Understanding our qualifications

National Qualifications Framework and Qualifications and Credit Framework (NQF/QCF)

The majority of our qualifications have been accredited to one of two qualification frameworks. This page will provide you with more information about each framework and explain why they are important.

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Move from QCF to RQF

The QCF unit bank closed on 30 September 2015. All Awarding Organisations, including Pearson, will be removing QCF from their qualification titles by the end of 2017. A new framework has been developed called the Regulated Qualifications Framework (RQF) introduced on 1 October 2015.

Find out more in the Q&A document

What is a qualification framework?

Qualification frameworks are designed to help you make informed decisions about the qualifications you need. Each framework has a set of levels from which you can identify clear progression routes.

Two of the frameworks used within England, Wales and Northern Ireland are the National Qualifications Framework (NQF) and the Qualifications and Credit Framework (QCF).

These frameworks are regulated to ensure that all qualifications within the frameworks are of a high quality and meet the needs of students, employers and higher education.

What are levels?

Both frameworks have nine levels from Entry Level through to Level 8, although we don't currently offer qualifications at Level 8. The level of a qualification shows how difficult the learning is.

Qualifications that share the same level:

  • are broadly similar in terms of the demand
  • can be very different in terms of content and duration.
Examples of NQF qualifications Examples of QCF qualifications
  • Certificates at entry level
  • English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) at entry level
  • Basic skills at entry level
  • Skills for Life at entry level
  • Functional Skills at entry level
  • Awards, certificates and diplomas at entry level
  • WorkSkills at entry level
Level Examples of NQF qualifications
Examples of QCF qualifications
1
  • Awards, certificates and diplomas at level 1
  • ESOL at level 1
  • Basic skills at level 1
  • Skills for life at level 1
  • Key skills at level 1
  • Functional skills at level 1
  • Principal Learning at level 1
  • Foundation Project
  • Awards, certificates and diplomas at level 1
  • WorkSkills at level 1
  • NVQs at level 1
1/2
  • GCSEs
  • Level 1/level 2 certificates
  • BTEC Firsts at level 1/level 2
 
Level Examples of NQF qualifications Examples of QCF qualifications
1/2
  • GCSEs
  • Level 1/level 2 certificates
  • BTEC Firsts at level 1/level 2
 
2
  • Awards, certificates and diplomas at level 2
  • BTEC Firsts at level 2
  • ESOL at level 2
  • Basic skills at level 2
  • Skills for life at level 2
  • Key skills at level 2
  • Functional skills at level 2
  • Principal Learning at level 2
  • Higher Project
  • NVQs at level 2
Awards, certificates and diplomas at level 2
BTEC Firsts
WorkSkills at level 2
NVQs at level 2
Examples of NQF qualifications
Examples of QCF qualifications
  • GCE AS/A levels
  • ESOL at level 3
  • Key skills at level 3
  • Principal Learning at level 3
  • Extended Project
  • NVQs at level 3
  • Awards, certificates and diplomas at level 3
  • BTEC Nationals
  • BTEC Foundation Diploma in Art and Design at level 3
  • WorkSkills at level 3
  • NVQs at level 3
Examples of NQF qualifications
Examples of QCF qualifications
  • Key skills at level 4
  • NVQs at level 4
  • BTEC Professional awards, certificates and diplomas at level 4
  • BTEC Foundation Diploma in Art and Design at level 4
  • HNCs
  • NVQs at level 4
Examples of NQF qualifications Examples of QCF qualifications
  • HNCs and HNDs
  • NVQs at level 5
  • BTEC Professional awards, certificates and diplomas at level 5
  • HNDs
  • NVQs at level 5
Examples of NQF qualifications Examples of QCF qualifications
N/A
  • BTEC Professional awards, certificates and diplomas at level 6
  • NVQs at level 6
Examples of NQF qualifications Examples of QCF qualifications
N/A
  • BTEC Professional awards, certificates and diplomas at level 7
  • NVQs at level 7

What are the differences between the NQF and the QCF?

See comparisons between the NQF and QCF by selecting a question in the list below.

The Qualifications and Credit Framework (QCF)  The National Qualifications Framework (NQF)
Mainly vocationally related and NVQ qualifications
The full range of qualification types, including general, vocationally related qualifications and some NVQs.
The Qualifications and Credit Framework (QCF) The National Qualifications Framework (NQF)
Awarding organisations, like Pearson, develop units which go into a national database. We then design qualifications by combining several units together.
The same units may be used in different qualifications and you gain credits for each unit you complete.
NQF qualifications can be made up of units, but your qualification will only be recognised when you complete the course in full.
The Qualifications and Credit Framework (QCF) The National Qualifications Framework (NQF)

The size of a qualification is defined in terms of the number of credits.

  • To gain a BTEC Award, you must complete 1-12 credits
  • To gain a BTEC Certificate, you must complete 13-36 credits
  • To gain a BTEC Diploma, you must complete 37 credits and above

Credits are a measure of how long it would take the average student to complete all of the learning outcomes in the unit to the standard required. This is sometimes called 'notional learning time'.

 

One credit is equivalent to 10 hours' notional learning time.

 

For more details, see the examples below.

 

The size of a qualification is judged by the number of hours of teaching time, or Guided Learning Hours (GLH), needed to deliver the qualification.

 

For example, the content criteria, set by Ofqual, for a GCSE in Physics states the specification "must contain sufficient additional appropriate content to merit 120-140 guided learning hours". This means that students should expect 120-140 hours of teaching when completing a GCSE in Physics.

Examples of how a QCF qualification is structured

If you chose to do a level 2 BTEC First in Applied Science, you have the following options available:

• Gain a Certificate by completing 15 credits (150 hours of notional learning time)
• Gain an Extended Certificate by completing 30 credits (300 hours of notional learning time)
• Gain a Diploma by completing 60 credits (600 hours of notional learning time).

If you chose to do a level 3 BTEC National in Applied Science, you have the following options available:

• Gain a Certificate by completing 30 credits (300 hours of notional learning time)
• Gain a Subsidiary Diploma by completing 60 credits (600 hours of notional learning time)
• Gain a 90-Credit Diploma by completing 90 credits (900 hours of notional learning time)
• Gain a Diploma by completing 120 credits (1200 hours of notional learning time)
• Gain an Extended Diploma by completing 160 credits (1600 hours of notional learning time).

 

How do QCF levels compare with other qualification frameworks?

The table below shows a rough comparison of the levels on the Qualifications and Credit Framework (QCF), the European Qualifications Framework (EQF) and the Scottish Credit and Qualifications Framework (SCQF).

QCF EQF SCQF
8 8 12
7 7 11
6 6 10/9
5/4 5 8/7
3 4 6
2 3 5
1 2 4
Entry Level 3 1 3
Entry Level 2   2
Entry Level 1   1
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