UK Vocational Courses

Further education provides a range of opportunities for students to participate in academic or vocational (professional) courses that are designed with specific industries in mind. These courses also offer a route into higher education that offers some real advantages for students who have not come through the UK secondary-school system. Get in touch and we’ll walk you through it.

Who offers Further Education programmes?

This form of study is available at public and privately-owned colleges throughout the United Kingdom and these institutions go by several different names: colleges of further education, colleges of technology, technical colleges, colleges of arts and technology, tertiary colleges and sixth form colleges, which are aimed at students right out of high school.

What kinds of programmes are available?

English Language
Available to students of all levels, courses range from general English through to specialised, professional programmes for teachers of English as a second language (TESL).

General National Vocational Qualifications (GNVQ) and Advanced Vocational Certificate of Education (AVCE) programmes offer an alternative to academic (A-level) qualifications that lead into a specific job area or onward, to university study. Popular areas of study include Art and Design, Business, Health and Social Care, Leisure and Tourism, Manufacturing, Built Environment, Hospitality and Catering, Science, Engineering, Information Technology. The AVCE, also known as a vocational A-level, is a double award, equivalent to two A-levels. The AVCE places a greater emphasis on coursework (over exams) than the GCE A-level, reflecting the hands-on, practical approach of the programme.

Foundation is equivalent to four GCSE grades D-E, or NVQ level one.

Intermediate is equivalent to four GCSE grades A-C, BTEC First or NVQ level two.

The Advanced Vocational Certificate of Education (AVCE), is equivalent to one GCE A-level, a BTEC National or an NVQ level three. 

All three levels prepare you for a range of jobs and further study. The advanced level can lead you into higher education courses like the BTEC HND and can be studied alongside A-levels and AS-levels.

National Vocational Qualifications (NVQ)
UK professional bodies award NVQs in the same way as GNVQs. As the name suggests, these are not as general and instead focus on specific, work-related learning goals and students’ performance is assessed in the work place. NVQs are available at five levels that range from routine (level one) to complex (level five). Most colleges offer NVQs if competence can be assessed in a simulated work environment on site in the college, such as for office-related subjects, hairdressing and beauty therapy, catering and hotel operations, engineering and early-years care and education. Level three can lead to university undergraduate degree entry and level five can lead on to postgraduate study.

BTEC First Diploma Programmes
These are Level two vocational qualifications taught full-time over one year. The BTEC First provides the initial knowledge and understanding for students wishing to work or to study further at level three. Students can study subjects like art and design, business, construction, engineering, health and care, IT and computing, land-based, leisure, sport travel and tourism, media, music and performing arts, public services, retail and science.

National Diploma Programmes
The BTEC National Diploma is a two year, full-time, specialist vocational qualification that stands graduates in good stead with higher education institutions and industry. The focuses on applied knowledge of specific sectors. Equivalent to three A-levels, the programme will often be studied on a full-time basis. The BTEC National Diploma prepares students for direct entry into employment or for progression to Higher Education. As well as the BTEC National Diploma there is also the BTEC National Certificate Award available, although not necessarily available in all vocational areas.

Higher National Diploma Programmes (HND)
BTEC Higher National Diploma courses last for two years when studied full time or three years when studied part time. They are nationally recognised qualifications, well known and well regarded in industry, as they tend to have a more vocational focus than degrees. They are available at over 400 universities and colleges throughout England and Wales. Whatever subject area you study, all HND courses involve real work experience and work-based projects. You can gain an HND and then go on to degree level. In some subjects you can go direct from an HND into the final year of a degree; in other subjects you may have to go into the second year.