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Qualification reform

Qualifications in the UK are currently undergoing significant reform. Here you'll find support materials, including videos explaining the changes.
The increasing diversity of qualifications around the UK
An introduction to understanding key differences in qualifications across the UK in light of their increasing divergence, such as structural differences between A levels.
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A level changes in England
A level reform in England, including the decoupling of the AS and A level and changes to how science practical is assessed.
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AS changes in England
AS reform in England, exploring its value as a standalone qualification, decoupled from the full A level.
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Changes to the Science A level in England
Science A level reform in England, focusing on the separate pass/fail grading for the practical element.
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Vocational qualification changes in England
Changes to vocational qualification in England, including the Applied General and Tech Level classifications.
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GCSE changes in England
GCSE reform in England, including changes to the grading scale used.
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Curriculum for Excellence explained
The principles behind Curriculum for Excellence and its implications for qualifications delivery in Scotland, including the increasing diversity in provision.
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Reform to Scottish Advanced Highers explained
A high level overview of the reform to Scottish Advanced Highers, which will be first taught in the 2015/16 academic year.
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Reform to Scottish Highers explained
A high level overview of the reform to Scottish Highers, which will be first taught in the 2014/15 academic year.
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National 4 and National 5 qualifications explained
A high level overview of National 4 and National 5 qualifications, including information about the flexibility in their provision and how universities and colleges will accommodate this.
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A level changes in Wales
A level reform in Wales, including the retention of the AS as part of the A level, and its implications for learners.
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GCSE changes in Wales
GCSE reform in Wales including the new GCSE mathematics – numeracy qualification.
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Changes to the Welsh Baccalaureate
Changes to the Welsh Baccalaureate and its three iterations: the pass/fail model, interim A*- C graded model and the fully reformed A*- E model.
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A level changes in Northern Ireland
An overview of the changes to A levels in Northern Ireland, including details of the qualifications open market and its implications for learners.
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What's happening?

The range of academic and vocational qualifications offered in schools and colleges is being reviewed, along with apprenticeship frameworks. 

  • Reforms to GCSEs and A levels will result in structurally different qualifications with the same name in different parts of the UK.
  • The flexibility offered by the Curriculum for Excellence in Scotland and the decoupling of the AS from the A level in England means that secondary schools and colleges are likely to offer increasingly diverse programmes.  
  • In the next few years it's likely that significant numbers of students will be applying to higher education with new qualifications and new combinations of qualifications. Universities and colleges are already reviewing their entry requirements and offer-making approaches to ensure applicants are not disadvantaged. 


View and download our useful resources to learn more about qualification reform.

We have produced a range of support materials to provide you with information on qualification reform across the UK. We'll be updating these throughout the year, and providing toolkits and FAQs. 

We'll also be sending you a qualification bulletin three times a year, to keep you updated on the latest developments. 

If you have any suggestions or feedback about our resources, please email Ben Jordan, Senior Policy Executive: 

In 2017, students in England will be awarded 9 — 1 for their GCSE qualifications for the first time. This new grading scale does not directly align to the previous A* — G grading scale. To provide clarity about how the HE sector has responded to these reforms, UCAS asked universities and colleges how they intended to position their future GCSE entry requirements. Our GCSE survey results (868.88 KB) shows how they responded.

Qualification Information Profiles (QIPs)

You may also find our digital Qualification Information Profiles (QIPs) of use.

QIPs provide objective, comparable information about qualifications which providers can use to inform decisions about the admission of students. They help to provide information in a clear and consistent format across different qualifications, and include a range of information such as size, grading, assessment, structure and content. The format of the QIPs was agreed with universities and colleges, and they replace the now outdated Qualification Guides.

The QIPs include additional UK, EU, and international qualifications. The new UK QIPs added in July 2017 are mainly for new vocational qualifications, introduced as a result of changes to school performance tables. We’ve also included more EU/international qualifications, international GCSEs, iGCSEs, and international AS and A levels.

We would like to know if QIPs are a helpful resource. If you have any suggestions or feedback, please email Jochen Pichler, Senior Policy Executive at

Applied General qualifications

As part of our ongoing work to produce Qualification Information Profiles (QIPs), we have made some improvements to the QIPs for Applied General qualifications. These aim to explain the differences between legacy and reformed Applied General qualifications, and provide easy access to specifications.

We have categorised Applied General QIPs as:

  • qualifications that meet the 2018 DfE performance table criteria include ‘Applied General (reformed)’ in the QIP title
  • qualifications that meet the 2016 and 2017 DfE performance criteria but do not meet the 2018 criteria include ‘Applied General (interim reformed)’ in the title

We are working with Ofqual to try to improve the qualifications data in Apply, and have made some changes to help you and your students select the right qualifications. Some reformed Applied Generals have different titles in Apply, including the new BTEC National qualifications, which now include the Guided Learning Hours (GLH) and ‘first teaching 2016’:

  • Pearson BTEC Level 3 National Certificate (180) (first teaching Sept 2016)
  • Pearson BTEC Level 3 National Extended Cert (360) (first teaching Sept 2016)
  • Pearson BTEC Level 3 National Foundation Dip (510-540) (first teaching Sept 2016)
  • Pearson BTEC Level 3 National Diploma (720) (first teaching Sept 2016)
  • Pearson BTEC Level 3 National Extended Diploma (1,080) (first teaching Sept 2016)

Previous versions of BTEC National qualifications include ‘QCF’ in the title.

In Unpacking Qualification Reform (1.03 MB), we recommended that schools and colleges create a web page that details their qualification offering. The URL to this page can then be inserted into the reference to provide valuable additional information to HEPs about the school or college. If you are offering Applied General qualifications, particularly if you are using legacy specifications (either alone or alongside the reformed specifications), we would encourage you create this web page and insert the URL in to the reference, to ensure HE providers are informed of your qualification provision.

We hope that these and subsequent changes, alongside our information and advice, will help improve the quality of qualifications data and help HE providers make accurate decisions. We will publish more detailed information about Applied Generals on our updated qualification reform web pages in October. If you have any queries about Applied General qualifications, please email

Unpacking qualification reform – UCAS A level survey

The introduction of the decoupled AS in England has led to  considerable speculation about how secondary schools and colleges might alter their 16-19 curriculum. To find out how the secondary sector is responding, we undertook a survey of all our registered English schools and colleges to identify their current position. Read the results –  Unpacking qualification reform - results of the UCAS A level survey January 2015.

January 2016: following the report above, Unpacking qualification reform: UCAS AS and A level survey – January 2016 provides an update regarding AS and A level provision being offered by schools and colleges in England.

Qualification provision survey 2017

We have broadened the scope of our previous AS and A level survey to encapsulate a wider range of provision, such as GCSEs and vocational qualifications. The purpose of this is to gain a more comprehensive understanding of how schools and colleges in England are responding to the wide ranging reforms.

We issued a survey to all schools and colleges in England registered to use our services between November 2016 and January 2017 –  view the findings of the survey (2.39 MB)

Qualification reform statements

A number of higher education providers have released statements explaining how they will accommodate qualification reform.

  • In England, Northern Ireland, and Wales, these tend to focus on A level and GCSE changes, but do cover the range of reforms.
  • In Scotland, these explain how a particular university or college will accommodate the flexibility that the Curriculum for Excellence introduces.

Click below to see individual statements from higher education providers. 

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