Coaching Accreditation and Qualifications: Coaching Associations vs Awarding Bodies

ICF vs ILM Coaching Accreditation

Coaching Accreditation and Qualifications: Coaching Associations vs Awarding Bodies

In the rapidly evolving field of coaching, choosing the right coaching accreditation for a coaching school is a crucial decision that has significant implications for the school’s reputation, credibility, and the quality of training provided. 

A question we are sometimes asked is what we chose to accredit our courses through the professional associations rather than the Institute of Leadership & Management (ILM).

As you will see, for us as a transformative coaching school, the International Coach Federation (ICF), Association for Coaching (AC), and European Mentoring and Coaching Council (EMCC) offered the best option for our school and our students. 

Awarding Bodies vs. Professional Associations

First, let’s briefly explain the difference between “awarding bodies” and “professional associations”.

Awarding Bodies

Awarding bodies, also known as awarding organisations, are institutions that design, develop, and award qualifications, such as diplomas, certificates, or degrees. 

They are responsible for maintaining the quality and standards of the qualifications they offer, as well as managing the assessment and accreditation process. 

In the UK, awarding bodies are regulated by government agencies like Ofqual, Qualifications Wales, and CCEA Regulation.

Each country will have its own version of an awarding body and thus will not necessarily recognise that of another country.  Herein lies one of the biggest drawbacks of an organisation like the ILM for us as an internationally-oriented coaching school, but more on that later.

The Institute of Leadership & Management (ILM)

The ILM is a UK-based awarding body that focuses on developing and supporting effective leadership and management skills. 

As part of the City & Guilds Group, ILM offers a range of qualifications and training programmes aimed at developing leadership and management skills across various industries and sectors. 

Within coaching, it offers Level 3, 5 and 7 coaching qualifications, all of which are heavily focused on workplace coaching. 

Other than the universities, within the UK, it is the main awarding body offering coaching qualifications.

However, the ILM does not deliver the qualifications.  Independent training companies will earn delivery centre status and then have the right to deliver the content of that qualification.

Professional Coaching Associations

Professional associations are organisations that represent the interests of a profession and the professionals within it. 

They focus on advocating for the profession, setting ethical standards, providing networking opportunities, and offering resources for continuous professional development. 

Professional associations may also accredit educational programmes to ensure that they meet the required quality standards within their respective industries.  

The accreditation function is very much the case in the field of coaching where it is the professional coaching associations who provide the vast majority of accreditation worldwide.

The professional coaching associations are represented by three main organisations.

The International Coaching Federation (ICF)

The ICF is a US-based professional coaching association but with a large presence around the world including local chapters.

Dedicated to advancing the coaching profession by setting high ethical standards, providing independent certification, and building a worldwide network of credentialed coaches, it is the largest of the three associations with over 40,000 members worldwide.

The Association for Coaching (AC)

The AC is a UK-based association which, like the ICF, focuses on promoting excellence and ethical practice in coaching. It offers accreditation to coaching schools that demonstrate adherence to its high standards and Code of Ethics. 

In addition to accreditation, the AC provides members with resources, events, and opportunities for continuous professional development, ensuring coaching schools remain up-to-date with the latest coaching techniques, research, and practices.

The European Mentoring and Coaching Council (EMCC)

The EMCC is based in the Netherlands but like the other associations has a worldwide focus, It aims to enhance, promote, and develop the coaching and mentoring professions across Europe and has a greater focus on the needs of organisations.. 

It offers accreditation to coaching schools that meet its quality standards and provides resources, networking opportunities, and professional development events for its members. 

Like ICF and AC, the EMCC focuses on the growth and advocacy of the coaching profession.

ICF vs ILM Coaching Accreditation

Our Rationale for Accrediting our Coaching Courses with the Professional Coaching Associations

Considering the nature and objectives of professional coaching bodies like the ICF, AC, and EMCC, there are several reasons that make them a more suitable choice for us as a coaching school.

