These qualifications are designed to provide candidates with knowledge and understanding of their chosen subject. Those who gain GCSEs can follow a pathway to employment or further education.

GCSEs are offered across Levels 1 and 2 of the National Qualifications Framework and they are primarily targeted at secondary school pupils, but are also suitable for adult returners. GCSEs are assessed depending upon the subject being studied but normally include a mixture of OCR-moderated coursework and OCR-set and marked external assessment.

Colleges also offer a wide range of subjects as a GCSE qualification, these may be as a single or double award and in some subjects as a "short" course. All qualifications have an extensive range of support materials and dedicated textbooks

GCSEs in vocational subjects mark the next stage of an expansion of vocational education. Students can embark on vocationally-related programmes of study from the age of 14 with progression routes through Vocational A levels and other level 3 qualifications to Degree courses.


These qualifications are designed to provide candidates with knowledge and understanding of their chosen subject. Those who gain AS/A Level GCEs can follow a pathway to employment or to further or higher education.

AS/A Level GCEs are offered at Level 3 of the National Qualifications Framework and are targeted at post-16 candidates. The qualifications are unit-based - in most cases candidates must take three AS units to be able to claim an AS award. To achieve an Advanced GCE qualification, candidates must usually go on to take a further three units at A2 level. The AS Level is designed for the first year of a two-year course of study.

The qualifications are assessed depending upon the subject being studied but normally include a mixture of OCR-moderated coursework and OCR-set and marked external assessment. Practical tests are also included for some subjects.

Edexcel GCEs are NQF level 3 qualifications. College offer General Certificates of Education (GCEs) at Advanced level (A level) and Advanced Subsidiary level (AS). They are both graded on a scale of A-E. Most colleges offer a wide range of subjects.

The Advanced Subsidiary (AS) is the three-unit General Certificate of Education (GCE). It provides progression between GCSE at level 2 and the full A level. It is both the first half of an A level and a qualification in its own right. All A level specifications include an AS. There are currently five free-standing AS qualifications that do not lead to a full A level: Critical Thinking; European Studies; Science for Public Understanding; Social Science: Citizenship and World Development.

The A level is the six-unit GCE. It consists of the AS and a further three units called the A2, usually studied in the second year. Nearly 70 titles are available.

GCE AS and A levels normally contain a proportion of coursework up to 30 per cent, (though some practical or creative subjects have more). All GCE A levels contain an assessment at the end of the course that tests students’ understanding of the whole specification (synoptic assessment).



National Vocational Qualifications (NVQ) are for those students who wish to develop the skills, knowledge and understanding needed at work. NVQs can be taken in conjuction with work, part-time work or work placement that enables the practical vocational skills to be developed.

These qualifications are designed to recognise a candidate's competence in the workplace. They provide a statement to employers of skill, competence and knowledge in a particular sector.

NVQs are assessed in the workplace through observation of performance, evaluation of evidence and questioning. They are offered at Level 1 to Level 5 of the National Qualifications Framework in a wide variety of occupational sectors. These qualifications are targeted at anybody who is currently working and wants recognition of their performance in the workplace.

NVQs are developed by industry for industry - they evolve to meet the needs of the modern business world.

Edexcel NVQs assess the skills candidates demonstrate in their jobs. They are available at five levels, from level 1 for routine jobs, to level 5 for jobs involving complex tasks and substantial responsibility. Some college NVQs cover more than 300 occupations.

NVQs are awarded to students who provide evidence of competence in one of 11 occupational areas. NVQs are based on national occupational standards and do not have to be taken within a specific length of time. They can be taken by school and college students who have a work placement or part-time job enabling them to develop the appropriate skills, or by people in employment.

The qualification is unit based, the number and size of units varying between vocational areas. A unit is achieved when a candidate is assessed as competent in applying the skills and knowledge specified in that unit. Assessment takes place in the workplace.


General National Vocational Qualifications

In 1991 the government commissioned NCVQ to develop and oversee a new qualification – GNVQ (General National Vocational Qualification). Aimed mainly at 16- to 19-year-olds in full time education, GNVQs now offer students an alternative to GCE A levels and GCSEs, overseen by QCA.

Each GNVQ is related to a broad area of work, but is designed to provide students with a general education as a preparation for employment or further study. They are available in 14 vocational areas and at three levels to cater for students of most abilities. Foundation level GNVQs are equivalent to four GCSEs at lower grades, Intermediate level GNVQs are equal to 4/5 GCSEs at grades A*–C and the Advanced GNVQ is worth two GCE A levels.

GNVQs are unit-based qualifications assessed through a combination of continuous portfolio assessment and short test papers. Providing they meet all the necessary requirements, students can be awarded certificates for each unit they complete, even if they do not finish the full award.

