Climbing Awards Review update

On Saturday 14th October, Mountain Training UK held its third and final council meeting of the year, this time at Plas y Brenin in North Wales. It was very well attended by representatives from all of the national Mountain Training organisations as well as other members, advisers and contributors to the decision making process. The Members* agreed unanimously to support the syllabus and pathways document which will see Mountain Training introduce three new schemes and amend the existing qualifications.

*The Members are: Mountain Training Cymru, Mountain Training England, Mountain Training Northern Ireland, Mountain Training Scotland, Bord Oiliúint Sléibhe, BMC Cymru, BMC, Mountaineering Ireland and Mountaineering Scotland.

Group single pitch session

Change… why is it necessary?

In short, change to our climbing qualifications is necessary because climbing continues to evolve and is increasing in popularity. The role of instructors and coaches in the climbing sector is adapting to this and it’s important that our qualifications support and enhance this evolution. At the start of this review we had a portfolio of eight qualifications which covered the coaching/instructing of climbing in a range of different environments. Our thorough review included two phases: wide discussion with stakeholders carried out by staff and independent directors followed by a survey of individuals and organisations who use our qualifications, carried out by the University of Central Lancashire (UCLan). After reviewing the results, there will now be ten qualifications and a new rock climbing skills scheme.

Diversity was identified during the research as an area requiring some attention and the new schemes, particularly the skills scheme and the climbing assistant qualification, will hopefully appeal to a more diverse range of candidates. We also have an opportunity when recruiting new course directors and providers to increase the diversity of our delivery workforce. We are committed to increasing diversity throughout our qualifications and there are various initiatives in place to support this.

We have summarised the amends to our existing qualifications below, followed by an explanation of each of the new schemes. The names of our climbing qualifications are currently under review (as a result of feedback from the survey) and will likely include the word ‘instructor’. Any names used below are therefore temporary until a decision later in October is finalised.

The new and existing schemes will be launched in three phases.

Phase one will begin this autumn and continue through the beginning of next year. On 2nd April 2018, the existing qualifications (Climbing Wall Award, Single Pitch Award, Climbing Wall Leading Award, Mountaineering Instructor Award, Foundation Coach and Development Coach) will be relaunched to include possible new names.

Phase two: summer 2018. The three levels of Rock Skills and the Indoor Climbing Assistant will be launched.

Phase three: At the start of the autumn 2018, the new qualification for teaching leading on single pitch crags will be launched.

The launch process for new schemes involves recruiting and inducting providers and course directors which can take a few months. As a result the new schemes may not be available to candidates straight away.

The existing qualifications – what will change?

Climbing Wall Award – the syllabus will be amended to include supervising an assistant and clarifying what the required teaching skills are.

Single Pitch Award – the syllabus will be amended to include supervising an assistant and a section clarifying what the required teaching skills are.

Climbing Wall Leading Award – the syllabus will be amended to include supervising an assistant and clarifying what the required teaching skills are.

Mountaineering Instructor Award – the syllabus will be updated to better explain the skills required of an award holder. The review of the pathway to and through this qualification will be completed after the launch of the new qualification for teaching leading on single pitch crags. At this point the Mountaineering Instructor Award may well be renamed.

Foundation Coach – the syllabus will be amended to include the outdoor environment.

Development Coach – the syllabus will be amended to include the outdoor environment.

Rock Skills

What is it?

A scheme with four courses. The first one-day course will provide an introduction to climbing outside on boulders and friendly crags for those aged 12 and over. The focus will be on maximum climbing time, how to move on rock, finding balance and using feet. Basic rope work and belaying will also be included. The second course is two days long, with a minimum age of 13, and is the key to becoming a competent second and confident top-rope climber outside. The third and fourth courses are both two days each, open to those aged 14 and over, and are an introduction to lead climbing in a sport climbing or trad climbing context.

Why do we need it?

Indoor climbing has increased (and will continue to increase) in popularity and this means more people have the ability to climb but not the knowledge to do so competently outdoors. We know that our walking skills scheme (Hill & Mountain Skills) has been successful in developing the confidence and proficiency of novice walkers to enable them to be more competent and thus, more independent. Rock Skills will provide a similar progressive and structured learning pathway opportunity for individuals wishing to climb independently outdoors.

