Qualifications in the UK are currently undergoing significant reform. Here you'll find support materials, including a video 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.

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 are continuing, and will result in structurally different qualifications with the same name in different parts of the UK.
  • Vocational qualifications in England have fundamentally changed, with reforms to include more mandatory content, external assessment, and synoptic assessment. These qualifications will be offered in schools and colleges alongside the unreformed versions.
  • 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've produced a range of support materials to provide you with information on qualification reform across the UK, and will continue updating these throughout the year.

Vocational qualifications

Applied Generals and Tech levels

In England, vocational qualifications that contribute towards school performance measures have been reformed, and are now classified as either Applied Generals or Tech levels. The largest provider of vocational qualifications is Pearson, with the BTEC qualification, but AQA, City & Guilds, OCR, and other boards all offer vocational qualifications in these categories.

Changes to these qualifications include:

  • Size: Applied General qualifications must require at least 150 Guided Learning Hours (GLH). Tech level qualifications must require at least 300 GLH.
  • Content: a qualification specification must state the specific content students must pass to achieve it. Mandatory content, and the associated contribution to the overall grade, must make up at least 60% of an Applied General, and 40% of a Tech level
  • Assessment: Applied Generals must have at least 40% external assessment. Tech levels must have 30% external assessment. Students will also be given one opportunity to resit.
  • Synoptic assessment: the qualification must assess that a student can use all of the skills, techniques, concepts, theories, and knowledge they have learnt.
  • Grading: all vocational qualifications must be graded using three grading points or more, such as distinction/merit/pass.

Further information on vocational qualifications and performance measures can be found on the Department for Education website.

We've produced  Guide to Applied General and Tech level qualifications (2.9 MB) to help consider the impact these vocational reforms may have, and to assist students and advisers when entering qualifications in Apply.

If you have any queries about Applied General and Tech level qualifications, please email us at qualsinfo@ucas.ac.uk.

T Levels

As set out in the Technical and Further Education Act 2017, T Levels are designed to support entry to skilled employment in technical occupations and progression to higher education options, including higher technical qualifications, higher apprenticeships, degree apprenticeships, and degrees. 

T Levels are not qualifications in their own right, but composite technical study programmes, delivered in a classroom setting, and incorporating five key components:

  • an approved technical qualification (the ‘core’)
  • a substantial work placement with an external employer, lasting between 45 and 60 days
  • maths, English, and digital requirements. Students will have to achieve a minimum of Level 2 maths and English in order to achieve a T Level
  • occupational specialism(s), which may include additional qualification(s) or a license to practice
  • employability, enrichment, and pastoral (EEP) elements

It is expected that T Levels will consist of 1,800 learning hours, and be delivered over two years.

T Levels will cover 11 technical education routes. The first T Levels (digital; construction; education, and childcare) are due to be first taught in 2020, with further subjects planned for 2021 (legal, finance and accounting; health and science; engineering and manufacturing), and a further rollout by 2023.

The Department for Education published the Government response to the consultation on the implementation of T Levels in May 2018. UCAS is monitoring the development of T Levels, and will update this page as more information becomes available.

Read more here.

Qualifications intelligence surveys

Qualification provision survey 

Qualification reform has led to considerable speculation about how secondary schools and colleges might alter their 16-19 curriculum. To understand how the secondary sector is responding, we undertake an annual survey of registered schools and colleges to identify their position and consider trends in provision. Prior to 2018, this was solely in England. However, we have broadened the scope to incorporate questions covering the whole of the UK. 

May 2018This survey explores qualification reform across the whole of the UK, the impact on schools and colleges, and how reforms are understood by higher education providers. It covers AS and A level provision, vocational qualifications, Curriculum for Excellence, the Welsh Baccalaureate, and more.  View the 2018 report (7.24 MB).

March 2017: This survey covers AS and A level provision, vocational qualifications and GCSEs in England –  view the findings of the survey (2.39 MB)

Unpacking qualification reform: A level surveys

Prior to our current qualification provision survey, we undertook a number of surveys of all our registered English schools and colleges to identify their position.

January 2016 Unpacking qualification reform: UCAS AS and A level survey provides insight into AS and A level provision being offered by schools and colleges in England in 2016.

January 2015 Unpacking qualification reform - results of the UCAS A level survey January 2015Our first survey offered a broad perspective of how schools and colleges were shaping their AS and A level programmes in response to qualification reforms.

GCSE survey

In 2017, students in England were awarded 9 — 1 grades 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.

2017: Our  GCSE survey results (868.88 KB)

2018: Our  2018 GCSE survey results (421.74 KB) offer an update on how HE providers are positioning their GCSE requirements on the numeric scale, their position on the suitability of GCSE English language and English literature for progression, and how they are responding to the introduction of GCSE Mathematics, and Mathematics: Numeracy in Wales.

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.