First and Intermediate, and Part One

GNVQ students can achieve a pass, merit or distinction grade depending on their performance against set criteria. VCEs are graded A-E, like GCE A levels. GNVQs are awarded by three national bodies - Edexel, AQA and OCR and are widely available. Most further education colleges now offer a range of GNVQ subjects, many secondary schools with sixth forms also offer the qualifications and many schools offer Part One GNVQs in key stage 4 (14 - 16).

To recap General National Vocational Qualifications (GNVQ) offer an alternative to GCSEs. They provide experience and education related to a broad area of work The skills and and knowledge that you develop will prepare you for work or further study.

GNVQs are available at Level 1, Foundation and Level 2, Intermediate.

These are general qualifications covering a wide range of vocational areas. They prepare students for employment or further study. Most colleges offer GNVQs at Foundation (NQF level 1) and Intermediate (NQF level 2). GNVQs are available as 6-unit qualifications, equivalent to four GCSEs and 3-unit qualifications (Part One) equivalent to 2 GCSEs

GNVQ single award

Summary of key points

A single award is equivalent in size and level to an A level. Single awards can be taken by post -16 students over one or two years, alongside other qualifications (such as A levels, AS levels, a GNVQ full award or other general vocational qualifications). They can also be taken part-time. Single awards are made up of units from the GNVQ full awards. Each award is designed to be coherent yet, at the same time, to allow for flexibility and individual choice.

How are they assessed and graded?

Like the GNVQ full award, the single award will be assessed by a combination of internal and external assessment. External assessment will take the form of unit tests and/or external assignments.

Two of the six units in each single award will be assessed externally: one mandatory unit and one optional unit. This means that the same proportion of units will be externally assessed as in a GNVQ full award (where four of the 12 units – two optional and two mandatory – are externally assessed).

Some internally assessed units may also be subject to external standards moderation. The single award will also be graded in the same way as the full award. Students are awarded between two and six points for each unit, with half these points allocated to the test, if the unit has one.

If a unit is not tested, but is assessed on the basis of portfolio work, a pass gains two points, a merit gains four and a distinction six. If the unit is tested, these points are halved and split between portfolio work and the test.

Final grades are based on the number of points gained over one or two years. Grade boundaries for merit and distinction will be derived from the full award GNVQ pilot.

As an example of course contents please see below for ICT.


This course will help candidates to develop a broad background in information technology. The GNVQ in Information and Communication Technology has been designed to form a qualification which provides knowledge and understanding in this vocational area. It is an ideal course for those candidates that want a broad background in ICT which will allow them to progress to further or higher education, training or employment. It is designed to be delivered in full time or part time education.

The fundamental philosophy of this specification is that, in order to understand the nature of ICT candidates must actively experience the ICT context. This can be achieved through a variety of approaches including work experience, links with local employers, case studies and research.

The specification is flexible, with a unit structure designed to allow for a variety of pathways. Candidates study six units for a Foundation GNVQ qualification, three of which are mandatory and three optional. The optional units may be chosen from the ICT optional units or from any other Foundation GNVQ area. Assessment is designed to give credit for what candidates can do as well as what they know. It is based both on portfolio evidence from assignments set and assessed by the Centre and moderated by OCR, and external assessments, which are set and marked by OCR.

The course is suitable for those aged between 16 and 19 or an adult or part-time student. Candidates entering the Foundation course should have achieved a general educational level equivalent to Entry Level 3 in the National Qualifications Framework or level 3 of the National Curriculum. There is no prior knowledge required for this specification.

This specification is designed to allow a candidate to enter employment at trainee level within a wide range of information and communication technology contexts.

Links to examination boards and to some colleges are given at the bottom of this document. You can use these links to see the syllabus for individual courses.



Vocational A Levels – Advanced Vocational Certificate of Education (AVCEs). This is a Level 3 qualification that prepares the student with the experiences and educational relevant to working life. The full award is achieved at the end of 2 years, but the student will gain the single award qualification at the end of the first year.

These qualifications are designed to provide candidates with knowledge and understanding of a range of vocational areas. Those who gain VCEs can follow a pathway either to higher education or employment.

VCEs are unit-based qualifications, of a standard comparable with GCEs. They are assessed through a mixture of portfolio evidence from assignments and external assessment. They are offered at Level 3 of the National Qualifications Framework. Three awards are available - the three-unit Advanced Subsidiary VCE, the six-unit Advanced VCE and the 12-unit Advanced VCE (Double Award).

These qualifications are targeted at post-16 candidates. They are a flexible qualification that may be combined with GCEs or NVQs as part of a full-time course of study.

The Advanced VCE structure is currently under review and revised qualifications are planned for first teaching from September 2004.

