Qualifications: What the different levels mean
Different types of qualifications are grouped together into various 'levels'. This can help you and employers to see how different qualifications compare and how one type can lead on to another.
Choosing the right qualification for you
If you're interested in gaining a qualification, choosing from the huge range available can seem daunting. But don't panic, there's lots of support and advice to help you pick a qualification that's right for you.
Advice for young people
For advice on learning and qualifications for 13 to 19-year-olds, contact a local Careers Adviser.
University and higher education
If you're thinking about getting a higher education qualification, there's lots of advice and information in the 'University and higher education' section.
Advice for adult learners
Get advice about qualifications for adult learners from the Careers Advice Service.
How different qualifications compare
You may hear people talking about qualification 'levels'. These levels are contained in three qualification 'frameworks':
- National Qualifications Framework
- Qualifications and Credit Framework
- Framework for Higher Education Qualifications
National Qualifications Framework
The National Qualifications Framework, known as NQF, sets out the level at which a qualification can be recognised in Northern Ireland, England and Wales.
The framework groups together qualifications that place similar demands on you as a learner. However, within any one level, qualifications can cover a wide mix of subjects and take different amounts of time to complete.
The NQF can also help you see how one type of qualification can lead on to other higher levels of qualifications.
Only qualifications that have been accredited by the three regulators for Northern Ireland, England and Wales can be included in the NQF. This ensures that all qualifications within the framework are of a high quality and meet the needs of learners and employers.
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Qualifications and Credit Framework
The Qualifications and Credit Framework (QCF) is a new framework. It contains new vocational (or work-related) qualifications, available in England, Wales and Northern Ireland.
These qualificatons are made up of units that are worth credits. You can study units at your own pace and build these up to full qualifications of different sizes over time.
Units and qualifications also range in difficulty, from entry level to level 8 (similar to the levels in the NQF).
Framework for Higher Education Qualifications
The Framework for Higher Education Qualifications, or FHEQ, has been designed by the higher education sector and contains descriptions of all the main higher education qualifications. It applies to:
- certificates and other academic awards granted by a university or higher education college (but not honorary degrees and higher doctorates)
The FHEQ broadly corresponds with levels 4 to 8 of the National Qualifications Framework in terms of the demands the qualifications place on learners.
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Search for accredited qualifications
You can search for an accredited qualification on the Register of Regulated Qualifications