1. Specialisation

ICF, AC, and EMCC are dedicated to the profession of coaching, ensuring a deeper understanding of the industry and its best practices. 

This translates to more weight and credibility within the coaching community when compared to ILM which has a much wider remit given its broad scope of leadership and management.

This means the professional associations are staying up to date with developments in coaching and constantly refining the practice and theory of the profession in a way that the ILM doesn’t.  This is not a criticism of the ILM – it simply isn’t their role to do this.

2. Global recognition

The professional coaching bodies are internationally recognised, allowing coaching schools to gain increased global exposure and recognition. 

This was extremely important to Animas as we know that our coaches will often work internationally, whether in-person or remotely, and the last thing they need to be worried about is explaining a UK qualification.

The ICF in particular is recognised around the world as the gold standard of coaching accreditation and so we naturally chose this path.

3. Continuous professional development

ICF, AC, and EMCC provide resources, events, and professional development opportunities for their members, ensuring coaching schools remain current with the latest coaching techniques, research, and practices.

It felt important to us that our coaches were able to connect to a lifeline journey of development.

4. Rigorous standards

The professional coaching bodies have well-defined and comprehensive accreditation processes that focus specifically on coaching. 

They also care passionately about the quality of coaching being done in the world and the ethical standing of the profession.

These are organisations run by coaches, for coaches, about coaching.  It matters to them.

By achieving accreditation from ICF, AC, or EMCC, a coaching school demonstrates that it meets the highest standards in coaching education, enhancing its reputation and credibility in the field.

5. Advocacy and growth of the profession

Unlike ILM, the ICF, AC, and EMCC actively advocate for and work towards the growth and advancement of the coaching profession. 

These organisations are committed to promoting the value of coaching, setting ethical standards, and building a strong professional coaching community.

The ILM does not aim to promote or develop coaching but simply provides recognised qualifications.

At Animas, we are passionate about growing and developing the profession – indeed, this is one of our three missions – and so partnering with the associations allows us to be part of this movement.

6. Flexibility and adaptability

The accreditation processes of ICF, AC, and EMCC allow for greater flexibility in content and delivery, enabling coaching schools to tailor their programmes and remain responsive to changing needs, preferences, and developments within the field. 

In contrast, the ILM qualifications are more fixed in structure and content, which may limit a coaching school’s ability to adapt its programmes to specific needs or emerging trends in the coaching industry.

As a transformative coaching school this was extremely important to us since we focus on psychological approaches that will not typically be covered in an ILM curriculum.

7. Networking opportunities

As professional coaching organisations, ICF, AC, and EMCC offer numerous networking opportunities with other coaching professionals, organisations, and schools. 

These connections can help a coaching school build relationships, share knowledge, and stay updated on industry trends and best practices.


In conclusion, while the Institute of Leadership & Management (ILM) is a well-established and respected awarding body, it isn’t dedicated to coaching.

There were many clear advantages to opting for accreditation by professional coaching bodies for Animas and as a result, the International Coach Federation (ICF), the Association for Coaching (AC), and the European Mentoring and Coaching Council (EMCC) were our natural choices.

By choosing accreditation from these specialised, internationally recognised bodies, we can ensure that we provide a relevant, high-quality, and flexible coaching education that aligns with the needs of the coaching profession and our students rather than merely delivering a set agenda set out by a third party body such as the ILM.


Author Details
Nick is the founder and CEO of Animas Centre for Coaching and the International Centre for Coaching Supervision. Nick is an existentially oriented coach and supervisor with a passion for the ideas, principles and philosophy that sits behind coaching.
Nick Bolton Avatar
Nick Bolton

Nick is the founder and CEO of Animas Centre for Coaching and the International Centre for Coaching Supervision. Nick is an existentially oriented coach and supervisor with a passion for the ideas, principles and philosophy that sits behind coaching.

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