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Find out about qualifications

The COVID-19 pandemic continues to create uncertainty. Keep checking the latest updates from:

- Welsh Government: Examination and assessment guidance 2020 to 2021
- Qualifications Wales
- UCAS
- Student Finance Wales
- College and university websites

In the UK, all qualifications range from entry level to PhDs at level eight.

It’s important to know what level a qualification is in because:

Job adverts may ask for specific levels, for example,

Level 3 Teaching Assistant

We are looking for a dedicated, fun-loving and self-motivated individual to bring their talents and skills to our children and community…..

Applicants must hold a relevant Level 3 qualification in childcare…..

College courses may ask for specific levels, for example,

BTEC (engineering based) course

You will normally need to have at least one of the following level 2 qualifications:

A BTEC First Certificate or Diploma in a related subject

At least four GCSEs at grade A*-C including Mathematics

If you have a career in mind, always check the level and type of qualification needed. Take a look at Job Information to find out more.

Types of qualifications

Entry Levels

Entry Level Qualifications can help learners to:

  • Build skills
  • Increase knowledge in a subject
  • Boost confidence

Entry Level Certificates

Entry Level Certificates are delivered in schools alongside GCSEs. They can be one or two year courses. You can study Entry Level Certificates in:

  • English
  • Mathematics (Numeracy)
  • Applied Science

Entry Level Pathway Qualifications

Entry Level Pathway Qualifications cover a range of subjects. These qualifications can sometimes be called 'Awards', 'Certificates', and 'Diplomas'. You can study Entry Level Pathway qualifications in subjects like:

  • Creative, Media and Performance Arts
  • Humanities
  • ICT
  • Independent living
  • Welsh and Welsh second language
GCSEs

GCSEs are level 1 or 2 courses (depending on the grade achieved) and are available in a wide range of academic and vocational subjects. They are available to students of any age in schools, colleges and other learning centres.

GCSE grades and levels

GCSEs are usually achieved in 2 years and are graded from A* - G in Wales

  • Grades A*-C (QCF Level 2)
  • Grades D-G (QCF Level 1)
  • Grade U = Unclassified

In England, GCSEs are graded on a scale from 9-1. Depending on the GCSEs offered in your school or college some of your GCSE qualifications may be graded 9-1.

Some GCSEs will have all exams taken at the end of the course (linear qualifications). Some may be modular.

Students must retake all exams when retaking a linear GCSE; non-exam assessment marks can be reused.

GCSEs can be taken in Welsh or English.

Table showing how GCSE A*-G grades compare to GCSE number grades 9-1:
England  Wales  QCFW Level
9 A* Level 2
8 A*/A Level 2
7 A Level 2
6 B Level 2
5 B/C Level 2
4 C Level 2
3 D/E Level 1
2 E/F Level 1
1 F/G Level 1
U U Unclassified

What can I do with GCSEs?

GCSEs are the main general qualifications taken by 16 year olds, usually in full-time education. They are designed to give you the essential skills for everyday life and are used as entry qualifications to jobs, further learning or training.

Find out more about GCSEs at Qualifications Wales.

AS and A Levels

AS and A levels are the main general qualifications at Level 3 and are usually taken at age 16 to 19. They are available in a wide range of academic and vocational subjects.

A level grades

A Levels are usually completed in two years and are graded A*-E. They consist of Advanced Subsidiary (AS) and A2 units.

Common features of A levels in Wales, England and Northern Ireland include:

  • Grades A - E for AS levels
  • Graded A*- E for A levels
  • The amount of work in AS levels is approximately half that of the full A level
  • All exams taken at the end of the course (linear qualifications)
  • Students must retake all of their exams when retaking the qualification; non-exam assessment marks can be reused

Key differences of AS and A levels in Wales and Northern Ireland include:

  • AS level is a standalone qualification and also contributes 40% of the total marks towards a full A level
  • A levels in Wales share the same content as A levels in England, but include a Welsh perspective where appropriate
  • A levels in Wales retain practical or non-examination assessments where they are assessing an important part of the subject, with these assessments contributing towards the final grade
  • Individual AS and A level units can be retaken by students only once
  • AS exams can be taken at the end of AS course or alongside A2

Key difference of AS and A levels in England:

  • In England AS levels will not contribute to A level results

What can I do with A levels?

They are used as entry to higher education courses at level 4, 5 or 6, further training, or a job. A levels are a traditional route for entry to university and higher education and training for many professions.

Find out more about AS and A levels at Qualifications Wales.

BTEC (Vocational Qualifications)

BTECs are vocational or career-based qualifications. They are designed for learners interested in a particular industry or area of work, and are available for all levels of learning. They are for students who find learning difficult to highly skilled professional workers.

