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NVQs (National Vocational Qualifications)

Thinking about an NVQ? Our National Vocational Qualifications Guide will give you lowdown on everything you need to know about what it involves, how to apply, and more.

What is an NVQ?

National Vocational Qualifications (NVQs) are competence-based awards in England, Wales and Northern Ireland that are achieved through assessment and training.

In Scotland they are known as Scottish Vocational Qualifications (SVQs).

To complete an NVQ, candidates must prove that they have the ability to carry out their job to the required standard.

NVQs are based on National Occupational Standards that describe the 'competencies' expected in any given job role.

Those studying the course will usually work towards an NVQ that reflects their role in a paid or voluntary position.

For example, someone working in a pharmacy may take an NVQ in Pharmacy Service Skills.

What are the different NVQ levels?

NVQs can be at levels 1 to 5 on the National Qualifications Framework and the Qualifications and Credit Framework. Level 1 focuses on basic work activities, and Level 5 is for senior management.

Each one involves the teaching and application of particular work-based competencies. The frameworks show how different types of qualifications compare, in terms of the demands they place on learners.

They include:

Entry level – Ideal for those without any previous qualifications or knowledge. Teaches the application of basic knowledge and skills on a generic level.

Level 1 – An introduction to the subject area you choose to study, covering routine tasks and the learning and practical application of basic knowledge.

Level 2 – Involves carrying out complex work-based duties, and gaining a good knowledge and understanding of a subject. These are performed in a variety of contexts that involve a combination of individual responsibility and team work.

Level 3 – The range of duties becomes wider, and their complexity increases. Autonomy and responsibility is also more prevalent in this level, with some control and guidance needed.

Level 4 – Provides a specialist and detailed level of learning, usually covering a specific area of work. This level is ideal for those looking to manage others or work in technical roles.

Level 5 – Involves learning about an area of work on a deeper level, allowing you to understand and respond to complex situations whilst gaining a high level of expertise. Also covers senior management and the training of others.

What are the entry requirements for an NVQ?

These qualifications are available to adults and young people alike, and there are no specific entry requirements to study for an NVQ.

You can be any age, and are free to start at a level that suits you. However, you may need to complete a level 2 NVQ before starting a level 3.

You can take NVQs if:

  • you are employed
  • you are studying at college and have a part-time job or access to a work placement

You can also take an NVQ qualification at level 2 or 3 as part of an apprenticeship.

In some cases you may be able to take an NVQ if you are at school. Check with your head of Sixth Form to see if any are available.

How long does it take to complete an NVQ?

There is no set time limit for these qualifications, and you’re free to complete an NVQ at your own pace.

However, the first three levels will generally take around a year each to complete.

What NVQ subjects are available?

There are many different NVQs you can choose from. They are available in a majority of business sectors, including:

  • business and administration
  • sales, marketing and distribution
  • health and social care
  • food, catering and leisure services
  • construction and property
  • manufacturing, production and engineering.

How will I be assessed during my NVQ?

NVQs are assessed on practical assignments and a portfolio of evidence.

You will normally find that a qualified assessor will observe you and question you about the duties you carry out in the workplace, or in a realistic working environment.

They will test your knowledge and understanding as well as your actual performance.

When you have reached the required standard for a particular unit, your assessor will 'sign-off' on it.

What courses are equivalent to an NVQ?

Although NVQs are vocational qualifications, they can be measured against a number of other certifications – allowing a range of career and education opportunities.

Here are the rough equivalents for each NVQ level:

  • NVQ Level 1 equivalent – 3/4 GCSE (grades D-G)
  • NVQ Level 2 equivalent – 4-5 GCSE (grades A*-C)
  • NVQ Level 3 equivalent – 2 A Levels
  • NVQ Level 4 equivalent – Higher Education Certificate/BTEC
  • NVQ Level 5 equivalent – Higher Education Diploma/Foundation Degree.

What are the benefits of taking an NVQ?

NVQs offer many advantages, including:

  • A flexible route to becoming qualified in the workplace, without taking any examinations
  • A practical demonstration of skills, knowledge and understanding
  • Certification to show you have met a national standard for a specific occupational role
  • Improved employability and transferability
  • Access to a recognised qualification for employees with no other formal school or college education.

What can I do after my NVQ?

Completing an NVQ can lead to further training at the next NVQ level.

You can even go all the way to a level 5 NVQ and/or professional qualifications, usually in a related area.

If you've studied an NVQ at level 3, you could also go on to a higher education course in a related vocational area, such as a:

  • Other vocational specialism.

How do I apply for an NVQ?

The college you are applying to will have instructions on their website.

You will either be able to apply directly online, or download an application form to fill out and send off.

Read the instructions carefully before submitting your application, check you have filled out all the required sections and make sure all details are correct.

Contact the college a few days after your application to make sure they received it.

I’m thinking about taking an NVQ – where can I get more advice?

To find out who is offering NVQs or other vocational qualifications near you, check out the websites of your local colleges, where you can also order a prospectus.

Alternatively, you can talk directly to your careers advisor, college, or employer.

Further information

To find out more about NVQs, please see: