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Ethics and professional scepticism: overview

Ethics is more than just knowing the rules around confidentiality, integrity and objectivity. It's about identifying ethical dilemmas, understanding the implications and behaving appropriately. Ethics is integrated throughout the ACA qualification to develop your ethical capabilities - so you'll always know how to make the right decisions and justify them.

As you progress through the ACA, you will develop your ethical capabilities - in three ways – learn, practise and apply. You are required to complete all three elements before your employer completes the final sign-off at the end of your training agreement period.

1. Learn

Ethics will be examined in context within all 15 exams of the ACA qualification. The ethical elements of each exam can be viewed within each module syllabus.

The learning element of your ethical training also includes an online learning programme based on the ICAEW Code of Ethics that will ensure that you 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 will include six modules and an assessment.

  1. Introduction to the ICAEW Code of Ethics.
  2. The fundamental ethical principles.
  3. Threats and safeguards to the fundamental ethical principles.
  4. Conflicts of interest.
  5. Considerations for professional accountants in practice.
  6. Considerations for professional accountants in business.

When you register as an ACA student you will receive an email detailing your log in details to the ethics learning programme. If you experience any log in problems, contact our student support team on +44 (0)1908 248 250.

The assessment is a test of your ethical progress. It is recommended that you gain approval from your employer before you attempt it. The assessment is 60 minutes long, includes 30 multiple choice questions and you must achieve a minimum of 70%. Each attempt at the assessment will be recorded within the ‘Ethics and professional scepticism’ tab in your online training file. The assessment is taken online and has an unlimited number of attempts.

Please note that from 1 January 2019, all ACA students must achieve a minimum of 70% within the ethics assessment. By achieving this, you are demonstrating a strong understanding of ethics. This means, that at the end of your training agreement, you will only be able to submit your training file for final sign off when you have achieved 70% or more at the assessment, completed all professional development steps, successfully passed all exams (or gained credit) and achieved 450 days’ practical work experience.

If you are following your employer's ethics programme - you will continue to this.

You are also required to log your ethics progress within your online training file and this will be discussed with your employer at each six-monthly review.

It is recommended that you aim to complete the ethics learning programme and the assessment before you attempt the Case Study, but do ensure you have approval from your employer before taking the assessment.

2. Practise

A series of webinars - Practising Ethics - is available for you to watch when you have completed each module of the ethics learning programme. Each webinar relates to a module within the programme and includes scenarios with ethical dilemmas. They 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.

The scenarios enable you to practise what you have learnt within the ethics learning programme.

3. Apply

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

Six-monthly reviews

It is a requirement of the ACA training agreement that you and your employer meet at least every six months. These meetings are to discuss and monitor your progress on professional development, ethics and professional scepticism, practical work experience and exams. It is your responsibility to update your records within your online training file.

The six-monthly review guide for students gives more information on how to prepare for a six-monthly review, the topics to cover during a review and how to submit your training file at the end of your training agreement.

Your ethics and professional scepticism log

Log your progress within the ‘Ethics and professional scepticism’ tab of your online training file for each of your six-monthly reviews with your training manager. Here’s the process:

  1. You should complete one or more modules of the ethics learning programme in advance of your six-monthly reviews. 
  2. After each module of the ethics learning programme, watch the relevant practising ethics webinar and consider responses to each scenario.
  3. Keep a note of ethical examples that you read in the news or see in the workplace as they will help you to talk about a real-life situation in your next review.
  4. In your training file, use the ‘Add ethics review’ button to log your progress since the last review, plus you will be asked to enter details of the review itself.
  5. When you have completed the ethics learning programme, obtain approval from your employer to attempt the ethics assessment.
  6. Only at the end of your training agreement period will your employer sign off ‘ethically competent’ component, this includes taking all of the above elements into consideration and achieving 70% or more at the ethics assessment.