School children are facing an ever increasing range of options: GCSE, A-level, Diploma, etc. How can we help them choose?
If you, like me, were last sitting exams in school some…20 odd years ago… but now find yourself with teenagers approaching exams you have never heard of…and feel rather out of touch – then this article is for you. These are the range of qualifications currently available, although things are always changing and you may find different options being available in different areas & schools.
First up, you need to know what the ‘National Qualifications Framework’ (NQF) is all about. The NQF aims to group together qualifications that place similar demands on the learner and is also used to help you see how one type of qualification can lead onto other, higher levels of qualification. NQF levels begin at ‘entry’ level up to ‘level 8’ for specialist awards. These levels can be related to the following qualifications…
GCSEs – These are the main academic qualification taken by 14 to 16 year olds. They replaced what you may remember as ‘O’ levels but are available in a wider range of both academic and ‘work’ related subjects. GCSE stand for ‘General Certificate of Secondary Education’ and is awarded at either level 1 (for a grade D-G) or level 2 (grades A*-C) on the NQF. For some subjects, everyone takes the same exam, for others you have a choice of two tiers: ‘higher’ and ‘foundation’. To confuse things even further, some GCSEs are double the size of a ‘traditional’ GCSE while others can be taken as short courses. GCSEs are still mainly assessed on written exams, although there are also elements of coursework and a move towards ‘controlled assessment’.
AS and A levels – AS (Advanced Subsidiary) and A (Advanced) level qualifications focus on traditional study skills. They normally take two years to complete full-time and are at level 3 on the NQF scale. A and AS levels are still the main route into higher education but may also be useful if you want to go straight into a job. So here’s the confusing bit, an AS level is either a free standing qualification achieved after the first year, with the second year known as the A2 – which is the 2nd half of an A-level. Results are also shown on a ‘uniform mark scale’ (UMS), AS levels are scored out of 300 & A levels are scored out of 600. Still confused? Sorry there is more…if you are applying for University or College A & AS levels also earn points in the ‘UCAS Tariff’ e.g. an A grade A level will earn 120 points, a D grade AS level earns 30 points.
Diplomas – These are qualifications for 14 to 19 year olds. They offer a more practical, hands-on way of gaining the essential skills employers and universities look for. It is aimed at increasing the choices available to young people and encouraging them to stay in education longer. Diploma students will complete a project and spend at least ten days working with an employer. Diplomas can be completed either in place of GCSEs or A-levels, or alongside these qualifications. There are three levels of diplomas (foundation, higher and advanced), each taking two years to complete.
Choices at 16 – after year 11, young people have a lot more options from staying in school to moving onto learning through work-based training or leaving education all together. To help make choices, the Connexions service can help and advise. Services are usually available within your child’s school or can be accessed independently – call the helpline on 080 800 13 2 19 for further information.
For more information (and yes there is much more to learn), check out the GOV.UK website