NOCN Tech levels (reformed)

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The QIP covers all NOCN Tech level qualifications that meet the full requirements set by the Department for Education (DfE), and contribute towards performance measures from 2018.
  • England

The Department for Education (DfE) describes Tech level qualifications as follows:

Tech levels are rigorous advanced (Level 3) technical qualifications on a par with A levels and recognised by employers. They are for students aged 16 plus who want to specialise in a specific industry or prepare for a particular job. They cover jobs and careers where employers recruit people at this level, or where a level 3 qualification is needed before students can progress to a related higher education course. Tech levels give students an opportunity to develop specialist knowledge and skills to help them get an apprenticeship or job, for example in engineering, IT, accounting, or professional cookery, or progress to a higher level qualification. In some cases, a tech level qualification is a ‘licence to practise’, or can exempt someone holding the qualification from a professional exam. Tech levels are recognised by trade or professional bodies or at least five employers. Alternatively, the qualification may be accepted by a national licensed professional registration scheme.

Education context

Some vocational qualifications offered at Level 3 have been reformed as a result of changes to school performance tables. Vocational qualifications must meet the criteria set by the Department for Education (DfE) to count towards school performance tables. These reforms mean that 91% of the Level 3 qualifications that previously counted towards school performance tables were removed from performance tables in 2016.

For accountability purposes, vocational qualifications are now classified as:

  • Tech level qualifications: the purpose of these qualifications is to lead to a ‘recognised occupation’. Examples provided by the DfE include engineering, accounting, construction, manufacturing, agriculture, and IT. These qualifications must meet a number of criteria, including the endorsement of five employers registered at Companies House.
  • Applied General qualifications: the purpose of these qualifications is to provide a broader vocational education. They are designed for students wanting to continue their education through applied learning. These qualifications must meet a number of criteria, including endorsement by at least three universities and colleges.

The reform to vocational qualifications is being conducted in two stages: an interim stage and full stage. Each of these stages introduced new criteria for vocational qualifications to meet to count towards school performance tables.

The first teaching of the qualifications reformed on an interim basis was from 2014, and these counted towards school performance tables in 2016. Only qualifications that meet the full criteria count towards performance tables from 2018. Schools and colleges may offer qualifications that are not included in the performance tables, if the qualifications are approved for teaching by the Secretary of State under Section 96.

Read Section 96.

The characteristics that must be met by Tech level qualifications as detailed in the DfE criteria are as follows:


Interim requirement (for qualifications counting in 2016 performance tables)

Full requirement (for qualifications counting in 2018 performance tables)

A. Declared purpose



B. Size



C. Recognition



D. Synoptic assessment



E. External assessment



F. Grading



G. Employer involvement (Tech level qualifications only)



H. Progression



I. Proven track record




These changes include, but are not limited to:

  • Size: Tech level qualifications must require at least 300 guided learning hours (GLH). Applied General qualifications must require at least 150 GLH.
  • Appropriate content: A qualification specification must state the specific content students must pass to achieve the qualification. Mandatory content and the associated contribution to the overall grade must make up at least:
    • 40% of a Tech level
    • 60% of an Applied General
  • Appropriate assessment: Tech levels must have at least 30% external assessment. Applied General must have 40% external assessment. Students will also be given one opportunity to resit.
  • Synoptic assessment.
  • Grading: All vocational qualifications must be graded using three grading points or more, such as Distinction/Merit/Pass.
  • Employer involvement: Tech levels must be recognised and endorsed by a trade/professional body, or at least five employers registered with Companies House.

Tech levels and Applied Generals, while both being vocational qualifications, differ in size and purpose. The NOCN Tech level has 360 GLH, is aimed at students with an interest in a particular industry or occupation, and helps provide entry into employment, onto an apprenticeship, or into higher education in a related vocational area. NOCN does not currently offer Applied Generals. 

HEPs should take care when reviewing vocational qualifications for entry. See ‘Key issues for UK HE admissions’.

Further information about Tech level qualifications, and the range of qualifications that meet these requirements, can be found on the DfE website.

Regulation of Tech level and Applied General qualifications

The regulation of Tech level and Applied General qualifications delivered in England is the responsibility of Ofqual.

The regulatory approach undertaken for Tech level and Applied General qualifications differs to A levels. This is because there are no specific qualification-level criteria for Tech levels, as there are for GCSEs, and AS and A levels currently. Tech level is a category introduced by the Department for Education for accountability purposes, rather than a specific type of regulated qualification. To be included in the Tech level category, qualifications have to demonstrate particular features outlined in the table above.

Tech levels must comply with Ofqual’s general rules, as is the case with all regulated qualifications.

Civil engineering sector

Civil engineering is an expanding sector, with a number of large-scale infrastructure projects planned, and is worth up to £460 billion. These projects include the High Speed 2 Rail Link and Swansea Tidal Lagoon, as well as major road and school building programmes. These and future developments mean there will be an increased demand for new entrants into the industry who have the skills and knowledge required by employers.

The NOCN Level 3 Diploma in Civil Engineering has been developed in partnership with leading employers in this sector. It is aimed at students aged 16 – 18 who are interested in future employment in roles such as civil engineering, computer aided design, structural engineering, and surveying.

