Understanding qualifications and levels

Young people’s school/college qualifications can be achieved through different learning methods including practical projects, course work, written exams and work based learning. This means young people can achieve qualifications which best suit their learning style and chosen career path. But this can be confusing to employers. In this card, we set out some of the main qualification routes.  In our ‘Understanding Qualifications Levels Table’ card, we show how these compare against each other.

These are “traditional” qualifications offered by all schools in a wide range of subjects. They are assessed by a mix of coursework and written exams. Before the end of the 1980s, you would have known this level of qualification as ‘O’ Levels.

AS and A levels
These are 1-2 year programmes where Year One leads to completion of AS (half an A level) and Year 2 leads to A2 (full A level). Young people would usually choose 3 or 4 subjects and their study tends to be theoretical and mainly exam based or with a mix of exams and coursework. In order to qualify to take an A level programme young people would normally have been required to attain five GCSEs at Grades C and above, often including Maths & English.

BTEC Diplomas
These are “vocational” qualifications designed to offer a more practical way of studying subjects related to broad areas of work. They are available in a range of subjects from Art & Design to Health and Social Care. These Diplomas are assessed through modules of coursework completed over one or two years.

National Vocational Qualifications (NVQ’s)
These are vocational qualifications achieved through study of practical work based tasks often studied as part of an apprenticeship or work based learning. Assessment can be through observation of work activities and/or completion of a portfolio of evidence of skills at work.

Understanding Qualifications - Levels Table

Young people can progress through different qualification routes but each one is mapped against national levels 1-8.


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