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Student in the libraryQualifications Explained

Home Qualifications Explained


A-levels, Apprenticeships, NVQs, BTECs, Derby College offers a range of courses offering different qualifications and study levels.


Choosing a course can be difficult; however here at Derby College there is plenty of support and guidance available to help you make the right decision.


Study levels


Most courses are split into 'levels' (eg Level 2, Level 3). These levels range from Entry Level up to Level 8.


The level best for you will depend on any existing qualifications and experience.  In most cases, you will need to have a Level 2 qualification in a relevant subject to join a Level 3 course, a Level 1 qualification to join a Level 2 course and so on.


Further Education courses, including Apprenticeships, A-levels and BTECs, are part of the National Qualifications Framework (NQF) and are broken down into:

  • Entry Level courses
  • Level 1 courses
  • Level 2 courses
  • Level 3 courses

Higher Education courses are typically classed at between Level 4 and Level 6. Vocational courses are part of the new Qualifications and Credit Framework (QCF) and available from Entry Level to Level 8.




Apprenticeships are designed to give young people valuable qualifications, vital work experience - and a salary while studying.


Apprenticeships at Derby College are available in a range of subjects including business, construction, engineering, retail and sport.


Apprenticeships are available at Level 2, Level 3 and Level 4 as an Apprenticeship, an Advanced Apprentice or a Higher Apprenticeship.


More information on Apprenticeships


AS and A2 levels


A-Levels usually take two years to complete and are classed as Level 3 qualifications. Each year is split into units; AS in the first year and A2 in the second year. At Derby College you can study up to four AS Levels in your first year.


A-levels at Derby College


14-19 Diplomas


14-19 Diplomas are a new qualification designed to help young people develop the skills needed for further study or work in a certain sector.


At Derby College, 14-19 Diplomas are offered at Level 1 as a Foundation Diploma or Level 2 as a Higher Diploma.


14-19 Diplomas are developed in collaboration with schools; students need to access these courses through their current school.


More information on 14-19 Diplomas


Foundation Degrees


Foundation Degrees are university-level qualifications designed to give you the skills needed to work in a particular industry.


Learning is usually split between the workplace and traditional College-based lectures and lessons.


Foundation Degrees can provide a route into higher education, give your career prospects a boost or help with a career change. Part-time and full-time courses are usually available, with Foundation Degrees classed as Level 5 qualifications.


More information on Foundation Degrees


Functional Skills


Functional Skills are practical skills in English, maths and ICT - usually completed as part of another qualification such as an Apprenticeship or Diploma.


These new qualifications are a great way to boost the skills needed for further study or in the workplace.


Functional Skills are available from Entry Level to Level 2.




GCSEs are Level 1 and Level 2 qualifications (depending on the grades achieved).


Although usually completed in Years 10 and 11 at school, GCSEs are open to everyone.


At Derby College we offer a number of GCSE courses for students looking to re-sit and improve grades or for adult students returning to education.


Search for GCSEs at Derby College


HNCs and HNDs


HNCs (Higher National Certificates) and HNDs (Higher National Diplomas) are Level 4 and Level 5 higher education qualifications.


Although university-level courses, HNCs and HNDs are designed to give leaners the skills needed to work in a certain industry.


Both can be studied full-time or part-time. HNCs typically take two years to complete part time, while a part-time HND can take between four and five years to complete.


HNCs and HNDs can take you straight into employment or lead on to a Bachelors degree.


See the Higher Education section for more information on HNCs and HNDs




NVQs or National Vocational Qualifications are work-based qualifications designed to help you develop the skills and knowledge to do a particular job well.


NVQs can be taken on their own or as part of an Apprenticeship. Level 1, 2 and 3 NVQ courses are available at Derby College.


Vocational qualifications


Vocational qualifications often shortened to VQs or vocationally related qualifications (VRQs) are designed to give you work-based skills employers are looking for.


There are various types of vocational qualifications available from Entry Level to Level 8. The three main categories of VRQs are:

  • Awards, Certificates and Diplomas - these flexible qualifications can be taken on their own or as part of an Apprenticeship. Level 2 Awards, Certificates and Diplomas are equivalent to GCSEs at A*-C, while Level 3 qualifications are equivalent to A-levels.
  • BTECs - BTECs are available at Entry Level, Level 1, Level2 and Level 3 in a number of subject areas. BTECs can vary from subject to subject, with some assessed via a portfolio of work and others calling for project work, assignments, written tests and coursework.
  • National Awards and Certificates - These qualifications can be taken at Level 1, Level 2 or Level 3 and are purely practical courses based around gaining work-related skills.
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