in some of the steps in the professional development ladders.

3-5 years practical work experience

During the training agreement period, your student should accumulate and show evidence of at least 450 days of practical work experience. This excludes exam days, holidays, courses, illness and office administration. Practical work experience is undertaking real-life work of a financial, business and/or commercial nature.

You will therefore need to ensure that your student undertakes practical and progressive work experience in at least one of the following six technical categories:

  • accounting
  • taxation
  • financial management
  • insolvency
  • information technology
  • audit or assurance (audit is not compulsory).

Students record their work experience using an online training file, rather than paper-based records. This enables you to easily track your students’ progress.

15 accountancy, finance and business modules

ACA students gain in-depth knowledge across a broad range of topics in accountancy, finance and business. The modules are designed to fit with their practical experience, so they constantly progress through the qualification. 

The 15 modules over three levels can be taken in any order with the exception of the Case Study which has to be attempted last. Students must pass every exam (or receive credit) – there are no options. This ensures, that once qualified, all ICAEW Chartered Accountants have a consistent level of knowledge, skills and experience.

ACA module structure

 ACA exams

Certificate Level

These six modules introduce students to the fundamentals of accountancy, finance and business. They each have a 1.5 hour assessment which can be sat at any time. Students may be eligible for credit for some modules if they have studied accounting, finance, law or business at degree level or through another professional qualification.

These modules are also available as a stand-alone certificate, the ICAEW Certificate in Finance, Accounting and Business (ICAEW CFAB).

For more information visit icaew.com/cfab

Professional Level

The next six modules build on the fundamentals and test students’ understanding and ability to use technical knowledge in real-life scenarios. Each module has a 2.5-3 hour exam. These modules are flexible and can be taken in any order to fit in with a student’s day-to-day work. The Business Planning and Business Strategy modules in particular help students progress to the Advanced Level.

Alternative modules for the Professional Level Business Planning module are available which means that students have the opportunity to gain subject and sector-specific knowledge while studying for the ACA.

There are three to choose from - Business Planning: Taxation, Business Planning: Banking and Business Planning: Insurance. Alternative financial reporting modules are also available for the Professional Level Financial Accounting and Reporting module so students can study the financial reporting framework most beneficial to their workplace, either UK GAAP or IFRS. Find out more.

Advanced Level

The Corporate Reporting and Strategic Business Management exam test students’ understanding and strategic decision making at a senior level. They present real-life scenarios, with increased complexity and implications from the Professional Level modules.

The Case Study tests all the knowledge, skills and experience gained so far. It presents a complex business issue which challenges students’ ability to problem solve, identify the ethical implications and provide an effective solution. 

The Advanced Level exams are fully open book, so it replicates a real-life scenario where they have all the resources at their fingertips.

See what is covered in each module:

Online training file
An online training file is issued to students when they register. They will use this to record and maintain professional development, ethics, practical work experience and audit experience (where relevant). It is the students’ responsibility to update their records online after each six-monthly review. The system also allows employers to manage the review process by accessing students’ records online.
Review process - Single sign-off

A key requirement of ACA training is that you must meet with each student at least every six months throughout their ACA training to discuss and review their progress. We only require a single sign-off at the end of a student’s training agreement to sign off their practical work experience, professional development, ethics, and to confirm that they are fit and proper to be admitted to ICAEW membership.

Employers can choose to sign off practical work experience records online every six months if they prefer. Students will need to confirm that their file is accurate and honestly presented after each six-monthly review, when they record their practical work experience. Each six-month period is then locked and stored within the online training file.

ACA training agreement

The training agreement is a key part of ACA training as it ensures that all ACA students receive the highest quality and standard of training possible. It also provides structure to the training process and provides a defined beginning and end point. This two-way agreement between you and your students outlines the support you will provide and what you expect from them and relates only to the ACA. 

As part of the agreement, you will need to agree a period of approved training with your student, which allows them to complete the required 450 days of practical work experience. The number of practical work experience days may depend on your student’s background, for example:

  • a graduate would typically achieve this within a three-year period of approved training;
  • school leavers (with A-levels or equivalent) are often given a longer period of approved training, typically five years;
  • individuals from some professional bodies or with professional qualifications such as the AAT, or the Higher Apprenticeship in Assurance/Audit or Tax may be entitled to a two year training agreement and 300 days of practical work experience.

As an authorised employer, you can control the length of a student’s approved training. This can be a minimum of two years (if appropriate as above) or a maximum of five years (unless the student is training under a strategic degree or other programme offered in partnership with an ICAEW Partner in Learning). 

It is important that you encourage and monitor development throughout the training agreement, not only to ensure that your student receives the training required to qualify as an ICAEW Chartered Accountant, but to encourage your student to remain with your organisation once qualified.

Sample training agreement

We have produced a sample or proforma training agreement to help you. This can be adapted to reflect your organisation’s own training policies.

Employment contract

In most countries, employment law requires your organisation to provide your employees with an employment contract. This is entirely separate from the ACA training agreement. Refer to your human resource specialist or your employment law solicitor for guidance on producing an employment contract. You can also access general information for the UK on the ACAS website.