NCFE Level 3 Higher Level Studies suite

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This QIP covers vocational qualifications which are not listed on the Department for Education (DfE) 16 – 19 performance tables for England.

These qualifications are not listed on the DfE 16 – 19 performance tables because they are not designed to meet the requirements of the Key Stage 5 performance tables.

  • England
  • Wales

Vocational qualifications are either work-related qualifications designed to enable students to gain the skills required to perform a particular job, or qualifications that may be taken as part of a wider study programme or an apprenticeship.

Schools and colleges may offer qualifications that are not included in the DfE performance tables, if approved for teaching to 16-19 year olds by the Secretary of State for Education in England under Section 96, where this is in the best interests of individual students.

These qualifications have been developed in partnership with employers, universities and other subject experts to ensure that the content is current and relevant.

They are designed for students who are considering studying at a higher level and would like to develop their higher level study skills and enable students to understand their own strengths and weaknesses and identify areas for further development.

The qualifications are particularly relevant for those aged 16–18 who wish to make the most of their programmes of study by including key higher level study skills.

Education context

These qualifications are designed for post-16 students and fall under the oversight of the Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) and the Education and Skills Funding Agency (ESFA). A significant number of students will undertake these qualifications post-19.

Following its 2012 review of post-19 qualifications the ESFA removed 1,800 qualifications from public funding and a further 1,000 in 2014. In March 2014 the government published a Reform Plan for Vocational Education.

These qualifications have not been subject to the same reforms as Applied General and Tech Level qualifications (which are specifically designed for 16-19 year old students), however the ESFA has implemented a new set of business rules for the approval of qualifications for funding, based on the 2013 Review of Adult Vocational Qualifications in England. These rules recognise that adults may have different needs, aspirations and ambitions to younger people and include that qualifications should be:

  • relevant to individuals and employers and affordable for all sizes of business and for individuals
  • rigorous and based on a robust future-looking occupational standard designed and assessed by the sector
  • recognised as worthy of investment, giving a clear signal of the economically valuable skills, knowledge and understanding required in an occupation now and in the future.

Regulation of vocational qualifications

The regulation of vocational qualifications is the responsibility of the respective regulators in each UK country – Ofqual (England), CCEA Regulation (Northern Ireland), SQA (Scotland), and Qualifications Wales (Wales). The regulatory approach undertaken for vocational qualifications is different from A levels. This is because there are no specific qualification criteria for vocational qualifications, as there currently are for GCSEs, AS and A levels. Vocational qualifications must comply with the regulator’s general rules, as is the case with all regulated qualifications.

These qualifications may form part of a study programme but are not the substantial element of this programme. Study programmes normally include substantial academic or applied and technical qualifications; non-qualification activity including work experience; the study of English and maths where students do not hold a GCSE graded A* – C in these subjects; and any additional learning to facilitate students' progression into further studies or employment (e.g. employability or life skills qualifications).

Awarding organisation
  • NCFE
Qualification codes
601/7789/5 (NCFE Level 3 Award in Higher Level Studies)
601/7788/3 (NCFE Level 3 Extended Award in Higher Level Studies)

The Award has one mandatory unit.

The Extended Award has two mandatory units.

Subject areas

In the Award the mandatory unit is:

  • Higher Level Studies

In the Extended Award the mandatory units are:

  • Higher Level Studies
  • Preparing for future studies
  • Level 3

Level 3 qualifications are regulated to the Regulated Qualifications Framework (RQF) in England and Northern Ireland and the Credit and Qualifications Framework for Wales, though many may be offered on a three-country basis.

Level 3 is broadly aligned to the Scottish Credit and Qualifications Framework (SCQF) Level 6 / 7.


Pass, Fail


Internally assessed and externally quality assured portfolio of evidence.

Students are set assignments. These may be in the form of briefs, scenarios, problem-solving exercises and/or research investigations. They are contextualised using realistic scenarios. The assessment may require students to write a report, write a business proposal, deliver a presentation, or make conclusions based on extensive research into a practical investigation.

All assessment is criterion-referenced, based on the achievement of specified learning outcomes. Each unit within a qualification has specified assessment guidance.

Contribution of assessment components to overall grade

Assessment is based 100% on the portfolio of evidence.

Resit arrangements

To achieve the NCFE Level 3 Award or the NCFE Level 3 Extended Award in Higher Level Studies, students must successfully demonstrate their achievement of all learning outcomes of the units as detailed in the qualification specification.

Students who are not successful can resubmit work within the registration period.

Guided/notional learning hours
NCFE Level 3 Award in Higher Level Studies: 30 hours
NCFE Level 3 Extended Award in Higher Level Studies: 60 hours
UCAS Tariff points

NCFE Level 3 Extended Award in Higher Level Studies

Grade Points
P 8

NCFE Level 3 Award in Higher Level Studies

Grade Points
P 8


Key issues for UK HE admissions

There are a number of key considerations for HEPs when reviewing vocational qualifications that are not listed on the DfE 16 – 19 performance tables for England:

  • Some of these qualifications are occupational, and may not be designed specifically for progression to HE.
  • Applicants holding these qualifications may be school or college leavers, however, some may be more mature students who are likely to have other relevant experience alongside these qualifications.
  • These qualifications may have been taken as part of a wider study programme or an apprenticeship.
  • If they are presented for admission to HE it is likely to be in conjunction with other qualifications.

These are the only qualifications of their type and have been developed to ensure that students with vocational qualifications are appropriately prepared for the rigour of academic study.

Several universities, as well as recent graduates, were involved in their development, to ensure their relevance and currency.

Level 3 criteria require students to analyse, draw conclusions, interpret or justify, which are all examples of higher level skills. This means that evidence provided for the portfolio will also demonstrate the development and use of higher level learning skills.

Students may combine the Level 3 Award or Extended Award in Higher Level Studies with other qualifications e.g. A levels or other vocational qualifications; they are a supplementary qualification to A levels and Level 3 vocational qualifications, for those students wishing to progress to higher level learning.

Timing of assessments/results for learners

Students are assessed throughout their programme of learning and may submit their portfolio of evidence at any point.

Results are provided on a rolling basis.

Qualification dates notes

These qualifications are current.

Reporting and certification information

The results of these qualifications are reported to UCAS through Awarding Body Linkage (ABL).

View the results available through ABL.

Certification of these qualifications is reported on the basis of the number of certificates achieved over a 12-month period.

Progression information

These qualifications are designed to help students develop higher level study skills.

They support progression to higher study, an apprenticeship or employment.

Further information

View the qualification specification for the Award:…

View the qualification specification for the Extended Award:…