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GCSE & School Leaver Qualifications Explained

AS and A Levels

AS and A Levels are the most common qualification for school leavers and they are highly valued by employers. They are recommended if you want to study a particular subject in detail. Universities also require most applicants to be qualified to this level.

AS and A Level qualifications normally take two years to complete and you can chose from a range of academic subjects. There are around 80 subjects to choose from, some having a work-related focus.

A Levels are spilt into two units and each part makes up 50% of the overall A Level grade.

AS Level

You study the AS units in the first year of your course. If you pass the AS units in a subject, you will gain an AS qualification called an AS Level. At the end of the AS year, you have two options:
  • Take the AS level qualification only
  • Go onto the second year and finish through to achieve the full A Level.
A2 Units

The A2 units are studied in the second year of your course, it is the second level of the A Level, and it is not a separate qualification. Once you complete your AS level and A2 unit of your course you would then have gained your A Level qualification.

Who can take them?

Most students take AS and A levels in years 12 and 13, after finishing their GCSEs. Generally, you need at least five GCSEs at grade A*- C for you to be allowed to study for these qualifications and in some schools and colleges they also ask that you have GCSE grade C or above in English and maths.


NVQ stands for National Vocational Qualification. It is an occupational qualification that develops the skills and knowledge that is needed in a specific job in a specific industry. Young people aged 16 to 19 will usually work towards NVQs at Levels 1 to 3.
There are over 1,300 different NVQs to choose from including:
  • Business and management
  • Sales, marketing and distribution
  • Construction and property
  • Manufacturing, production and engineering
  • Food, catering and leisure services.
NVQs are seen as a great stepping stone for further learning and employment.


This stands for Vocationally Related Qualification. This type of qualification is offered by awarding bodies such as City & Guilds and BTEC Edexcel and can be taken at many different sizes and levels.

Vocational qualifications such as BTECs offer a mix of theory and practice as it is a work related qualification. Many forms of the BTEC have been designed in collaboration with the industry so that they can equip you with skills and knowledge that employers are looking for.

Key Skills

Key Skills refer to the skills that are usually needed in education and training and work and life in general. These skills are transferable therefore once you've got them; you can use them in different situations.

Key Skills can be taken by anyone and there are no minimum entry requirements and you can study them alongside other qualifications such as GCSEs or an apprenticeship.

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