Understanding Qualifications

Following an interesting conversation in the office about the differences between the qualifications available to managers; we realised that there is a lot of vague information out there and thought it would be useful to provide some specifics and answer some common questions asked around qualifications.

graduation-303565_640Why get a qualification?

A qualification sets out what an individual needs to know or be able to do in order to be given (awarded) that qualification.
For individuals, a qualification is proof that they have knowledge or a skill in a certain area. It can help them progress to higher education, get a job, get promoted, perform better and earn more.
For employers, having qualified employees demonstrates a competent workforce and therefore better performance results. If employers actively fund or part-fund qualifications for their employees, this demonstrates investment in people and helps them become a true employer of choice.

What is the difference between regulated and non-regulated qualifications?
Many qualifications offered in the UK are regulated, sometimes known as ‘accredited qualifications′. The awarding bodies who offer regulated qualifications have to be recognised by the qualifications regulator for each country in the UK.
Usually, qualifications have to be regulated in order for a college, training provider or a school to receive public funding for their learners. Most awarding bodies also have qualifications that are not regulated. This might include some professional body qualifications, those developed for a single employer or those only offered overseas.
Regulated qualifications in England, Wales and Northern Ireland are in one of the following frameworks:

  • National Qualifications Framework (NQF)
  • Qualifications and Credit Framework (QCF)
  • Framework for Higher Education Qualifications (FHEQ)

Regulated qualifications carry more weight than non-regulated, and many employers will only be interested in regulated qualifications. These are listed on the websites of the qualification regulators. The most comprehensive list is the Ofqual Register which has a searchable database of all qualifications that are regulated in England.
You can search the Register of Regulated Qualifications to find out:
• if a qualification is regulated (officially recognised)
• what level it is on the National Qualifications Framework (NQF) or Qualifications and Credit Framework (QCF)
The register includes GCSE, A level, AS level and vocational (work related) qualifications in England and Northern Ireland.

What are the different types of qualifications available? 
The UK education sector offers a wide range of qualification types which are given by recognised awarding bodies.

Qualifications are categorised in many different ways and in reality there is no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ way. At Adalta we believe that all qualifications can be broadly categorised as follows:

• Academic / General
• Vocational

Academic / General Qualifications
Academic or ‘general’ qualifications are those qualifications that are not linked to a specific employment role or industry. These are the qualifications that are usually undertaken at an educational or scholarly institution or environment. e.g. schools, colleges or universities.

These qualifications are usually linked to a specific subject that is studied by the learner, for example, maths, english, ICT, chemistry.

The levels of academic (or general) qualifications range from entry level (for example applied qualifications in functional skills, i.e. maths, English and ICT skills) through to Level 8 (for example a Doctorate).

Listed below are some examples of such qualifications:
• Functional Skills. They are qualifications which allow the learners to acquire practical skills such as English, math, and ICT. In Scotland, Functional Skills are known as Core Skills.
• Entry Level Qualifications. These are intended for learners who do not feel ready yet for the General Certificate of Secondary Education (GCSE). Entry Level Qualifications offer the ability to choose between a range of subjects but they focus on a specific subject or area of learning, allowing the learner to develop the basic knowledge and skills either for work or to continue education. The Standard Grade is equivalent to Entry Level Qualifications in Scotland. (Note: Some entry level qualifications are vocational as they develop the learners skills for a particular role or industry)
• GSCEs Qualifications. The GSCEs programmes are taken by 14 to 16 year olds, however, they are also available to adults. The GSCEs Qualifications are highly desirable because they are highly valued by both the schools and employers. The Higher in Scotland is equivalent to the GSCEs.
• A and AS Level Qualifications. These qualifications are intended for learners who want to get a deeper knowledge of a particular subject and are usually studied by 16 and 18 years olds who have completed the GSCEs. Learners in Scotland who have completed Highers usually take Advanced Higher although some schools also offer A Level Qualifications.
• Higher Education Qualifications. They roughly correspond to levels 4 to 8 in the QCF, however, qualifications such as Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees, and doctorates remain a part of the FHEQ. In the SCQF, they correspond to levels 7 to 12.

