VQs Explained
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VQs Explained

Vocational Education and Vocational qualifications explained

First published date March 18 2011 Amended date October 20 2015

What is vocational education? What are vocational qualifications?  A tad confused?

Vocational education is a type of education in which students are trained in practical skills which, prepares the trainee for jobs at various levels. In vocational education,  is taught procedural knowledge ie the knowledge to perform some form of task.

Vocational qualifications can be very useful stepping-stones to many careers. With the ever-increasing numbers of students progressing to higher education, there is a mounting demand for flexible, highly skilled workers who do not necessarily need to have a degree or A-levels.

Employers are advocating vocational qualifications that equip young people with the skills and attitudes that build business, and are recruiting those who have work experience or occupational training.

Qualifications can be classified into three types – general, vocational and occupational. General qualifications are focused on a specific subject, for example, GCSE science, history, or music. Vocational qualifications provide a broad introduction to a particular vocational area such as manufacturing, art and design, or health and social care. Occupational qualifications are related to a specific job and are based on the knowledge and skills needed in that career. These include administration, commercial horticulture, food preparation and cooking. Many students combine different types of qualification to suit their own goals.

If you think that perhaps you’d like to do a course or qualification that’s more vocational than the traditional A-level route, then here’s our overview of some of the different qualifications available through voactional education.

14-19 Diplomas

Whether you have a career in mind, hope to go to university or just want to see what’s out there, a diploma is the perfect way to explore your options. They offer a mix of classroom learning and hands-on experience – you can design your own programme of study to prepare you for wherever you want to go in life. All diplomas have been developed by employers, schools, colleges and universities to help young people realise their potential and gain knowledge and skills in a ‘real world’ environment. Started in September 2008, you can now pick from up to 10 diploma subjects, including Environmental and Land-based Studies, Creative and Media and Manufacturing and Product Design.


BTEC/OCR Nationals

BTEC qualifications and OCR Nationals are work-related qualifications, available in a wide range of subjects. They are developed to provide preparation for employment, further vocational study, or career development for those already in work. You can take one if you are interested in learning more about a particular sector or industry. Many have been designed in collaboration with industry, so they can equip you with the skills and knowledge that employers are looking for. The qualifications offer a mix of theory and practice, and can also include an element of work experience.



If you like the idea of getting paid while you learn, then an apprenticeship could be a great opportunity for you to enter the world of work whilst continuing to study. They enable you to start a job, earn some cash, and learn new to skills to broaden your prospects and career options at the same time.


NVQ (National Vocational Qualification)

NVQs are hands-on courses that you can use in the world of work, giving you the choice of full or part-time study. There are over 1,300 different NVQs to choose from and are split into NVQ level 1, 2, 3, 4, and NVQ level 5 . Unlike BTECs, NVQs normally don’t lead on to higher education but you can achieve them as part of completing an apprenticeship. They assess the application of skills, knowledge and understanding in a specific occupation and are awarded to students who provide evidence of competence in one of 11 occupational areas. This means you learn practical, work-related tasks designed to help you develop the skills and knowledge to do a job effectively. They are based on national occupational standards (the standards say what a competent person in a job could be expected to do) and don’t have to be taken within a specific length of time. You can take NVQs if you are a school or college student and have a work placement or part-time job, or if you’re in employment.


AS and A-levels

You may decide that A-levels are for you after all, and they are perfect if you want to study a particular subject in detail. A-levels are single subject qualifications, normally lasting two years in a school or college and focussing on traditional study skills. They are split into two parts, the Advanced Subsidiary level (AS) and the A2 level (second year). The AS is both the first half of an A-level and a qualification in its own right. Many students use AS and A-levels to go on to university, but they’re also useful if you want to go straight into a job.


A-levels in applied subjects

Previously called VCEs (Vocational Certificate of Education), these are general qualifications providing an introduction to one of 10 broad vocational areas such as engineering or tourism. Like traditional A-levels, they normally take two years to complete. These might be for you if you want to go on to university but are looking for a more vocational learning experience.



Finacial Help
Generally, if you’re thinking about taking any type of course, you’ll probably also be considering the financial implications of it and how you will be able to afford to take up studying. If you are leaving your job to study full time, the money side of things is definitely worth paying some thought to. 



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