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Vocational qualifications

What are the differences between A levels and Vocational Qualifications?

Depending on your sixth form/sixth form college you may have the choice to study A levels on their own or alongside Applied General Qualifications e.g BTECs. Further Education Colleges will offer Applied General Qualifications and T Levels.

A Levels are academic and general qualifications and Applied General Qualifications are courses that are about a vocational area and more practical. T Levels are technical qualifications, equivalent to 3 A Levels that combine classroom study and work placements and train you to do a job.

They are:

  • Equivalent to each other in terms of grading for example an A Level grade A is equivalent to a BTEC Distinction grade.
  • You can gain UCAS tariff points and progress on to university study with either A Levels, Applied General Qualifications or T Levels.

The differences:

A Levels

  • You usually take 3 or 4 different A Level subjects [or you can do one or two alongside an Applied General Qualification].
  • A Levels are general and academic and are a good choice if you want to keep your career options open.
  • You can choose a subject you enjoyed at GCSE or pick up a new subject such as Law, Economics or Psychology.
  • Some degrees and universities will only accept specific subjects and grades for entry to certain degree courses at university.
  • A Levels do not suit everyone. They are usually assessed at the end of two years by final exams, so you need to be good at independent study, revision and exam technique .

Careerpilot also has a whole section about A Levels and how to choose them

Applied General Qualifications

  • Applied General Qualifications are better known by the exam board they use e.g. BTECs or Cambridge Technicals.
  • There are a wide range of Applied General Qualifications available, from animal care to performing arts and business to graphic design at lots of different levels.
  • These qualifications offer the underpinning knowledge of a subject, practical skills and relevant work experience. So these courses will suit you if you have an interest in a specific job area eg Health and Social Care.
  • These subjects can be taken alongside two A Levels at school or as one course equivalent to two or three A Levels at college.
  • Generally there are less exams and a range of different assessment methods are likely to be used - such as assignments, tests, observations of learner performance, role-play, work-based assessment, production of visual or audio materials and products. These courses tend to suit people who prefer coursework to exams.
  • Most students progress on to university to study a degree or go on to an apprenticeship after these qualifications.
  • If you are intending to study at university in the future it is worth checking if your vocational qualification will allow you to access the course that you are interested in studying, as some degree courses have restrictions.

T Levels 

The government introduced T Levels in 2020. T Levels are Level 3 technical qualifications that relate to a vocational area. They are equivalent to 3 x A Levels. Which vocational subjects are offered and where can you study them near you?

  • Two year Level 3 qualifications -  equivalent to 3 x A levels.
  • Lead to a specific occupation and available in a whole range of different areas from Cyber Security to Wildlife Management.
  • Designed by professional bodies, employers and universities so that they are relevant and up to date.
  • Include at least 3 months work experience and opportunity to build transferable skills and knowledge related to the job area.
  • Progress on to higher level apprenticeships, jobs and university.

Who are they for?

They are for 16 - 19 year olds who want to focus on developing skills and knowledge of a specific occupation or job sector.  

UCAS Points for higher education awarded for vocational qualifications

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