Qualifications ladder

Explaining all of our course titles and course levels

Everyone knows about GCSEs and A Levels. Our Sixth Form teaches a wide variety of A Level courses in academic subjects that enable students to apply for university courses. We also teach Higher Education courses such as Foundation Degrees and HND/HNCs. But what about all of our other, 'vocational' courses, that you can take instead of doing A Levels? What are they about and how valuable are they?

Vocational courses give you the skills you need to start a successful career. These are the skills and qualifications that employers look for. There are thousands of different vocational qualifications to choose from in this country, and just to make it more complicated, many university courses accept students who have done vocational qualifications instead of A Levels.

What do the course titles mean?

Let's look at an example: Web Design - First Diploma in IT, Level 2 (Edexcel). Web Design is the simple description of what the course covers. First Diploma in IT is the qualification you receive when you successfully complete the course. Level 2 tells you what that qualification is worth. Look on the table below to see how it fits in with all of the other qualifications! You will see a little coloured ladder next to each course title on this website to tell you which level it is. (Edexcel) is the name of the awarding body that created the course and tests the students; other awarding bodies are City & Guilds, VTCT and so on; you don't need to worry about which awarding body is involved, as they are all recognised by the government.

What are these qualifications worth?

The Qualifications Ladder shows you all of the different qualifications at each Level of study. So, when we say that a Level 3 Extended Diploma is equivalent to three A Levels, that is a fact that is recognised by the government nationally.


Vocational Courses

Entry Requirements

Academic Courses

When completed

Level 7



Degree or professional qualification

Masters Degrees

Progress to a PhD or use your skills to start work

Level 6

    - Bachelors and Honours Degrees
- Graduate Certificates and Diplomas

Progress to a higher degree
or use your skills to start work

Level 5

HNCs and HNDs

Foundation Degrees

Level 3 qualification or work experience

Progress to university or use your skills to start work

Level 4

Higher Level Apprenticeships

Level 3 qualification or work experience

Progress to university or use your skills to start work


Level 3


Advanced Apprenticeships

Awards Certificates Diplomas  

GCSEs Grade A*-C
or Level 2 Diploma

A Levels

Advanced Diploma

Progress to university or use skills to start work

Level 2


Awards Certificates Diplomas

GCSEs at   Grade D or Level 1 Diploma

GCSEs Grades A*-C

Higher Diploma

Progress to Level 3 study or use skills to start work

Level 1

Awards Certificates Diplomas

Interview. Formal qualifications are not always required

GCSEs Grades   D-G

Foundation Diploma

Progress to Level 2 study


(Entry 1, 2 or 3)

Our courses prepare you for further study

Interview and assessment

Progress to Level 1 study

Which level of course should I apply for?

Whether you come down to one of the College open events, or you complete an online application form, you will find yourself being interviewed by one of our  lecturers. They will ask you questions about your school work and your results, and suggest which level of course you should study for. Sometimes, you may be asked to do an assessment, too, just to make sure that you start on the right course for you!

How long will I be at College for?

Some students join us for a one-year or eighteen-month apprenticeship and then continue with their apprenticeship employer. Many use their strong GCSE performance to join us at Level 2 for a year, progress to Level 3 for another year, and then head off to employment or university. And others join at Entry Level or Level 1 and then keep studying until they are ready for work. It’s entirely up to you!

Remember, if you don't understand which course you should be applying for, freephone 0800 622006 or come down to one of the open events. All questions are welcome.