Vocational A level (VCE) is an advanced general qualification (NQF Level 3). Colleges offer VCEs in a wide range of subjects, each related to different careers. VCEs can be studied as 3, 6 or 12 unit qualifications. A 6 unit VCE is equivalent to a GCE Advanced level qualification. QCA has recently conducted a review of this qualification – further information is available from QCA You will find details here of all the VCEs available plus recent news and useful documents.

The vocational A level, or Advanced Vocational Certificate of Education (AVCE), is the new name of the advanced General National Vocational Qualification (GNVQ). The qualification has been revised to make its assessment more rigorous and more manageable for teachers and students.

The qualification is available in three, six and 12 units. The three-unit is available in business, engineering, health and social care and information and communication technology (ICT) and is equivalent to the AS. The six-unit vocational A level is available in 14 titles and is equivalent to the A level. The 12-unit vocational A level (double award) is equivalent to two A levels and is available in 13 titles. (Retail and Distributive Services is only available as a six-unit award.)

Vocational A levels provide experiences and education relevant to working life but do not provide training for a specific job. Students develop the knowledge, skills and understanding relevant to a broad vocational area and often have experience of work within that area.

Assessment is by coursework (a portfolio of work), which is internally assessed, and by external assessment. The internal component normally contributes two-thirds of the final marks and the external component one third. The specification indicates the type of assessment for each unit.

General and vocational A levels are graded A–E. They can be assessed in stages, using opportunities in January and June, or at the end of the course. Candidates may resit the external assessment for each unit once.

Vocationally-related qualifications provide a broad introduction to a particular vocational area, for example, manufacturing, art and design, health and social care.

Occupational qualifications are related to a specific job and are based on the knowledge and skills needed in that job, for example, administration, commercial horticulture, food preparation and cooking, retail operations, using information technology.

Many students combine different types of qualifications to suit their interests and progression plans. One of the aims of the qualification changes from September 2000 is to provide flexibility to enable more to do so.

Awarding bodies are responsible for producing subject specifications, setting external assessment and ensuring consistent assessment standards across the country.



BTEC First Diplomas are at NQF Level 2 providing the initial knowledge and understanding for students wishing to embark on further study at level 3 or work.

BTEC National Diplomas, Certificate and Awards are NQF Level 3 vocational qualifications which focus on an occupational area specialism.

BTEC Higher National Diplomas (HNDs) and Higher National Certificates (HNCs) are level 4 qualifications designed to equip students with the knowledge, understanding and skills required for success in current or future employment or for progression to an undergraduate degree. HNDs will be an integral part of the Foundation Degree Framework.

Other vocationally-related qualifications, for example, BTEC, are often studied by 16- to 19-year-old students. The BTEC National Diploma is a level 3 qualification usually studied full-time over two years. Like the vocational A level, it is related to broad occupational areas. It is available in 12 or 18 units. There is also a new BTEC National Certificate at level 3 which consists of 36 units.



City & Guilds is the leading provider of vocational qualifications in the United Kingdom. Our qualifications assess skills that are of practical value in the work place. They are recognised for their quality and are valued by employers in every sector of business. With over 400 to choose from there's bound to be one to match your needs, whatever your situation. Whether you're in work, looking for work or at college, an employer, college or training provider, we've got the qualifications that make a difference.

City & Guilds is the expert in vocational qualifications. That means that all our qualifications are designed to recognise skills used in the workplace. They show that someone can actually do a job, and not simply that they know how to do it in theory.

Depending on your situation, you'll have different qualification and training needs. The requirements of those just starting out in their career are very different to those who already have a lot of experience in their job. We provide a range of different qualification types to meet this range of needs.

City & Guilds 'own-brand' qualifications
The traditional City & Guilds vocational qualifications usually follow a course structure with more conventional methods of learning. These awards retain the emphasis on developing practical skills and knowledge, but they tend to be classroom-based with assessment by written and practical examinations. These qualifications are usually recognised by certificates and diplomas

Choosing the right level of qualification
Our qualifications are broadly classified into a range of ability from level 1 to 5 based on the competence levels required. The table gives a general guide to which qualifications are available at which level.

The following explanations may give you a general idea of which level of qualification may be appropriate to your needs: Level 1 qualifications: these are introductory awards for those new to the area and cover routine tasks or basic knowledge and understanding. Level 2 qualifications are for those with some knowledge of and ability in the area and acknowledge individual responsibility. Level 3 qualifications recognise complex work involving supervisory ability. Level 4 demands specialist or technical expertise. Level 5 requires the application of complex principles and techniques involving responsibility for human and material resources.





First Diplomas are a Level 2 qualification for students who would like to take up a career in a broad occupational area. This is a one year programme equivalent to gaining 5 GCSEs or a GNVQ intermediate.



