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. Further Education Colleges will offer Applied General Qualifications and also T Levels (T Levels are new find out more here).

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. 

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 tarrif points and progress on to university study with either A Levels, Applied General Qualifications or T Levels.

The differences:

A Levels

  • Over 300 000 young people chose to do A Levels last year.
  • You usually take 3 or 4 different A Level subjects [or 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.
  • 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

Over 200 000 young people chose to study a Level 3 vocational qualification last year. 

These qualifications are known as Applied General Qualifications or known by the exam board they take e.g. BTEC 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 student 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 course have restrictions.

T Levels - new for 2020

The government is introducing a new qualification in 2020 called T Levels. T Levels are Level 3 technical qualifications that relate to a vocational area. They are equivalent to 3 x A Levels. For more information about T Levels, which vocational subjects they will be offered in and where they will be on offer near you, click here.

Future Developments

Whilst A Levels are staying, the government is bringing in new vocational courses from 2020 called T Levels. Because of this they are currently reviewing the future of Applied General Qualifications like BTEC or similar. It would be a good idea to check what your local sixth forms and colleges are going to be offering in terms of vocational qualifications in the future.

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