Accreditation has been central to the College's work since it was founded in 1864.
The College's original Royal Charter of 1893 and revised Charters charge it with the promotion of the arts and practice of organ playing and choral directing to the highest standards of competence and artistry, and empower it to implement such standards through examinations.
In the United Kingdom as well as abroad, the College's diplomas remain as highly prized now as they were more than a century ago, not least because they continue to demand the combination of technical and interpretative skill with stylistic, analytical and historical understanding that marks out the truly accomplished musician: the Colleague (CRCO) validates ‘reliable and confident musicianship', Associateship (ARCO) ‘professional competency' and Fellowship (FRCO) ‘professional expertise', while the Licentiateship in Teaching (LTRCO) and the Choral Directing Diploma (DipCHD) validate ‘professional expertise' in those particular skills.
In autumn 2016, the College introduced an early-level certificate scheme called the RCO Certificate of Accredited Membership (CAM). Designed to establish and strengthen fundamental skills and musicianship at the organ, CAM offers the player a comprehensive, developmental route from foundation level (roughly equivalent to ABRSM/TCL Grade 2) via the intermediate level (around Grade 4) to advanced level (around Grade 6).
The development of all the College’s syllabuses and regulations is overseen by an Academic Board, comprising leading practitioners and teachers in secondary and tertiary education, and with experience in adult learning. A recent series of revisions—which set out to achieve a more logical progression through the diplomas and to ‘reboot’ the vital connection (central to the College’s educational philosophy) between performing skills and supporting skills—started with CRCO (then ‘CertRCO’) in 2014, and was completed with FRCO in 2017.
Most recently, the playing lists for CRCO, ARCO and FRCO have been completely revised to reflect some significant developments in the repertoire—notably the central importance of the contribution made by women composers. These repertoire lists were introduced in Summer 2020. As part of the revision, candidates for FRCO now have the opportunity to present a work of their own choice—related closely to elements of the written papers—as part of the playing examinations. The context for these, and all future developments, is the College’s commitment to, and vision for, widening participation and accreditation, and its strategic aim of establishing an integrated approach to qualification and personal and professional development.
The actual process of sitting the component parts of an examination for RCO qualification may seem daunting to the candidate. However, the College's aim is to encourage and nurture candidates towards success as much as possible.
All the College's diploma qualifications are structured in a modular fashion so that they can be gained cumulatively; many candidates successfully progress towards RCO qualifications in this manner. The College runs preparatory day-courses and workshops, it offers library resources to candidates, and past written and organ test papers are readily available from this website.
The College's virtual campus, iRCO, also offers members a range of online learning and teaching materials at all levels, and you can find an introductory iRCO film entitled Your RCO Exam here on the Resources & Support page. This video has been produced to help anyone preparing for, or considering taking, one of our diploma examinations, and it aims to prepare candidates by looking at the examination process in detail. An introductory video about the CAM scheme can also be found on the Resources & Support page.
We cannot emphasise enough that the most vital and valuable part of the process is the preparation and study before the examination.
The pages in this section of the website give access to the General Regulations and the specific requirements for all the College's examinations. Information about examination centres, application deadlines and written paper schedules is also given.
The annual publication Diploma Examinations contains all the information about the diplomas in one document. It is available as a download at the top of the Qualifications page of this site, or in print on request from the College's administration.
Further details concerning examination schedules and fees are published periodically. Again, such information is available from the College website or in print on request from the College's administration.