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Qualifications Guide

Ways in which to learn and gain qualifications are changing, courses are now more flexible and there is a broader range to choose from

It can be quite confusing, but these pages will help you by explaining the different qualifications and levels. 

HLNSC specialises in offering vocational programmes. These are courses, often with a large practical element, on which you will learn about specific crafts and industry. This approach enables learners to develop skills relevant to the workplace or entry in to higher education, often gaining a range of industry specific qualifications during the course. 

These courses are suitable for people who have finished school, have few or no formal qualifications and may have learning difficulties. Extra support may be required to assist learning. From entry level courses, learners can progress onto Level 1 courses in their chosen area. 

Level 1 courses are full time and are usually completed over 1 year. Learners will need to show enthusiasm and commitment to the programme. Successful completion can then lead to the study of Level 2 courses, either studying full time in college or for an apprenticeship. 

Note: a further year of level 1 study may be required when progressing to a specific trade or apprenticeship programme. 

These Level 2 (intermediate) courses are full time and completed over 1 year. They are the equivalent to 4-5 GCSEs at grade 4 (formally grade C) or above. You will usually be required to have some GCSEs at grades 2/3 (formally grade E) and above to start a course at this level, or to have successfully completed a Level 1 programme. Level 2 Diploma courses have an emphasis on practical, work-related projects and assignments. You will develop skills that will help you either start your career or progress onto a Level 3 qualification. 

The Subsidiary Diploma is equivalent to 1 A level qualification* (usually 1 year’s full-time study), the Foundation Diploma is equivalent to 1.5 A levels (usually 1 year’s full-time study) the Diploma (1 or 2 years’ full-time study dependant upon subject) is equivalent to two A level qualifications* and the Extended Diploma (usually 2 years’ full-time study) is equivalent to three A level qualifications*. 

Extended Diplomas are full Level 3 (advanced) courses. They are widely accepted by universities as an entry qualification. These courses will give you a broad-based vocational understanding of your chosen career. You will usually be required to have 5 GCSEs at grade C and above (to include maths and English), a Level 2 Diploma or a Level 2 work-based Diploma for entry onto a course at this level. 

* Exact equivalents will depend on grade achieved and UCAS points gained. 

A levels are completed over 2 years. A levels offer you the opportunity to study in several subject areas in greater depth than your GCSEs. A Levels are offered at our Ludlow College campus. View A Levels at Ludlow. 

Technical Qualifications are practical courses that have been designed with employers. The advanced technical Diploma is equivalent to 1.5 A levels (usually 1 year’s full-time study) and the advanced Extended Technical Diploma is equivalent to 3 A levels (usually 2 year’s full-time study) . With these qualifications, you can progress to an apprenticeship, university or go straight into a job. 

T Levels are an alternative to A levels, apprenticeships and other 16 to 19 courses. Equivalent in size to 3 A levels, a T Level focuses on vocational skills and can help students into skilled employment, higher study or apprenticeships. 

Each T Level includes an in-depth industry placement that lasts at least 45 days. Students get valuable experience in the workplace; employers get early sight of the new talent in their industry. 

NVQs relate to real work, testing how competent you are in carrying out the tasks of a particular job. You will be required to produce a portfolio of evidence. Normally you will need to be in work to study an NVQ. The work should relate to the NVQ subject area. There are NVQs for almost every occupation. 

NVQ’s can be gained at 5 levels: 

  • Level 1 – Basic / Foundation level skills are assessed, most of which may be routine in the chosen job. 
  • Level 2 – Craft / Practical levels skills are assessed, the equivalent to GCSEs at grade C or above. 
  • Level 3 – Technician / Supervisory level. This is the equivalent to 2 A-Levels or AVCE Double Award. Activities are mainly complex and non-routine. 
  • Level 4 - Higher Technician, Junior Management. 
  • Level 5 - Professional, Middle Management. 

Higher Education

A HNC is a higher national certificate and a HND is a higher national diploma. Many HNDs include the HNC within their structure. The time it takes to complete each qualification will vary between different providers. These qualifications tend to be of a more practical and vocational nature. They are designed to give you the skills to put specialist knowledge to effective use in a particular job. 

They are reputable qualifications that are highly valued by employers both in the UK and overseas, and can also count towards membership of professional bodies and other employer organisations. See Higher Education section. 

Foundation degrees are nationally recognised qualifications focusing either on a particular job or profession; they combine work place learning with academic study. 

The study methods can be very flexible, which means that they are available to people already in work, those wishing to embark on a career change and to those who have recently completed Level 3 qualifications (e.g. A levels, Advanced Apprenticeships or NVQ3). 

A foundation degree is equivalent to two thirds of an honours degree. They aim to enhance the professional and technical skills of staff within a profession or those intending to go into that profession. 

You can use a foundation degree to: 

  • change careers or progress your current career 
  • gain technical and professional skills 
  • gain professional recognition 
  • achieve a full honours degree through further study 

Undergraduate or bachelors degrees are nationally recognised qualifications consisting of academic study designed to give you an in depth understanding of that particular subject. There are different titles and levels of degree, such as: 

  • BA - Bachelor of Arts 
  • BSc - Bachelor of Science 
  • BEd - Bachelor of Education 
  • BEng - Bachelor of Engineering 

Awarding Bodies

The majority of our qualifications are approved by the Quality Curriculum Authority, which means they are nationally recognised qualifications. They are accredited through nationally recognised awarding bodies or higher educational establishments, for example; Edexcel, NPTC, OCR (Oxford and Cambridge Royal Society of Arts) and City & Guilds. 


Three female students smiling and gathered around feeding an alpaca in reins by a student's hand outside at Walford College