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Everything you need to know about the Qualifications and Credits Framework (QCF)

When looking for courses, particularly of the more vocational variety, it can be really confusing to work out what level they're at, especially if you've already got some under your belt and want to study the next one up.

Jade O'Donoghue
12th February 2016
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However the Qualifications and Credit Framework should be able to help and guide you. You've probably seen the name (and the acronym) everywhere when you’ve been looking for courses but it can be a bit baffling - how can an apprenticeship actually be at the same level as a degree? Allow us to explain exactly how it all works...


Working out the value of your training

In short, the QCF is your best friend when it comes to working out the value of the qualification you are hoping to gain – is it at the same level as a GCSE or are you actually studying at postgraduate level? Is the qualification going to take years to complete, like a diploma? Or just a few weeks, like an award? And do you actually have enough qualifications to start this course in the first place? These are really important questions when making decisions about learning and the whole aim of the Qualifications and Credit Framework is to ensure your choice is an informed one because in using it you can compare academic and vocational qualifications and really work out what level each of them can take you to.


The framework formerly known as...

The QCF used to be known as the National Qualification Framework (NQF) and in some places you might still see this used. They mean the same thing though, so don’t let that confuse you. The QCF as its known today was introduced as a replacement to the NQF in 2010 so any qualifications starting from September 2011 will be valued using the new system.

Note though, that the SCQF is different. This is the Scottish Credit and Qualifications Framework and it focuses on levels of qualifications in Scotland since these are different to those awarded in other parts of the UK.


How it works

The Qualifications and Credits Framework awards credit values to the units and levels that make up qualifications in order to compare different things you can learn. Each credit is equal to ten hours of study so you can get an idea of roughly how long the qualification will take to complete. The different levels are awarded according to how complex and difficult the qualification is.

So for each qualification you’re hoping to take, you should be able to tell firstly what level it is at (from entry level to level 8) and then how many credits it is worth and thus how long it will take to complete.

Ofqual monitors the process by which the QCF awards levels and credits to ensure it is fair and accurate.


The levels and what qualifications you'll find at them

This is roughly what the framework looks like (below) but there may be qualifications not listed here, for example dance exams. If you're not sure of what level your qualification is at, the best thing to do is contact the awarding organisation who will have this information to hand and be able to explain how it compares. This is the basic QCF though -


Level One

- GCSEs grades D-G

- Level 1 Diplomas


Level Two

- GCSEs grades A-C

- Level 2 Diplomas

- Intermediate Apprenticeship


Level Three

- AS Levels

- A Levels

- Level 3 Diplomas (AKA National Certificates)

- Level 3 Extended Diplomas (AKA National Diplomas)

- Advanced Apprenticeship


Level Four

- First year of an undergraduate degree

- First year of a foundation degree

- HNC (Higher National Certificate)

- Higher Apprenticeship


Level Five

- Second year of an undergraduate degree

- Second year of a foundation degree

- HND (Higher National Diploma)


Level Six

- Completed undergraduate degree


Level Seven

- Master's degree

- Other postgraduate qualifications eg PGCE


Level Eight

- PhD


The most important thing when choosing your qualification is whether it's right for you, which means weighing up a lot of different things, from which subject to choose, to where you're actually going to take the course. The level you take does matter though and it will become a factor in whether you're able to even apply for the course since you'll need to be qualified to the previous level in most cases in order to move on. Just remember, the Qualifications and Credits Framework is another tool to help you make the right choice and shouldn't be the only thing you base your decision on. We just hope we've gone some way to explaining it before you start the process!

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