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Vocational qualifications

What are the differences between A levels and Vocational Qualifications?

After Year 11 you can choose the following pathways: 

  • Academic: A levels, with options to take vocational qualifications like BTECs alongside or as alternatives to A levels. 
  • Vocational: T Levels, which are technical qualifications at Level 3, offering training for most occupations, or another vocational course  which is not a T Level or a Level 1 or 2 vocational course.  
  • Apprenticeships: Which are qualifications gained through training in a workplace

A Levels are academic and general qualifications and vocational 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 mostly offered through colleges.  Apprenticeship offer you training to learn the job as you do it, as an apprentice employed and trained by a company.

Check with your school/college/local training providers to see what is on offer. You can search providers here.

T Levels, A Levels and BTECs at Level 3 are all Level 3 qualifications. They are equivalent to each other in terms of grading for example an A Level grade A is equivalent to a BTEC Distinction grade and T Levels earn UCAS tariff points depending on grades

You can gain UCAS tariff points and progress on to university study from all of them. 

The differences:

A Levels

  • You usually take 3 or 4 different A Level subjects [or you can do one or two alongside an Alternative Academic qualifications (AAQs)].
  • 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

Alternative Academic qualifications (AAQs)

  • Alternative Academic qualifications (AAQs) are vocational qualifications which are better known by the exam board that awards them e.g. BTECs or Cambridge Technicals.
  • A lot of these vocational qualification will be offered as T Levels in the future, however, there will still be some that can be done alongside A Levels;
  • These qualifications offer the underpinning knowledge of a subject, practical skills and relevant work experience related to a job area or job. So these courses will suit you if you have an interest in a specific job area.
  • These subjects can be taken alongside A Levels at school or other combinations - check with your school/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 qualifications will allow you to access the course that you are interested in studying, as some degree courses have restrictions.

T Levels 

T Levels are Level 3 technical qualifications that relate to a vocational area. They are equivalent to 3 x A Levels. 

Which T Levels are offered and where can you study them near you?

They are:

  • 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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