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Vocational qualifications

What are vocational qualifications?

Vocational courses are designed to help you learn in a practical way about a specific job area or to train to do a job. They can help you get the skills you need to start a job, progress in a career or go on to higher education.

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

There are vocational qualifications in a wide range of subjects at all levels, from Entry Level right up to Level 8 - you can look at the Careerpilot Qualification Planner to view all the different qualifications and levels.

Different vocational course options:

Job Related Vocational Qualifications

Vocational subjects which you can do alongside A Levels will be called Alternative Academic qualifications, these will be general qualifications that develop practical skills and knowledge related to a broad job area. They are offered in both schools and colleges. They include a significant amount of classroom-based activities. Assessment is usually by both written course work and practical examinations. Examples of these qualifications include BTEC and Cambridge Technicals. In the future, some job pathways will only offer a T Level.

Courses that prepare you for a specific job

These vocational courses provide specific job related training and qualifications such as in plumbing, hairdressing, catering, etc. They are offered at Further Education Colleges. They are usually very practical and involve learning in real situations, with real customers, such as cutting hair in the college salon which will be open to the public, cooking for paying customers in the college restaurant or installing bathrooms in the plumbing workshops. Courses in most of these job areas which are Level 3, will now be offered as T Levels, through a college. 


Apprenticeships will train you to do a job in the workplace. Because you will be doing the job as you learn you will get paid as an apprentice. As an apprentice you will do a combination of technical and professional qualifications either online or in a college setting and also be assessed on your skills and competence in the work place.

T Levels

T level qualifications are 2-year qualifications that you can do after GCSEs as an alternative to A levels or an apprenticeship.

T-levels have been designed with leading businesses and employers to give you the knowledge and skills you need for work. They are equivalent to three A Levels. They are offered in a growing range of vocational areas and delivered by colleges and in some schools in partnership with local employers. They enable students to progress on to higher level apprenticeships, university or into work.

You can find out more about T Levels here.

Not all colleges will offer all T Levels, you will also find that some schools might offer one or more T Levels.

Find your nearest T-level

When can I take a vocational qualification and where will they lead? 

Some schools offer vocational qualifications alongside your GCSE subjects. However, vocational qualifications are mainly for 16 to 19 year olds.

Vocational qualifications have been designed in partnership with employers, universities and professional or trade organisations - this means they help you develop the skills that employers want. You can also acquire the knowledge needed to progress to a higher level - such as degree level courses or apprenticeships. 

Careerpilot has information on lots of different job sectors. Each sector has hundreds of job profiles explaining what is involved, what you will earn, routes into the job, etc.

How do they compare?

  • Level 1 vocational qualifications builds confidence and helps  people prepare for further learning and work.
  • Level 2 vocational qualifications are the equivalent of GCSE grades 9 to 4.
  • Level 3 vocational qualifications are equivalent to A levels. 
  • Level 4 and 5 vocational qualifications are equivalent to the first and second year of a degree.
  • Level 6 vocational qualifications are equivalent to an honours degree. 

You can compare qualifications using our helpful tools.

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