Qualifications Explained

Something for everyone
Shrewsbury College offers a diverse range of subjects for students at all stages in their education. No matter what level you are at, we will find the appropriate course for you, whether that be Higher Education, Vocational Diplomas, Vocational Diplomas coupled with A Levels, Apprenticeships, GCSEs in Maths and English, or our ‘Work Ready’ and ‘College Ready’ Programmes. We also offer a broad range of part time courses for those wishing to develop a skill or hobby.  The jargon can be confusing, so below we have aimed to explain what the various qualifications are. Please contact us or attend our next Advice Event if we can help clarify this further.

Choices vary with different levels but you can choose to study:

  • One or two vocational subjects
  • Vocational subjects combined with A Levels
  • Subjects on a full-time or part-time basis
  • Apprenticeships
  • Higher / degree level courses

Vocational qualifications are available as Awards, Certificates and Diplomas with many achieved through subject specialist awarding bodies regulated by Sector Skills Councils – meaning the qualifications have been designed with employers to meet their needs. Depending upon your achievement in GCSE and equivalent qualifications, you will start your course at Entry, Level 1, 2 or 3. However for some trades, everyone starts at Level 1 or 2 as it’s about developing the skills relevant to the trade.

You can combine vocational qualifications at Level 3 with an A Level or one or two vocational subjects at Level 2. Many universities prefer the BTEC diplomas as entry to degrees, as BTECs prepare you for study, research and independent thinking. We can help you make the right choice at advice events.

Changes to GCSE grades

The government has introduced a new numerical grading system for GCSEs that will replace the current system of grades A* - U. Grade 4 is equivalent to a low grade C and grade 5 a high C. Grade 4 will continue to be a level 2 achievement and will not require students to re-sit. It is however best to check the entry requirements for each course as there may be some variations.

As a general rule this will apply:

Level 3   4-5 GCSES A*-C or grades 9 - 4
Level 2   2-3 GCSES or more at grade D or grade 3
Level 1 1-2 GCSES or more at grade E or grades 3 - 1

This document explains the new grading in more detail. The Department for Education has produced this handy parent guide to GCSE grades. This will start with only English and maths GCSEs taken in 2017. The new grading structure will be applied to other GCSE subjects in 2018 and 2019.


Equivalent to BTEC Introductory Diploma and NVQ Level 1
These courses are normally for one year and are suitable if you have finished school with few or no formal qualifications and may have extra study or support needs. You can progress to a Level 1 course in your chosen area.


Equivalent to 4 or 5 GCSEs, NVQ Level 2 or BTEC First Diploma
Usually one year and are suitable if you have achieved some GCSEs at grades D–G or have passed a Level 1 qualification.


Equivalent to AS/A Level, BTEC National Diploma or NVQ Level 3
Normally taken over two years and are suitable if you have gained four or more GCSEs at grade C or above or have passed a Level 2 qualification with an overall merit or distinction.


Equivalent to HNC, HND, Foundation degree
This is a higher level qualification and during year 2 of a Level 3 course, you may work towards units of a Level 4 qualification with the option of continuing with this the following year. Many students do progress from a Level 3 course to an HE course.

NVQs (National Vocational Qualifications)

Based on an area of work and the skills needed to do a specific job within that area. They are available at Levels 1-5 and assess the competency and knowledge required to do a particular job. NVQs can be studied full-time in subjects such as hairdressing and catering, where the College can provide a realistic working environment. NVQs are also available through work-based learning, where students split their time between college and work, perhaps on an Apprenticeship programme.

Professional Industry-recognised qualifications

A range of well-respected and widely-recognised qualifications are offered in professions such as Accountancy, Administration, Beauty Therapy, Catering, Childcare, Construction, Hairdressing and Teaching. These courses are often available from Level 2 to Level 6 and include AAT (Association of Accounting Technicians), and CACHE (The Council for Awards in Children's Care and Education).


These work-based learning courses give students the opportunity to earn money with an employer whilst attending College. Shrewsbury College offers training and placements in a variety of occupational areas. More details are available on our Apprenticeship section.

Work Ready

This programme is for students wishing to progress onto traineeships, apprenticeships or paid employment. The programme will include Employability, English, Maths, workplace visits, work experience, volunteering, careers input and employer projects. There are no curriculum tasters in this programme as the focus is on developing students for the workplace.

College Ready

This programme is for students wishing to progress onto further study and will include Employability, English and Maths, with the majority of time spent in curriculum areas working at Award and Certificate levels. There is no work experience in this study programme as the focus is on developing academic skills for entry onto Level 2 programmes. Further information can be found here.

Website Maintained by MoreSoda

© Copyright 2009-2018 Shrewsbury College