National Diplomas are a Level 3 qualification for students who would like to take up a career in a broad occupational area. This is a two year programme equivalent to taking 3 A Levels or their vocational equivalent.


HNCs and HNDs are 2 year courses that develop skills beyond A Level.


Foundation Degrees are new employment linked Higher Education qualifications designed to equip the student with the skills that employers are looking for. Foundation degrees provide you with a combination of technical skills, academic knowledge and transferable skills that employers are increasingly demanding.


Modern Apprenticeships provide the student with the opportunity to work and the chance to gain nationally recognised qualifications at the same time. They can even help the student to go to University.



This is different from what you have been used to at the school. The courses are practical and assessment is through practical tasks, assignments and the production of a folder of your work showing your achievement.

PROGRESSION: You can progress into employment or onto a Level 1 course.


These courses require no formal prior qualifications to start the programme. They give you the opportunity to sample a variety of different areas. Courses can be practical, academic and assessment is through practical tasks.

PROGRESSION: You can progress into employment or Level 2 programme.


These courses provide a basic introduction to the knowledge, understanding and practical skills in a particular subject. You will have already studied at GCSE level ideally with achievement at Grade D or E, GNVQ Foundation or NVQ Level 1.

PROGRESSION: The intermediate programme will give you the skills required to progress onto a Level 3 course or into suitable employment.



These courses require prior study to GCSE level with at least 4 passes at grades A – C. You now have the option to choose from a wide range of Vocational A Levels. These provide the education and experience relevant to working life but they are also broad enough to leave a wide choice of Higher Education and employment opportunuties.

PROGRESSION: The advanced programme will give you the opportunity to progress into Higher Education or into suitable employment.



Study at Degree or Higher National Diploma Level and NVQ Level 4.



Study at Degree, NVQ Level 5 or Post Graduate Level.



Entry Level

Level 1


* NVQ Level 1

* GNVQ Foundation

Level 2


Level 3



Level 4


Level 5


What is The National Open College Network (NOCN)?

The National Open College Network (NOCN) is the UK's foremost provider of accreditation services for adult learning. NOCN is a recognised national qualification awarding body and is the central organisation for 28 Open College Networks (OCNs) based across the UK.

NOCN provides national qualifications and programmes in a wide range of subject areas and offers a local accreditation service through the OCNs that provides recognition of achievement through the award of credit.

NOCN also works in partnership with organisations to develop learning strategies that will enable people to participate and succeed. The fully integrated service of accreditation and qualifications helps to secure provision relevant to learners and employers, with robust standards, achievable goals and progression opportunities for all.

In this way NOCN aims to widen participation and access to high quality and flexible education, training and learning, to promote social inclusion and to ensure that learner achievement is recognised, valued and understood through a national framework of accreditation.


Combining the qualifications

Many students will combine qualifications of different types into a learning programme that is appropriate to their ability, interests and intended career path. The new, smaller qualifications enable more flexible programmes and greater breadth of learning.

General and vocational A levels can be combined, either in a programme that places equal emphasis on each, or which has a emphasis on one type of qualification and uses the other to add breadth or depth. Vocational A levels can be combined with NVQ units where students have a work placement or a part-time job that fulfils the requirements.

Key Skills qualifications will be combined with all the others. Students’ key skills will be developed across a range of learning activities that may include direct teaching of the skills to be practised elsewhere within the students’ learning programmes.

Advanced modern apprenticeships use the work-based route. They are mainly for 16- and 17-year-old school and college leavers. They incorporate NVQ level 3, a technical certificate and key skills.







Higher-level qualifications

Level 5 NVQ


First degree, Foundation degree
Higher National Diploma (HND)
Higher National Certificate(HNC)

Level 4 NVQ

3 Advanced level

A level, including AS and AE awards

Vocational A level (Advanced GNVQ) 3-, 6- and 12- unit

Level 3 NVQ

2 Intermediate level

GSCE grades A*-C

Intermediate GNVQ

Level 2 NVQ

1 Foundation level

GCSE grades D-G

Foundation GNVQ

Level 1 NVQ

Entry level

Certificate of (educational) achievement


Connect to the authorities below to get more specific information and syllabus of individual courses.

National Curriculum

The Qualifications and Curriculum Authority (QCA)

Oxford Cambridge and RSA Examinations (OCR)


City and Guilds

Open College Network (OCN)

Below is a small list of colleges chosen randomly, which run some of the courses mentioned above.

Oaklands College

Stanmore College

City of Westminster College

Waltham Forest College

City and Islington College

Hertford Regional College

You have the contact the Colleges directly to obtain all the information about the courses and their enrolment procedures.

You have to go through the "Universities and Colleges Admissions Service" (UCAS) to apply for the University Degree Courses.