Types of education qualification

A qualification is a special skill, knowledge, or ability that makes someone suitable for a particular job or activity. It is often used to recognise that someone has successfully completed an education or training course.

Qualifications play an important role in learning and development. Most qualifications have a difficulty level. The higher the level, the more difficult the qualification is.

Qualification levels explained

There are many qualifications within education. Here are some examples:

  • Entry Level - These are below a Level 1 qualifications and are broken down into Entry Level 1, Entry Level 2 and Entry Level 3 (with Entry level 3 being the most difficult)
  • Level 1 – GCSE (General Certificate of Secondary Education) at grades 3 to 1 (D to G), or traineeships
  • Level 2 – GCSE at grades 9 to 4 (A* to C), or intermediate apprenticeships. Note that a full Level 2 qualification is considered to be the equivalent of 5 GCSEs (including English and Maths) at grades 9 to 4 (A* to C), rather than single qualifications
  • Level 3 – Advanced apprenticeships, A Levels. Note that a Full Level 3 qualification is the equivalent of 2 A Levels
  • Level 4 – higher apprenticeship, level 4 diploma
  • Level 5 – Foundation degree, level 5 NVQ (National Vocational Qualification)
  • Level 6 - degree with honours, for example bachelor of the arts (BA) hons, graduate diploma
  • Level 7 – postgraduate certificate, master’s degree, for example master of science (MSc)
  • Level 8 - doctorate, for example doctor of philosophy (PhD or DPhil)

You usually progress to a higher level for your Post 16 education or training. For Post 16 you could study at:

  • Entry Level (for young people with no qualifications), for example, a study programme at school, college or with another provider
  • Level 1 (for young people with entry level qualifications), for example, a study programme at school, college or other provider, or a traineeship
  • Level 2 (for young people with 3 – 5 GCSEs mostly at grades 3 to 1 or D – E grades). For example: GCSEs, BTEC First Diploma/Certificate/Award, OCR National, Intermediate Level Apprenticeship
  • Level 3 (for young people with 5 or more GCSEs at grades 9 to 4 or A* to C grades). For example: GCE AS and A levels, IB/Pre-U/AQA Baccalaureate, BTEC National, Advanced Level Apprenticeship

You can find more detailed information on these qualification levels at Gov.uk.

The Office of Qualifications and Examinations Regulation (Ofqual) also has a useful blog post which explains the recent changes to the grade scale for GCSEs.

Further advice and support

The government requires that all young people remain in education or training until their 18th birthday. This is to ensure that every young person is able to achieve the skills and knowledge they need in order to move on to a successful career. You can find more information in the Further education (post 16) and Work experience, traineeships, apprenticeships articles.

There is also an article on Higher education options for those in years 12 and 13.

South Gloucestershire Council provides accessible and high quality learning opportunities for eligible adults to improve their skills and qualifications. The council’s Community Learning service offers a range of accredited (where you receive a qualification) and non-accredited courses.

You can find more information about education choices in South Gloucestershire in this area of the website.

The UCAS website also has information about the various Post-16 qualifications you can take.

For older learners, The Open University offers flexible part-time study, supported distance and open learning for undergraduate and postgraduate courses and qualifications.