NCTJ Level 3 Diploma in Journalism (QCF)

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

This qualification is not listed on the DfE 16 – 19 performance tables because it is not designed to meet the requirements of the Key Stage 5 performance tables.

  • England
  • Wales
  • Northern Ireland

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.

The NCTJ Level 3 Diploma in Journalism prepares students for their first job, further training and the start of a career in journalism.

Students will be equipped with the qualities, skills and knowledge needed to become a journalist and work on publications serving many different platforms.

Education context

This qualification is designed for post-16 students and falls 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.

This qualification/these qualifications has/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.

Awarding organisation
  • NCTJ
Qualification code
501/1103/6 (NCTJ Level 3 Diploma in Journalism (QCF))

The Diploma in Journalism was designed for the Qualifications and Credit Framework (QCF).

This is a unit-based qualification. All units are at Level 3.

To gain the Diploma in Journalism students must gain a minimum of 82 credits.

Students must complete five mandatory units (Group A) gaining 68 credits, and at least two optional units (Group B) to gain another 14 credits.

A student taking broadcast journalism as an option may complete just this one option to gain the full Diploma qualification. It is a double module covering TV and radio journalism.

Subject areas

Journalism skills. 

The five mandatory units are:

  • News reporting (16 credits)
  • E-portfolio for journalists (21 credits)
  • Essential media law and regulation for journalists (9 credits)
  • Essential public affairs for journalists (7 credits)
  • Teeline shorthand for journalists (15 credits).

Specialist journalism skills.

 The optional units include:

  • Media law court reporting (7 credits)
  • Video journalism for online (7 credits)
  • Production journalism (7 credits)
  • Sports journalism (7 credits)
  • Business and finance journalism (7 credits)
  • Business of magazines (7 credits)
  • Photography for journalists (7 credits)
  • Broadcast journalism (14 credits)

Further information on the content and assessment of the Diploma can be found at:

  • Level 3

This is a Level 3 qualification regulated to the Qualifications and Credit Framework (QCF).¹

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

¹ The QCF was a credit-based transfer system which recognised qualifications and units by awarding credits. It has now been withdrawn for all new qualifications and replaced by the RQF and the Credit and Qualifications Framework for Wales.


The grading scale used to signify performance differentiation within the qualification and units is A – F grades with C grade being the industry standard for each unit and F grade being a fail.

Credit is awarded for achievement of grades A – E in each of the units required to complete the Diploma in Journalism qualification.

Teeline shorthand is not graded; speeds are awarded from 60 – 120 words per minute.

The industry standard for shorthand is 100 words per minute.


Each subject is assessed by examination and/or coursework set and marked by NCTJ examination teams.

The e-portfolio is a continuous assessment, including evidence of journalistic skills and application of knowledge and understanding.

Each unit has a programme of study including assessment criteria, how marks are awarded and grade descriptors on which students’ levels of attainment will be differentiated.

The assessment criteria for each unit clearly specify the standard that the student is expected to meet in order to demonstrate that the learning outcomes have been achieved.

Learning outcomes are listed in the qualification specification for the Diploma in Journalism and information on assessments can be found on the NCTJ website:

Contribution of assessment components to overall grade

Certification includes a list of subjects studied and the grades achieved for each subject including the highest speed achieved for shorthand.

Students who gain grades A – C in each unit plus a minimum of 100 words per minute shorthand will be awarded the industry ‘gold standard’ Diploma in Journalism which is stated on the certificate.

Resit arrangements

Where a student is not able to reach the minimum standard in an examination, coursework or portfolio, application for reexamination at that level is permitted.

Guided/notional learning hours
82 credits: 650 hours
UCAS Tariff points

NCTJ Level 3 Diploma in Journalism (QCF)

Grade Points
P 48


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.

The NCTJ Level 3 Diploma in Journalism is set on the qualifications register with the following objectives:

  • Qualifications that indicate an individual can undertake a specific role in the workplace and that they may be relied upon by employers
  • Qualifications that are included in apprenticeship frameworks, including functional skills.
Timing of assessments/results for learners

Results will normally be issued within four weeks of the date of the examination. This time is necessary to ensure that all results are properly standardised and checked by the NCTJ. Certificates will normally be issued within six weeks of the course end date.

NCTJ exams are held on a monthly basis to accommodate a number of different training providers and courses that the NCTJ accredits to deliver the Diploma in Journalism. These include:

  • HEPs: 3 – 4 year undergraduate, postgraduate diploma and master's courses.
  • FE colleges: academic year courses, 18 – 20 week fast-track courses and apprenticeships.
  • Independent training providers: 16-week short courses and fast-track courses.
  • Distance students: national exam dates offered during April and November each year.
Qualification date
Starting from 01 Sep 2010
Qualification dates notes

This is a current qualification.

It is regularly reviewed to ensure it meets the needs of the media industry in terms of structure, content and assessment.

Reporting and certification information

The results of this qualification are not reported to UCAS through Awarding Body Linkage (ABL). This does not reflect the validity of the qualification. HEPs will need to ask applicants to provide their own evidence of achievement.

View the results available through ABL.

Certification data is submitted on a quarterly basis to Ofqual when requested.

The NCTJ also provides data to the Personal Learning Records Service.

Progression information

Gaining the diploma qualification can lead to employment within the industry.

It can also provide access for entry to the National Qualification in Journalism (NQJ) – the NCTJ’s professional qualification which can be entered for after at least eighteen months’ employment in the industry. This qualification is recognised on the qualifications register at Level 5.

If a student wishes to follow a news reporters’ pathway, they must ensure that one of the optional units achieved is media law court reporting (as this is an NQJ progression requirement).

All units must be achieved at grade C or above, including 100wpm shorthand, to be eligible to sit the NQJ for news reporters.

Further information

This qualification provides opportunities for students who are preparing for, or are already engaged in, careers as professional journalists.

It is suitable for those aged 16+ with a minimum of five GCSEs at grade C or above. There is no age limit. It can be used by those who have completed full-time education or by those who are considering a career change. It can also support individuals to work independently and effectively in life and those seeking to progress further in education and training.

The NCTJ Level 3 Diploma in Journalism is a mandatory qualification for students gaining employment as an apprentice junior journalist. The apprenticeship standard for a junior journalist can be viewed here:

NCTJ entry requirements are intended to ensure that there are no barriers to restrict access and progression and equal opportunities exist for all students. Students with particular educational needs are not targeted separately although special provision may be made for them.