There are over 2,000 BTEC qualifications across 16 sectors, including:

  • Applied science
  • Art and design
  • Business
  • Childcare
  • Construction
  • Engineering
  • Media
  • Health and social care
  • Hospitality
  • ICT
  • Land-based
  • Performing arts
  • Public services
  • Sport
  • Travel and tourism

BTEC levels

BTECs are flexible qualifications that can be studied at different levels:

  • BTEC qualifications are available from Entry level to level 8, ranging from BTEC Introductory Diplomas and Certificates to BTEC Advanced Diplomas, Certificates and Awards.
  • They can be studied alongside academic qualifications; at level 2 alongside GCSEs and at level 3 alongside A levels, or they can be studied as a standalone course. They can also be studied as part of a training programme such as an apprenticeship or while in a job to gain specialist skills.
  • BTECs are divided into units. Within each level, the qualifications are available in a range of sizes, taking different amounts of time to complete.
  • They can be studied full-time or part-time, in schools and colleges and in the workplace.

How are BTECs graded?

BTECs are graded using a Pass (P), Merit (M), Distinction (D) and Distinction* (D*) scale.

Depending on the size of your course, you may receive one, two or three grades. If the work you produce isn’t of a high enough quality to pass with a P grade, you will be awarded a U, which means ‘Unclassified’.

Can I get into university with a BTEC?

BTEC Nationals qualify for UCAS points depending on the type of qualification and the grade you achieve, and are accepted by many universities for entry to different courses.

Examples:

A grade M for a BTEC Subsidiary Diploma is equivalent to grade C at A level and 32 UCAS points

A grade D*D* for a BTEC Diploma is equivalent to 2 A levels at grade A* and 112 UCAS points

A grade D*D* for a BTEC Extended Diploma is equivalent to 3 A Levels at Grade A* and 168 UCAS points

The number of UCAS points may be quite different for different qualifications, and grades. Use the UCAS tariff points calculator to check the UCAS points for your qualification.

Find out more about Vocational qualifications at Qualifications Wales.

QCF/NVQs (Vocational Qualifications)

QCF/NVQs cover a huge variety of careers. They are delivered in the workplace or somewhere set up to be like a workplace.

They are not linked to a set course or programme. QCF/NVQs are broken down into small units so that they can be delivered and assessed flexibly at a place of work.

QCF/NVQ levels

QCF/NVQs are work based qualifications and are available at all levels. However most QCF/NVQs are available from levels 1 to 5.

Welsh Baccalaureate

The Welsh Baccalaureate Qualification (Bacc) is a qualification for 14 – 19 year old students in Wales. The Welsh Bacc award is based on specified combinations of qualifications to help prepare learners for employment, further study and life.

There are no exams in the Welsh Bacc. The qualification is made up of a ‘Skills Challenge Certificate’ alongside supporting qualifications.

Welsh Baccalaureate levels

The Welsh Baccalaureate is awarded at three levels:

  • Foundation Welsh Baccalaureate:(level 1 - equivalent to GCSE grades D, E, F, G). For use at Key Stage 4 or post-16 Graded Pass* and Pass
  • National Welsh Baccalaureate:(level 2 - equivalent to GCSE grades A*, A, B, C). For use at Key Stage 4 or post-16 Graded A*, A, B and C
  • Advanced Welsh Baccalaureate:(level 3 - equivalent to A, A/S Level,). For use at post-16 only. These will be graded A* - E

Welsh Baccalaureate content

The qualification is made up of 3 elements:

  • Skills Challenge Certificate.The Skills Challenge Certificate (SCC) is a standalone, graded qualification and is valued as a GCSE or A Level equivalent or it can be taken alongside GCSEs or A Levels. It is made up of 4 assessments which the learner needs to complete:
    • Individual Project. This is a research-based assignment on a subject chosen by the learner. The learner will work independently on this project to demonstrate the knowledge and skills to produce a written investigation or a product supported by written research
    • Enterprise and Employability Challenge. This challenge encourages learners to develop entrepreneurial skills to improve employability. These challenges may be designed by a centre (school/college), an employer or other national organisations
    • Global Citizenship Challenge. Learners will demonstrate an understanding of a global issue and will respond appropriately to it. These challenges may be designed locally or nationally
    • Community Challenge. Learners will identify, develop and participate in opportunities that will benefit the community. These challenges may be designed locally or nationally
  • GCSE English Language or Welsh Language and GCSE Mathematics - Numeracy
  • Supporting qualifications such as other GCSEs, A Levels/AS qualifications and vocational qualifications

The Bacc also assesses essential skills that are developed in different ways through the Skills Challenge Certificate or across the curriculum, skills such as:

  • Literacy
  • Numeracy
  • Digital Literacy
  • Critical Thinking and Problem Solving
  • Planning and Organisation
  • Creativity and Innovation
  • Personal Effectiveness

Can I get into university with the Welsh Baccalaureate?

You can use the Welsh Baccalaureate to go on to higher education. A student studying the Baccalaureate at advanced level would usually combine their study with two or more A levels, or equivalent.

Example:

For an A* Advanced Welsh Baccalaureate, the Skills Challenge Certificate is equivalent to an A* at A level and 56 UCAS points.

Check with UCAS and your chosen university if the Welsh Bacc Qualification is accepted for entry to your chosen course.

Find out more about the Welsh Baccalaureate Qualification at Qualifications Wales.

Find out more about the International Baccalaureate.