It is expected that the Rock Skills courses will lay solid foundations and therefore be useful for recreational climbers as well as those who want to pursue an instructional qualification.

Where’s the evidence?

Personal climbing skills are the foundation on which both participants and our candidates develop as practitioners and instructors. The survey highlighted the importance of this personal experience and we do not currently provide an opportunity for individuals to learn to climb outdoors. By creating an opportunity to develop skills, accessible by young people as well as adults, we hope to embed good habits and good practice so that if they ever decide to be a mentor or an instructor in the future they have a good solid base on which to build.

Indoor Climbing Assistant

What is it?

A qualification for those with competence in the basic skills of climbing who wish to assist qualified climbing instructors and coaches with the management of their session at climbing walls. Accredited assistants are assessed as competent in their role supporting qualified instructors and coaches but are not qualified to manage groups independently. Minimum age 16.

An accredited assistant can:
  • Assist with the fitting of basic equipment such as rock shoes, harnesses and helmets.
  • Assist a qualified instructor with the teaching, supervision and coaching of core climbing techniques such as belaying and movement on artificial structures.
  • Assist a qualified instructor with the supervision of roped climbing and bouldering on artificial structures.

Why do we need it?

Assistants are likely to be teachers, parents, carers or young people who already play a role in the development of the group under instruction. Their input and involvement in a climbing session will help to facilitate participants learning more from the session and also help with retaining that information through prolonged contact, potentially increasing participation in climbing over the longer term.

The Indoor Climbing Assistant is also a way for people to be mentored into our other qualification schemes, learn about the ethos our organisation espouses and spend time working with groups in a safe, controlled and supervised way. This will hopefully lead to a more diverse range of candidates and qualified individuals.

Where’s the evidence?

Assistants are used by various organisations already to support qualified instructors, without the endorsement of a nationally accredited scheme. Through our survey of organisations we learned that 44 out of 60 organisations endorsed staff to work alongside qualified instructors climbing outdoors and 27 out of 60 to work alongside qualified instructors for abseiling.

A nationally accredited scheme will promote good practice and standardise the training and assessment of these assistants, thereby supporting and reassuring the organisations that deploy them and providing development opportunities for the assistants as part of a wider, experienced community.

New qualification for teaching lead climbing on single pitch crags

What is it?

A qualification for experienced instructors wishing to develop a participant’s rock climbing proficiency. This development may extend to lead climbing. Qualified candidates can develop individuals to lead rock climbs in a single pitch environment using leader placed (traditional climbing) and equipped (sport climbing) protection.

Why do we need it?

Prior to this review, the two existing qualifications for instructing rock climbing were the Single Pitch Award (created 25 years ago) and the Mountaineering Instructor Award. The gap between these two qualifications is quite large, with regards to the technical competence and experience required of candidates as well as the scope each qualification holder has for developing individual climbers. Linked to this is a long standing discussion regarding the dominance of mountaineering in the instruction of advanced rock climbing skills.

This qualification will enable experienced climbers who may not yet be committed mountaineers to also be involved in the development of other climbers. Should these candidates then want to progress on to the Mountaineering Instructor Award, they will have gained a great deal of knowledge, experience and decision making skills which will help them develop as instructors in a mountaineering environment.

The delivery of our qualifications is currently very reliant on those holding the Mountaineering Instructor Award and it is hoped that over time, the advent of this new qualification will lead to a more diverse ‘workforce’ in our sector.

Where’s the evidence?

The quantitative research phase carried out in early 2016 highlighted the issues described above in both the individuals’ survey, in which “the teaching of lead climbing” was identified as an area requiring attention by those who sought change, and the organisation survey, in which a “need to differentiate the climbing from the mountaineering role became clear.”

Pathway guidance for boulderers

As part of the review we have also created additional pathways and support for boulderers using our qualifications. More information will follow and will include the following:
  • Wider access to the Coaching qualifications for boulderers
  • Guidance on good practice managing bouldering sessions
  • Guidance on site-specific bouldering


This article was posted on 18/10/2017.

For more information see also:
What’s in a name
Climbing Awards Review - candidate transition arrangements
Climbing Awards Review FAQs