Qualifications: what the different levels mean
A qualification shows employers, teachers and learners what you have learnt and what you can do as a result of that learning. There is a large variety of qualifications available so they are grouped together into levels to show how they compare and what other qualifications they can lead to.
In the UK, most qualifications taken through work, school, college or university, fit into one of nine levels (12 in Scotland). The higher the level, the harder the qualification. The levels are based on the standards of knowledge, skill and competence needed for each qualification. Qualifications at the same level can be very different in terms of content and the length of time they take to complete.
Knowing about the different levels means that you can compare qualifications and identify what you need for your chosen career.
Four qualifications frameworks are in use within the UK:
- Regulated Qualifications Framework (RQF) for England and Northern Ireland
- Credit and Qualifications Framework for Wales (CQFW)
- Scottish Credit and Qualifications Framework (SCQF)
- Framework for Higher Education Qualifications for England, Wales and Northern Ireland (FHEQ)
The table below shows some examples of qualifications at each level under the various frameworks. The list is not exhaustive.
|Examples of qualifications
|What they give you
More information on the frameworks and associated levels, including comparisons with other countries can be found on the Council for Curriculum, Examinations and Assessments (CCEA) website.
Checking if your country's qualifications are recognised in the UK
If you are resident in Northern Ireland and need to check your qualifications against UK equivalents, you can access a free Qualification Equivalence Service by contacting your nearest Careers Office.
Your qualifications will be checked against the UK National Recognition Information Centre (NARIC) database which will provide you with comparison information and advice on your specific qualifications.
Your country of origin needs to be listed on the NARIC databases to avail of this service and you will need to have a copy of your qualification certificates or details.
Free movement of professionals across the EU
If you are a non-UK National from a member state within the EU, EEA or Switzerland with professional qualifications and wish to work in Northern Ireland you may be eligible, under the EU Directive on the Mutual Recognition of Professional Qualifications for automatic or general recognition of your qualifications depending on your profession.
The UK Centre for Professional Qualifications (UK CPQ) is the National Contact Point (NCP) for Professional Qualifications in the United Kingdom. It is responsible for guiding professionals through the process of obtaining recognition for their professional qualifications in the UK and has a dedicated website which provides comprehensive advice and guidance for both individuals and employers.
More information can be found at the UK CPQ website:
Comparing qualification levels from outside Northern Ireland
There are 12 qualification levels in Scotland. These are set out in the Scottish Credit and Qualifications Framework
Irish qualifications are set out in the Irish National Framework of Qualifications
You can compare European qualification levels and also get information on specific qualifications that occupy those levels in national frameworks.
You can also contact the UK National Recognition Information Centre to compare a UK qualification with any non-UK qualification. There may be a fee for this.