Vocational Qualifications
Vocational qualifications offer practical learning programmes that relate to specific job roles or employment sectors. They are designed to enable the learner to acquire knowledge and skills that are required to be able to perform competently in a particular job role or employment sector.

An occupational vocational qualification guarantees that the held qualification complies to the national occupational standards (NOS) for a particular job role or sector, such as management and leadership, healthcare, accounting, construction.

Example: the Chartered Management Institute (CMI) offer occupational vocational qualifications in management for Levels 1-8. They are the only chartered management awarding body in the UK and they work strategically with the Council for Administration (CFA) to help set the National Occupational Standards for Management and Leadership. All CMI qualifications are derived from these National Occupational Standards and are accredited on the UK Qualifications Credit Framework (QCF) and the European Qualifications Framework (EQF), meaning these vocational qualifications are recognised throughout the UK and Europe.
Vocational qualifications distinguish themselves for giving the emphasis on the knowledge and skills that are sought after the most by the industry and employers.
It is important to be mindful that not all vocational qualifications meet the NOS standards that are defined by the Sector Skills Council and the industry. This does not necessarily mean that they do not allow the learners to pursue learning or be promoted in their workplace. All accredited vocational qualifications are designed to help the learner acquire the necessary knowledge and skills for a particular job, progress their career or continue education.
Most vocational qualifications are made up of a number of units, each of which has a credit value that allows the learner to roughly predict how long he or she will need to achieve the desired qualification. In some qualifications a learner may have to do all of the units to get the qualification. In the majority of vocational qualifications some of these units will be required units (mandatory) and there will be number of other units to choose from (optional).
Listed below are popular examples of such qualifications:

Progression Awards, Certificates and Diplomas
Progression awards, certificates, diplomas are designed for people who want to develop the knowledge, skills and behaviours that will enable them to progress within an existing role and/or develop for future roles. They are the preferred choice for organisations for whom talent management and succession-planning is important, and learners who wish to progress their career within their chosen field.
The main difference between these types of vocational qualifications and traditional NVQs is that they require the learner to applying conceptual and critical thinking skills to relate proven concepts, theories and best practice to deal with a range of situations and challenges that their current/future role may present. These qualifications are generally the preferred option for more experienced employees, particularly those in a managerial (or aspiring managerial) capacity. They are also geared towards continuous development and growth as there are structured levels to work towards (from entry level to Level 8).
They are usually studied by individuals via supported distance learning or in groups as part of a corporate programme. Depending on the length of the qualification, learners can study for an Award, a Certificate or a Diploma. In terms of time required, the Award consists of the fewest Units, the Diploma consists of the highest number of Units. Assessment is usually via work-based assignments.

National Vocational Qualifications (NVQs) are qualifications related to a particular industry or sector and are based on national standards for various occupations. The standards indicate what a competent person in a job is expected to do. They work by testing the learner’s abilities in the workplace. To complete an NVQ learners need to prove that they can do certain work-related tasks. NVQs are typically completed at work, college or as part of an Apprenticeship.

To study for a NVQ learners need to be in employed in a role relevant to the NVQ they study, or have access to a suitable work placement. A NVQ is a ‘competence-based’ qualification. Learners must demonstrate competence in practical, work-related tasks designed to develop the skills and knowledge to effectively do a particular job. For this reason NVQs are best suited to develop/prove competence in an existing role, rather than be used to support career progression or test learners ability to think conceptually, analyse and draw conclusions.

NVQs work NVQs are assessed in a combination of ways: By portfolio – learners build up evidence of what they have done at work; and by observation – an assessor observes them in the workplace and checks they can perform the tasks competently in the workplace.

BTECs, City & Guilds , OCR Cambridge Nationals and NCFE V Certs
These are available in a wide range of subjects. Learners choose these courses if they are interested in learning more about a particular sector or industry. These qualifications offer a mix of theory and practice and can also include an element of work experience.

They are usually studied full-time at college, or sometimes at school (or in collaboration between a school and college). They can also be undertaken part-time. These courses are usually taken by learners over 16, in some sixth forms and also in colleges.

To find out more about the levels of qualifications available and which awarding bodies govern qualifications, please mail us at

Adalta deliver the full range of management qualifications from level 2 (team leader) to level 7 (senior manager). Please view for more information.

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