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Qualifications - 16+

General qualifications

Compare different qualifications

Academic, Vocational, Apprenticeship ?

...Whatever qualifications you're thinking about taking, check out the facts here.

Academic qualifications

A /AS levels - Advanced level qualifications (level 3)

From 2015 new A levels will be taught and examined in 2017 with all assessment at the end of two years of study. Although the AS level will be retained, it will be redesigned as a high quality stand-alone qualification as opposed to a means of progression to A2.

There are over 80 subjects available at A level from art to physics, business to leisure. You can continue with subjects you've already studied or take something new.

A levels are assessed by exams, although in some subjects there will be practical assessments too.

For many students, A levels are a route into higher education. There are, however, other options, such as starting an Apprenticeship, training for qualifications through work or even studying part-time for a degree or diploma.

Changes to A and AS levels

New A and AS levels started to be taught in schools in England from September 2015.

Since September 2014 students have only be able to sit AS and A level exams in the summer.

The first results for the new AS levels were in 2016 and for the A levels will be in 2017. Further subjects will be introduced over the following two years.

Key features

The whole content is examined at the end of the course.

AS results don’t count towards the A level grade.

Exams make greater use of ‘synoptic’ questions (a broader view) and there will be more variety of question types (e.g .multiple

Sept 2015

First teaching of new A level and AS in:




English language

English literature

English language and literature

art and design


computer science





Sept 2016

First teaching of new A level and AS in:

modern foreign languages

ancient languages


religious studies

drama and theatre


Sept 2017

First teaching of remaining new A level and AS:


further maths

design and technology

To start an A level course, you usually need 5/8 GCSEs at level C and others at level B or above, for some courses you may be asked to achieve a C and above at GCSE. It is always advisable to check with the post 16 provider.

For many students, A levels are a route into higher education. There are, however, other options, such as starting an Apprenticeship, training for qualifications through work or even studying part- time.

Thinking of going to University? -

Find out how many UCAS tariff points are allocated to post 16 qualifications

The Extended Project Qualification (level 3)

The extended project qualification helps students develop the research, independent learning and other skills that universities and employers look for.

To gain an extended project qualification students must:

Choose a project and agree it with a teacher. This can be in connection with their studies or of personal interest.

To complete the project and show that they can plan, deliver and present an extended piece of work at level 3.


The International Baccalaureate (IB)

The IB is an international qualification. The IB is designed for students who are strong across all curriculum subjects; you study your own language, a foreign language, maths or computing, a science subject, the arts and a humanities subject. It is generally used for entry to higher education.

To start an IB you usually need 5/7 GCSEs at grade C or above, for some courses you may be asked to achieve at least a B at GCSE.

Find out more about the International Baccalaureate  


Cambridge Pre-U courses

Cambridge Pre-U is a new post-16 qualification. It prepares students with the skills and knowledge they need to make a success of their subsequent studies at university through an independent and  self-directed style of learning.

Obtaining a Pre-U does allow students to achieve a grade above an A* grade at A-level and as a result is awarded more UCAS points. Whatever your reasons for choosing the Pre-U you need to be up for a challenge!
The linear approach of Cambridge Pre-U (with exams taken at the end of the course) provides for coherence and progression, the chance to reclaim teaching and learning time at the end of the first year, and decide the order, pace and depth of teaching and learning most appropriate for students. Feedback on progress at that point may be provided by optional examinations, marked either by the school or Cambridge.

Cambridge Pre-U syllabuses can be taken separately, and are graded individually. Students may choose to combine them with other A levels. There is freedom to choose subject combinations without constraint.

The Cambridge Pre-U Diploma offers opportunities for interdisciplinary study, includes independent research that builds on individual subject specialisms, and is informed by an international perspective.

Find out more about the Cambridge Pre-U Diploma


Applied and Technical Level qualifications

Vocational qualification have been developed by employers and professional bodies for students who want to find out more about a particular area of work, or want to train for a particular job.

There are courses available at different levels, so where you start will depend on the grades you get at GCSE.

Courses are usually made up of different units or modules. Assessment is through a mixture of coursework, assignments and practical activities.

Applied general qualifications

Applied general qualifications are rigorous advanced (level 3) qualifications that allow 16 to 19 year old students to develop transferable knowledge and skills.

They are for students who want to continue their education through applied learning.

Applied general qualifications allow entry to a range of higher education courses, either by meeting the entry requirements in their own right or being accepted alongside and adding value to other qualifications at level 3 such as A levels.

