The qualifications listed here are the ones which are most frequently studied.

To make it easier to find the one you are interested in they are listed alphabetically, but qualifications are available in levels 1-8 and you must usually go up through the levels. For example, you cannot usually do a Level 3 qualification until you have completed and passed a Level 2. To show you how they fit together there is a National Qualifications Framework.

To help we have created a diagram that shows the different levels of qualifications, which can be found at the bottom of this page.

Foundation learning is the name given to all full-time study at entry level and level 1 taken by students aged over 14. It is aimed at students with few or low grades in GCSEs or who have been out of education.

Foundation learning is personalised. This means that the qualifications students take as part of the course should be based on the knowledge and skills that they need to develop. Students study English, Maths and IT. Most will also follow a vocational/subject course (work related) which builds up skills and knowledge, for example, Level 1 Hairdressing or Level 1 Construction.

Courses cover basic knowledge and skills development in a particular subject. Students taking foundation learning can study assessed qualifications and non-assessed developmental activities such as travel training to help young people learn to catch buses and trains or communication in groups to help students develop the confidence to talk in larger group settings.

Each assessed qualification taken as part of foundation learning will be graded based on its own criteria. Foundation learning does not have an overall grade.

A GCSE is a single subject studied at Level 2 which requires you to develop knowledge of the subject. Students usually take between 7-11 subjects at the same time. They are the main qualification studied in school Years 10 and 11, although schools may start teaching in Year 9 and take GCSE options as early as Year 8.

Visit our GCSEs page to find out more.

An NVQ or National Vocational Qualification is a qualification at levels 1-5 which assesses practical work skills. They are usually taken by adults in the workplace but may also be offered by some colleges where they are able to create a working environment for students, such as in professional cookery, hairdressing or beauty therapy.

Visit our NVQ page to find out more.

Tech levels are Level 3 technical qualifications (at the same level as A Levels) recognised by employers. They are for students who have completed their secondary education who want to specialise in a specific industry or prepare for a particular job. They are taught mainly in colleges but some may be available in sixth forms or training centres. Tech levels may also be used as the technical certificate for an advanced apprenticeship.

Visit our Tech Levels page to find out more.

Foundation degrees (level 4-5) offer a combination of academic study and work-related skills.

  • They are vocationally related qualifications in their 'own right'.
  • Normally last two years full time (part-time study is available).
  • They aim to produce people with a broad range of employability skills who can 'apply their technical abilities effectively in the workplace'.
  • Fees are lower than most traditional degrees but you'll receive the same financial support as other HE students.
  • Are linked to technician and para-professional employment.
  • Can be 'topped up' with further study to an appropriately related degree.
  • Have less demanding entry requirements.


If you are seriously thinking about foundation degrees take a look at the 1,600 options available on the UCAS website. Alternatively, you can speak to your local college or university.

A degree is formally called a bachelors degree. Bachelors degrees are awarded at the end of a 3 or 4 year course. The type of degree you get depends on the focus of your course.

Visit our Degree page to find out more.

HND's and HNC's are work-related (vocational) higher education qualifications and are designed to be more practical and give you the skills you need in your chosen job.

Visit our HND and HNC page to find out more.

A-levels are single subjects studied in depth at Level 3. It is usual to take 3 or 4 subjects at the same time. ‘A’ levels can be studied alongside applied general qualifications.

Visit our A level page to find out more.

The International Baccalaureate (IB) Diploma Programme is an internationally recognised qualification at Level 3 for students aged 16 to 19.

Visit our International Baccalaureate page for more information.

Applied general qualifications are Level 3 (advanced) qualifications that provide broad study of a vocational area but do not usually qualify you for a particular job.

Visit our Applied Generals page to find out more.

BTECs are not a single qualification but a range of different qualifications that are offered by Pearsons.

Visit our BTEC page to find out more.

Qualification Levels

A diagram showing the different levels of qualifications.

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