Types of qualification and courses

There are 9 levels of qualification, starting at Entry Level and up to Level 8, ie a doctorate, for example doctor of philosophy (PhD or DPhil). Learn about the levels of qualification on the Government website (external link).


GCSE stands for General Certificate of Secondary Education. These are the qualifications obtained by fifteen and sixteen year old’s in the UK at the end of their Year 11 schooling.

GCSEs provide a uniform framework for assessment in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. Schools in Scotland pursue Scottish Qualifications Certificates. Chosen subjects are studied over two years and assessed by final exams or coursework.


The A level qualification is an in-depth, structured academic study assessed through exams and recognised by employers and universities. They are completed at school or  college and are a pathway to many careers and higher education.

  • Vocational qualifications

Vocational qualifications are practical qualifications that relate to a specific job or career sector.  Unlike more academic courses like A-levels, they combine a mix of theory and practical learning and you’ll probably do some work experience too. There’s a huge range of different courses that you can do, and many types of qualifications you can get, from entry level to advanced. The length of the course depends on what level you study at.


Business and Technology Education Council qualifications (BTECs) have been around for over 30 years and are designed to give you the skills that businesses are looking for.

You could go straight into work or onto further study with a BTEC. There are options at many levels, everything from levels below GCSE to levels that are equal to a degree.


National Vocational Qualifications (NVQs) are based on the national occupational standards for each career sector. National occupational standards are lists of skills and knowledge that employers say you need to be able to work in a certain sector.

Usually you get the knowledge and skills you need for an NVQ by being trained while you are working, rather than at college, so they are good for people who want to combine working and learning. They are available from Level 1 (equivalent to one GCSE) to Level 8 (equivalent to a postgraduate degree level).  

T Levels

T Levels are new courses which follow GCSEs and are equivalent to 3 A levels. These 2-year courses, which launched September 2020, have been developed in collaboration with employers and businesses so that the content meets the needs of industry and prepares students for work, further training or study.

T Levels offer students a mixture of classroom learning and ‘on-the-job’ experience during an industry placement of at least 315 hours (approximately 45 days). You can find out more about T Levels and subjects available on the Department for Education website (external link).


29/09/2021, 10:36:52