Applied general qualifications can be studied under the following categories:

  • Performing arts, arts, crafts, media and publishing
  • Finance, enterprise, business and law
  • Health and social care and child development
  • Construction, planning and the built environment
  • Engineering, manufacturing technologies and transport operations
  • Information and communication technology
  • Leisure, sport, travel and tourism
  • Retail, hospitality and commercial enterprise
  • Science & mathematics
  • Sociology and social policy

The qualifications are offered by a range of exam boards:



Technical qualifications

Tech levels are level 3 (advanced) qualifications for students wishing to specialise in a technical occupation or occupational group.

They lead to recognised occupations, for example in engineering, IT, accounting or professional cookery.

They are recognised by a relevant trade or professional body or at least five employers registered with Companies House that are representative of the industry sector or occupation to which the qualification relates. Many higher education institutions have also pledged support for tech levels.

Tech levels count towards the new TechBacc (technical baccalaureate) performance measure. This will recognise the highest level of technical training achieved by students aged 16-19. To achieve the TechBacc, students will need to obtain:

  • an approved level 3 tech level qualification
  • an approved level 3 mathematics qualification
  • the extended project qualification

Tech level qualifications can be studied under the following categories:

  • agriculture, horticulture and animal care
  • arts, media and publishing
  • business, administration and law
  • child development and well-being
  • construction, planning and the built environment
  • engineering and manufacturing technologies
  • health, public service and care
  • information and communication technology
  • leisure, travel and tourism
  • retail and commercial enterprise

The qualifications are offered by a range of exam boards:

City and Guilds, IMIAL,OCR, Pearson BTEC, VTCT, UAL, NCFE, AAT, CACHE, EAL, Cskills

Work related courses

If you are sure of the career you wish to follow, you may be able to take a course to learn the skills you need. Courses may be available full-time at college or through an Apprenticeship or training at work.

Courses are available at different levels and come in different sizes.

These courses may be called National Vocational Qualifications (NVQs).

What are NVQs?

National Vocational Qualifications (NVQs) are designed to demonstrate a learner's occupational competence.

They are usually delivered in the workplace, although some sectors and levels may be delivered in settings that replicate the working environment.

NVQs are based on the National Occupational Standards, which define the skills, knowledge and understanding needed to do a particular job.

National Occupational Standards are statements of performance which describe what competent people in an area of work should be able to do. This may include:

  • the knowledge and understanding that underpin competent performance
  • current best practice
  • the standards required for competence

Why take NVQs?

NVQs give many people the opportunity to work and achieve a qualification at the same time. They are usually studied part-time and can be taken as a stand-alone qualification, or as part of an Apprenticeship.

NVQs and competence-based qualifications offer proof that you can do a job to the required standard. They are offered at different levels, ranging from 1 to 7 depending on the sector. This means you can study at the level that’s right for your job role and level of experience, and progress accordingly.

NVQs are outcome-based with no fixed learning programme, giving centres the flexibility to deliver the course to meet each individual candidate’s needs.

Find out more about National Vocational Qualifications 

Find out more about Apprenticeships


'Skills needed by Industry' courses

University Technical Colleges offer 14 to 19 year-olds the opportunity to take a full time, technically-oriented course of study. Some of the subjects offered are biomedical, engineering, product design, health sciences, construction and land and environmental services.

Entrepreneurial activities and employer-led projects as well as specific enterprise-focused events will be part of the 'skills needed by industry' courses.

Students will be expected to study A level courses but 40% of the course will be involved with an industry led qualification.

UTC's tend to specialise in one area of industry so you need to check with your local UTC to find out what courses are being offered.

In September 2017, UTC Cambridge was renamed and is now called Cambridge Academy for Science and Technology.



Traineeships are designed to prepare students for a future career, by helping them to get ready for the world of work and improving their chances of getting an Apprenticeship or other job.

Traineeships last anything from six weeks to a maximum of six months with the content tailored to individual needs, including:

Work preparation training.

English and maths support (except those students who have gained A*- C) to help give  the literacy and numeracy skills needed for the workplace.

Meaningful work experience which provides insight and experience of the world of work and makes students more attractive to potential employers.

Find out more about Traineeships 


Personalised programmes of learning

Find out more about personalised programmes

A personalised programme of learning is designed to help young people to develop their skills and prepare for work, training or a course at college. These programmes combine learning about an area of work or subject, developing personal and social skills and improving skills in English, maths and ICT.

Personalised programmes are made up of units.

Units can lead to qualifications at entry level or level 1.

If a student has gained a D at GCSE in maths and English he/she will be required to re-sit these exams as part of the personalised programme.

Personalised programmes may be offered by schools, colleges or work-based learning providers.


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