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NVQ’s or National Vocational Qualifications are work-related, competence-based qualifications introduced to train people in the workplace. They reflect the skills and knowledge needed to do a job effectively, and show that a candidate is competent in the area of work the NVQ represents.

Millions of ‘learners’ or students (resident and international learners on student visas) in the UK have taken NVQ courses covering a wide diversity of subjects ranging from Health and Social Care, Customer Service, Administration, IT and Hospitality and Catering.

Vocational qualifications in the UK have recently been revamped by the introduction of QCF or Qualifications and Credit Framework model, which gradually replaced NVQ’s during a transition period giving learners time to complete their course.

There are thousands of learners still finishing NVQ’s, which will still be a valid qualification, however, to make matters even more confusing, the qualification framework levels have also been changed. For instance, an NVQ level 4 management level qualification is equivalent to a QCF level 5.

Advantages and disadvantages of QCF and NVQ

The QCF, like an NVQ, is a system for recognising skills and qualifications in a vocational setting. It does this by awarding credit for qualifications and units (small steps of learning), with each unit holding a credit value. This value specifies the number of credits gained by learners who complete that unit.

The advantage and flexibility of the QCF system allows learners to gain qualifications at their own pace along routes that suit them best. Unlike an NVQ the QCF’s credit based system means that a student who fails to complete the entire award, certificate or diploma can gain recognised credits for their work rather than walking away empty handed.

The main drawback for the QCF will be employer recognition and acceptance. NVQ’s are a well known ‘brand’ understood by industry as the standard for vocational, as opposed to academic, learning. Critics have argued that the qualifications could have been updated without dropping the established ‘NVQ’ label.

NVQ’s and QCF qualifications are based on ‘national occupational standards’ laid down by the Government bodies and the Sector Skills Councils. These standards describe what competent people in a particular occupation are expected to be able to do. They cover all the main aspects of an occupation, including current best practice, the ability to adapt to future requirements and the knowledge and understanding that make competent performance.

Within reason, NVQ’s and QCF qualifications do not have to be completed in a specified amount of time. They can be taken by full-time employees or by school and college students with a work placement or part-time job that enables them to develop the appropriate skills. There are no age limits and no special entry requirements.

How are QCF’s/NVQ’s achieved?

QCF/NVQ’s are achieved through study, training and on-going assessment. Assessment is normally through on-the-job, work related observation and questioning. Candidates produce evidence to prove they have the competence to meet the standards. Assessors ‘sign-off’ units when the candidates are competent. The assessor tests candidates’ knowledge, understanding and work-based performance to make sure they can demonstrate competence in the workplace.

There are no exams, dissertations or complicated written work needed to gain a vocational qualification.

The UK qualifications regulator QFQUAL describes the new structure as simple yet flexible.

Every unit and qualification has a credit value and a level. One credit represents ten notional hours of learning, showing how much time the average learner would take to complete the unit or qualification. Levels indicate difficulty and vary from entry (1) to level 8. There are three types of qualification:

  • Awards (1 to 12 credits)
  • Certificates (13 to 36 credits)
  • Diplomas (37 credits or more)

You can have an award of any difficulty level from 1 to 8. This is because the type indicates the size of qualification, not its difficulty.

Comparing QCF with other qualifications

The title of a qualification should indicate its difficulty, how long it will take the average learner to complete, and its general content, using the following information:

  • Qualification level (from lowest, entry level to level 8 at the top)
  • Qualification size (award/certificate/diploma)
  • Content of the qualification

The title of a qualification you will enable you to judge the degree of difficulty, how long it will take the average person to complete and a good idea of the content.

To illustrate the level of difficulty of the units and qualifications in the new framework OFQUAL states that that GCSEs (grade A*–C) are at level 2, GCE A levels are at level 3, a Bachelors Degree would be at level 6, a Masters Degree at level 7 and a PhD is a level 8.

Where can you take a QCF?

You can find approved centres all over the country. Colleges and centres must be assessed and approved by an official awarding body such as OCR, EDEXCEL or EDI in order to run QCF courses.

To ensure high standards are maintained, centres must demonstrate to the awarding body that they have competent tutors/assessors and IV’s (Internal Verifier) in place before approval is granted.

Majestic College is an OCR accredited NVQ/QCF Training Centre based in the north London/Herts area which has helped over 400 hundred students gain vocational qualifications in the last couple of years.

Who can take an NVQ/QCF vocational course?

In general anyone can take a vocational course provided they are able to demonstrate competence in a work based environment.

Some units within the QCF structure are purely ‘knowledge based’ and may be taken without the need for work based assessment. 

Bulgarian and Romanian students

NVQ and QCF courses have proved popular with Bulgarian and Romanian citizens, as well as overseas Tier 4 students, seeking to gain a practical work based UK qualification whilst studying and working on a ‘yellow card’ registration (BR1).

Like other overseas students, many EU students already have academic qualifications in their own country which have not led them into the work place. Taking a vocational course will give them the practical skills to enable them to find a job.

The vocational or work based element of the course allows Bulgarian and Romanian students to work full time whilst studying. Employers usually welcome NVQ/QCF students because their course relates to the work they are doing and training helps drive up standards. Students like vocational courses because they can ‘earn while they learn’.

After 12 months of continuous full time study and work Bulgarians and Romanians can apply for UK residence Blue Card.

For more information on immigration rules for Bulgarian and Romanian citizens visit the UK Border Agency website or see an OISC registered immigration adviser. 

Majestic College offer a range of QCF and management courses for resident and overseas students including: NVQ/QCF in Health and Social Care or Customer Service, CMI Level 5 and Level 7 in Leadership and Management, A1, V1 and ESOL English Language. They are currently offering special packages for EU students. For more information call Joanna on 0208 207 1020, email or visit

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Read them below or add one

  1. samantha says :

    Hi.i have an NVQ3 in health and social care would i still need to do the QCF course if i applied for a community health care assistants job.

  2. It depends if the college is an approved provider, but you should get a yellow card with permission to work 20 hours per week. Postal applications now taking up to six months. You can apply for the same day service at Croydon, but appointments are limited to just seven per day. In order to apply for the yellow card, you should have started the course and be living in the UK.
    See also:
    Immigration Rules for Bulgarian and Romanian nationals
    7 tips for completing a Yellow Card BR1 application to work and study in the UK

  3. hello everybody,
    I have a question and I hope somebody here can give me the right answere…
    First of all I am from Romania, I would like to start a course – BTAC level 5 professional Diploma in sport massage and sport treatments, the course is aprox 6 months. My question is will I be eligible to obtain a work permision (yellow card) and how long will take to recive it?


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