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Education and Training

What different qualification levels mean

There are 4 main frameworks that group all qualifications into the same levels from entry to level 8.

The frameworks in England, Wales and Northern Ireland are:

  • National Qualifications Framework (NQF)
  • Qualifications and Credit Framework (QCF) in England and Northern Ireland
  • Credit and Quali?cations Framework for Wales (CQFW) in Wales
  • Framework for Higher Education Qualifications (FHEQ)

All qualifications in these frameworks are accredited (officially recognised).

NQF and QCF qualifications

Courses in these frameworks range from entry level up to level 8.

QCF courses are vocational (work-related). They use a credit system so that you can study units at your own pace and build these up into qualifications over time.

NQF and QCF qualifications include:

  • English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL)
  • Skills for Life
  • GCSEs and A Levels
  • International Baccalaureate
  • BTEC courses
  • Foundation Learning
  • National Vocational Qualifications (NVQs)
  • Cambridge Nationals
  • Higher National Certificates (HNC)
  • Higher National Diplomas (HND)

Framework for Higher Education Qualifications (FHEQ)

This is the framework for higher education courses. It starts at level 4 and goes up to level 8. Qualifications it covers include:

  • Certificate of Higher Education
  • Diploma of Higher Education
  • bachelor’s degrees
  • master’s degrees
  • doctoral degrees



Apply for an apprenticeship

Anyone in England can apply for an apprenticeship if they’re:

  • 16 or over
  • eligible to work in England
  • not in full-time education

Apprenticeships take between 1 and 4 years to complete depending on their level.

Work and study

Apprenticeships combine practical training in a job with study.

An apprentice:

  • works alongside experienced staff
  • gains job-specific skills
  • earns a wage
  • studies towards a related qualification (usually 1 day a week)

Levels of apprenticeship

There are 3 levels in England:

  • Intermediate – equivalent to 5 GCSE passes
  • Advanced – equivalent to 2 A level passes
  • Higher – lead to NVQ Level 4 and above or a Foundation Degree


Apprenticeships can lead to:

  • National Vocational Qualifications (NVQs) at Level 2,3,4 or 5
  • Functional Skills qualifications, eg in maths, English or ICT
  • a technical certificate, such as a BTEC or City & Guilds Progression Award
  • knowledge-based qualifications, such as a Higher National Certificate (HNC), a Higher National Diploma (HND) or a Foundation degree

Further education courses and funding

1. Overview

Further education (FE) includes any study after secondary education that’s not part of higher education (that is, not taken as part of an undergraduate or graduate degree).

Courses range from basic English and maths to Higher National Diplomas (HNDs).

Many courses in reading, writing and basic maths are free, and you may not have to pay for tuition if you’re under 24 and studying for your first qualification equivalent to GCSE or A level.



Further education courses and funding

2. Find a course

You can also take courses through the internet or e-mail. Known as distance learning, this is available through many FE colleges as well as dedicated distance learning providers like The Open University.


If you need help choosing a course you can get free advice from the National Careers Service.

Residential training for disabled adults

1. Overview

If you’re an unemployed disabled adult you can apply for residential training. You can do this if there aren’t any suitable training courses available to you locally.

The courses can help you get a job, give you more experience to keep a job or become self-employed.

The training courses take place in accessible college buildings. Staff with knowledge of disability issues teach the courses.

There are 9 residential training providers located throughout England but there are no providers in Wales or Scotland.

Some providers may take students from Wales or Scotland.

2. What you'll get

You’ll get help finding work through a combination of guidance, work experience and qualifications. Courses vary from college to college, with many leading to National Vocational Qualifications (NVQs) in things like:

  • administration
  • catering
  • retail
  • horticulture
  • leisure/tourism/travel

You can also get help with your living costs and some travel costs. The amount you get will depend; for example, on the cost of your accommodation or price of travel tickets.


24+ Advanced Learning Loans

1. Overview

You can apply for a 24+ Advanced Learning Loan to help with the costs of a college or training course if you’re 24 or older.

The course must start on or after 1 August 2013 and be eligible - eg a Level 3 or 4 course (such as an A Level) or an advanced or higher apprenticeship.

Loans have to be paid back. Repayments don’t start until April 2016 and you won’t have to pay anything back until you earn more than £21,000 a year.

2. What you'll get

How much you get depends on the:

  • type of course
  • course fees
  • the maximum loan available for your course

The minimum loan you can get is £300.