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.
If you have any suggestions or feedback about our resources, please email Amy Smith, Senior Policy Executive: [email protected].
- Qualification reform: a guide to what is happening around the UK (updated Mar 2018)
- Qualification reform timeline (updated Mar 2018)
- Department for Education presentation – A level reform: The essentials
- OCR guidance on co-teachability of reformed AS and A levels in England
- Adviser Guide to Applied General and Tech level qualifications (2.9 MB)
- Ofqual postcard on the 9 - 1 grading structure and our accompanying guidance on changes to GCSE grading (485.39 KB) to help universities and colleges that are reviewing their GCSE entry requirements
- A new nine-letter GCSE grading system has been introduced by CCEA in Northern Ireland, introducing a new C* grade, and aligning in places to the numeric scale in England. We’ve created a flyer (143.24 KB) to support universities and colleges when setting GCSE entry criteria for students from Northern Ireland.
- SPA's NETT Guidance for school and college references - what HEPs would like to know
- DfE performance measures FAQs (426.19 KB)
- Qualification Information Profiles (QIPs) provide objective, comparable information about qualifications which providers can use to inform decisions about the admission of students. This includes a range of regulated reformed and unformed UK qualifications (including A levels from across the UK and vocational qualifications), and some EU/international qualifications.
- The Russell Group’s guide, Informed Choices, provide students with information, advice and guidance about their post-16 subject choices. It has been updated to reflect qualification reform across the UK at standard (e.g. GCSE and National 5), and advanced (e.g. A level, IB. and Scottish Highers).
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 a 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 [email protected].
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.
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 2018: This 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 2015. Our first survey offered a broad perspective of how schools and colleges were shaping their AS and A level programmes in response to qualification reforms.
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.
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.
Qualification reform statements