Vocational qualifications can range from general qualifications where you learn skills relevant to a variety of jobs, to specialist qualifications designed for a particular area of work.
They are available from several awarding bodies, such as City and Guilds, Edexcel and OCR and can be taken at many different sizes and levels.
Due to COVID-19 it is not possible to proceed with scheduled assessments and exams for vocational qualifications over the coming months. More information is available on the Department for the Economy website and also the CCEA website.
BTECs and OCR Nationals
Many have been designed in collaboration with industry, so they can equip you with the skills and knowledge that employers are looking for.
The qualifications offer a mix of theory and practice and can also include an element of work experience. They can take the form of, or be part of, a technical certificate which are also one of the key components of an apprenticeship.
What you can study
BTECs and OCR Nationals are available in a wide range of subjects which include:
- art and design
- health and social care
- information technology
- public services
They are usually studied full-time at a Further Education (FE) college, or sometimes at school, or in collaboration between a school and college. You can also take them part-time at an FE college.
They are mainly taken by learners over 16, although some schools offer them to 14 to 16-year-olds, normally in combination with other qualifications such as GCSEs or Key Skills.
Levels and entry requirements
BTEC qualifications are available at various levels on the Regulated Qualifications Framework (RQF). OCR Nationals are offered at levels 1 to 3. The RQF shows how different types of qualifications compare, in terms of the demands they place on learners.
Within each level, the qualifications are available in a range of sizes, taking different amounts of time to complete.
Qualifications at different levels can have different entry requirements. To study for a level 2 qualification, you will need GCSEs grades D-G, or a level 1 qualification in a similar subject.
To study a level 3 qualification, you will need GCSEs grades A*-C, or a level 2 qualification in a related subject.
BTEC specialist and professional courses are also available in various sizes and at different levels on the NQF.
How you are assessed
You'll complete a range of assignments, case studies and practical activities, as well as a portfolio of evidence that shows the work you have completed. You are assessed by your teacher or trainer in your place of study. Depending on the qualification you choose, some assessment may also be done by external examiners.
BTEC and OCR Nationals are graded:
If you take a qualification at level 3, you can earn points on the 'UCAS Tariff' for entry into higher education.
Both BTEC and OCR Nationals can earn you equal points to AS and A levels.
If you're not happy with how you've done in a particular unit, there are opportunities to improve your performance. Speak to your trainer or teacher about it. If you are still not satisfied, your teacher can advise you about appealing.
Where they can lead
BTECs or OCR Nationals can lead to a job or further study.
You could also use a level 3 qualification as a route into higher education, such as taking a Higher National Certificate (HNC) or Higher National Diploma (HND).
You can get further advice from your school, FE college, employer or the Careers Service.