Essential Skills Wales (previously Key Skills or Basic Skills)

Essential Skills Wales qualifications are designed to develop the skills that learners need for further learning, employment and life.

The Essential Skills Wales suite of qualifications includes:

  • Essential Application of Number Skills
  • Essential Communication Skills
  • Essential Digital Literacy Skills
  • Essential Employability skills

Essential Skills Qualifications can be studied from entry level 1 to level 3, except for Essential Employability Skills, which is available from entry level 3 to level 3.

They are aimed at 14 – 19 year olds in schools and colleges and, like the Welsh Bacc, they are generally studied alongside other subjects such as GCSEs, A levels or vocational courses.

Find out more about Essential Skills Wales qualifications at Qualifications Wales.

Professional and Industry Qualifications, Accreditations and Registrations

Professional and Industry Qualifications are available across all areas of work at various levels.

In some jobs, industries and areas of work, accreditations or registrations are a statutory requirement, for example in many healthcare roles and the finance industry. These qualifications are accredited and regulated by professional bodies in each industry or area of work.

Examples of Industry Qualifications, Accreditations and Registrations include:

Certificates of Higher Education

A Certificate of Higher Education (CertHE) is a higher education qualification offered in the UK. It is a recognised stand-alone qualification.

Certificates of Higher Education grades are:

  • Equivalent to a level 4 qualification and can take a year (full-time) or two years (part-time) to complete.
  • Students must obtain a minimum of 120 credits to achieve the qualification. Credits are based on each individual module taken in the subject.

Examples of Certificate of Higher Education courses include:

  • Arts and Humanities
  • Computing & IT and Design
  • Creative Writing
  • Archaeology
  • Construction
  • Social Care

What can I do with a Certificate of Higher Education?

The completion of a Certificate of Higher Education can lead to a second year of a suitable Foundation Degree or an honours degree programme.

HND/HNC

HNCs and HNDs are work related courses and can be studied in colleges and universities.

HNC and HND levels

HNC is a level 4 qualification and an HND is a level 5 qualification.

A HNC or HND can be studied in many subjects including:

  • Business Management
  • Health and Social Care
  • Software Engineering
  • General Engineering
  • Electrical and Electronic Technology

Where can an HNC or HND lead?

HNCs and HNDs give learners the skills and knowledge that are needed to work in a particular job or sector.

A Higher National Certificate (HNC) takes one year full-time to complete and two years part-time. A HNC can progress onto a Foundation degree.

A Higher National Diploma (HND) takes two years full-time to complete. They can be taken part-time also but will take longer to complete. A HNC and HND can be ‘topped up’ to a Bachelor degree.

Degrees

Degree levels

Degrees are higher education qualifications. Degrees can be studied at 4 levels:

Foundation Degree

Foundation degrees are a combination of academic work and work experience to gain workplace skills. It is equivalent to a level 5 qualification.

It is useful for those who wish to study whilst working or gain professional and technical skills to further their career.

A Foundation Degree usually takes two years full-time to complete or longer for part-time students. A Foundation Degree can be ‘topped up’ to gain full honours degree.

Bachelor Degree

This is the most common type of undergraduate degree. It’s a level 6 qualification and can be taken in different subjects.

Depending on the subject studied, the type of Bachelor degree awarded will differ. The most common Bachelor degree awards are Bachelor of Arts (BA), Bachelor of Science (BSc), Bachelor of Law (LLB) and Bachelor of Engineering (BEng).

A Bachelor degree can take 3-4 years to complete.

To start a Bachelor degree, you will need to have met the institution’s entry requirements for that course. The number of UCAS tariff points you need to get on a specific course will depend on course and university requirements.

A Bachelor Degree is usually the minimum requirement for many professions.

Master's Degree

A Master's degree is taken after achieving a Bachelors degree. It is a level 7 qualification and is awarded to students who show a very high level of knowledge about a subject or topic. It is an intense course and usually involves specific research and writing a thesis.

A full-time Master's degree will last around 1-2 years. Part-time study can last between 2- 4 years.

Depending on the subject studied, the type of Master's degree awarded will differ. The most common Master's degree awards are: Master of Arts (MA) and Master of Science (MSc).

Doctorate (PhD)

PhD stands for ‘Doctor of Philosophy’. A PhD is a post graduate degree and is equivalent to a level 8 qualification. This is the highest level of degree.

The degree involves independent research on an original topic and can take 3 or more years to complete. It includes writing a thesis or dissertation based on extensive and original research.

To do a PhD, most universities expect learners to have a Bachelor’s and a Master’s degree, but some may accept a Bachelor’s degree.

Postgraduate Diplomas and Certificates

Postgraduate diplomas and certificates allow learners to build on the skills and knowledge gained in a degree and are available in a variety of subjects.

Postgraduate diplomas and certificates are equivalent to a level 7 qualification and usually:

  • A full-time postgraduate diploma takes around 30 weeks to complete
  • A full-time postgraduate certificate takes around 15 weeks to complete
  • Some professions ask for a Postgraduate qualification such as Teaching, PGCE (Post Graduate Certificate of Education) and Social Work (PGDip in Social Work)

Useful Links

Documents

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