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Find out about qualifications

Certificate on a desk entitled 'Qualifications'

In the UK, all qualifications, from GCSEs to PhDs, fit into 8 levels. 

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

Job adverts may ask for specific levels e.g.

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 e.g.

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

Find out more about the different qualifications available:


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 the main general qualifications taken by 16 year olds and are used as entry qualifications for jobs, further study or training.  (They are also available to students of any age in schools, colleges and other learning centres.)

They 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 fail

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.

Key differences between GCSEs in Wales, England and Northern Ireland at a glance.

GCSEs - Wales

Qualifications Wales

GCSEs - Northern Ireland


9-1 grading (9 being the highest)

All exams are 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.

Grades A*-G. 

Some may take GCSEs used in England graded 9-1

Grades A*-G. Some may take GCSEs used in England graded 9-1


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

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

How GCSE A*-G grades compare with GCSE number grades
England Wales QCFW Level




QCF Level 2




QCF Level 2


QCF Level 1
U U Unclassified
AS and A Levels

AS and A levels are the main general qualifications at Level 3 and are available in a wide range of academic and vocational subjects.

They are usually taken at age 16 -19, and 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.

A Levels are usually completed in two years and are graded A* - E.

In Wales, A levels can be achieved in two parts; year one is the AS (Advanced Subsidiary) Unit. The AS is a stand-alone qualification and also contributes 40% towards the full A level.  To achieve the full A level, students need to complete an A2 unit in year 2. In England the AS qualification does not contribute to the full A Level.

Common features in Wales, England and Northern Ireland

  • Grades A - E  for AS levels
  • Graded A*- E  for A levels
  • Content in AS levels is approximately half that of the full A level 
Comparing AS and A Levels in Wales, England and Northern Ireland at a glance.

AS and A level - England


AS and A level – Wales

Qualifications Wales

AS and A level - Northern Ireland


AS levels will not contribute to A level results

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.

AS levels contribute 40% of the total marks of the full A level

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


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; 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 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 or 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? - Yes"

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. 

Example:  A grade D* BTEC Subsidiary Diploma is equivalent to A* at A level and a grade D*D* for a BTEC Diploma is equivalent to 2 A levels at grade A*.

Find out more about UCAS and UCAS points at

QCF/NVQs (Vocational Qualifications)

QCF/NVQs are work based qualifications and are available at all levels.

However most QCF/NVQs are available from levels 1 to 5.

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/NVQs cover a huge variety of careers.

Welsh Baccalaureate

The Welsh Baccalaureate Qualification (Bacc) is a qualification for 14 – 19 year old students in Wales.

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

Learners take on different challenges and put together a portfolio of evidence to show how their skills have been developed to achieve the Skills Challenge Certificate. 

Alongside, they study a selection of GCSE, A level and vocational qualifications to be awarded the Bacc at different 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

The qualification is made up of 3 elements. 

  • Skills Challenge Certificate: This is an individual project which is graded
  • GCSE English Language or Welsh Language and GCSE Mathematics - Numeracy 
  • Supporting qualifications such as other GCSE's, A Levels/AS qualifications and vocational qualifications 

Skills Challenge Certificate

The Skills Challenge Certificate is made of four 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. 

Essential and Employability Skills

The Bacc 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 a Welsh Bacc?" - Yes, some

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.

For an A* at advanced level, the Skills Challenge Certificate is worth 56 tariff points; the equivalent of an A* at A level.

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 (WJEC).

Find out more about the International Baccalaureate.

Essential Skills Wales (previously Key Skills or Basic Skills)

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

  • 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
  • They can be studied from Entry level 1 to Level 3

Learners study Essential Skills in:

  • Communication
  • Application of Number
  • Digital Literacy
  • Critical Thinking and Problem Solving
  • Planning and Organisation
  • Creativity and Innovation
  • Personal Effectiveness

Find out more about Essential Skills Wales qualifications.

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
  • Doctors have to be registered with the General Medical Council (GMC) to practice 
  • Chartered Surveyors should be RICS qualified (Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors)  
  • Nurses and Midwives need to be registered with the Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC) 
  • Chartered Accountants need the ACA (Associate Chartered Accountant) qualification
  • Skilled construction workers are not legally required, but usually need to hold a CSCS (Construction Skills Certification Scheme) card to work on construction sites.
  • Gas Engineers must be registered on the Gas Safe Register by law 
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.

It is 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. 

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

Examples of Certificate of Higher Education courses are: 

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

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

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 HND and HNC can be ‘topped up’ to a Bachelor degree.

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 HND and HNC can be studied in many subjects including

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

Degrees are higher education qualifications.

There are different levels of degrees:

Foundation Degrees: 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

Masters Degree: A Masters 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 Masters degree will last around 1-2 years. Part-time study can last between 2- 4 years.
Depending on the subject studied, the type of Masters degree awarded will differ. The most common Masters degree awards are: Master of Arts (MA) and Master of Science (MSc)

Doctorates (PhDs):  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 are equivalent to level 7 qualifications. They allow learners to build on the skills and knowledge gained in a degree and are available in a variety of subjects.
A full-time postgraduate diploma usually takes around 30 weeks to complete.
A full-time postgraduate certificate usually 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).