Awarding organisation
  • NOCN
Qualification code
601/6550/9 (NOCN Level 3 Diploma in Civil Engineering)

The NOCN Level 3 Diploma in Civil Engineering is a credit-based qualification, comprising 60 credits.

There are four mandatory components totalling 30 credits, and a choice of eight pathways, each with three or four components, which provide the remaining 30 credits required to achieve the qualification.

Subject areas
  • Engineering
  • Civil engineering
  • Structural engineering
  • Design
  • Building information modelling and computer-aided design
  • Surveying
  • Quantity surveying
  • Mechanical and electrical engineering
  • Modular construction 
  • Level 3

Level 3 qualifications are regulated to the Regulated Qualifications Framework (RQF).

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


Individual components are graded using a Pass/Merit/Distinction grading scale. These grades are aggregated into an overall grade for the qualification, also using a Pass/Merit/Distinction grading scale.


As noted in 'Education context', to be classified as a Tech level qualification, the qualification in question must meet certain criteria. This includes:

  • a minimum of 30% external assessment
  • a minimum of 40% mandatory core content
  • an element of synoptic assessment
  • there is a single resit opportunity

The above share the minimum requirements set out by the Department for Education. NOCN meets these requirements by using three assessment components:

  • externally set, externally marked written examination
  • externally set, internally marked, externally quality assured synoptic assignment
  • work experience workbook
Contribution of assessment components to overall grade

Two of the assessment components contribute to the overall grade: the written examination, and the synoptic assignment, weighted at 60% and 40% respectively. Students must achieve a minimum of a Pass in all assessments to achieve the qualification.

Resit arrangements

Reformed Tech level qualifications are only allowed one resit opportunity per unit. The resit must be a new task or assignment, different to the original assessment.

For this qualification, students are allowed one resit opportunity for the written examination, but resits are not permitted for the synoptic assignment.

Guided/notional learning hours
360 hours
Guided/notional learning hours notes

Tech levels require a minimum size of 300 GLH to provide students with sufficient time for meaningful skills development that will equip them to follow a particular trade or profession. For comparison, the size of one A level is 360 GLH.

This qualification comprises 360 GLH, and has a Total Qualification Time (TQT) of 600 hours. The TQT includes the 360 GLH plus other learning, which is not under the immediate guidance of a teacher.

UCAS Tariff points

NOCN Level 3 Diploma in Civil Engineering

Grade Points
D 48
M 32
P 16


Key issues for UK HE admissions

Tech level qualifications are advanced (Level 3) qualifications, mainly taken by 16-19 year old students who want to specialise in a specific industry, occupation, or occupational group. They equip students with specialist knowledge and skills.

There are a number of key considerations for HEPs when reviewing Tech level qualifications that meet the full DfE criteria from 2018:

  • these qualifications are fundamentally different to their predecessors and Applied General qualifications, and are likely to result in students developing different skills and aptitudes. HEPs should review their understanding of these qualifications to ensure it remains upto date.
  • the reformed qualifications include both external and synoptic assessment, as well as changes to resit processes. These changes are likely to result in fewer students passing the qualification. Equally, it is likely that grade distributions will change. In light of this, HEPs may wish to review their entry requirements, offer-making, and decision-making strategies in relation to these qualifications.
  • the reformed and interim reformed qualifications will be delivered by schools and colleges at the same time (see ‘Education context’). Therefore, HEPs may wish to consider their approach to setting and listing entry requirements for the specific qualifications.
  • the dual running of the qualification may result in applicants declaring the incorrect version on their application. UCAS will be working to support applicants and advisers in this area.
  • a larger mandatory core means HEPs that require certain levels of achievement in particular units, or ask for specific units to satisfy subject knowledge requirements, should familiarise themselves with the new content specifications to ensure these requirements are still valid. It should be noted that not all students will be able choose their optional units, and these may be prescribed by the school or college, therefore HEPs should be cautious if requiring achievement in optional modules as part of their entry requirements, offer-making, and decision-making strategies.

Applicants holding reformed Tech level qualifications will have had experience of external and synoptic assessment.

Timing of assessments/results for learners

Timetable of assessment events

Written examination

First attempt   Resit  
Examination month Grade issued to centre (within six weeks) Examination month Grade issued to centre (within six weeks) 
June August January March

Synoptic assignment

Assessment windows

Window opens to access assignments 

Window opens for submission of completed assignments (two weeks after assignment is available)

Window closes for submission of completed assignments (four weeks after assignment is available)

RAC submitted for assignment EQA activity to approve RAC Certificates issued by NOCN
April May May August September September
Qualification date
Starting from 01 Sep 2015
Qualification dates notes

The qualification is current.

Reporting and certification information

The results of NOCN Level 3 Diploma in Civil Engineering are not reported to UCAS through Awarding Body Linkage (ABL). This does not reflect the validity of the qualification. HE providers will need to ask applicants to provide their own evidence of achievement.

View the results available through ABL.

Progression information

Tech level qualifications differ in size, some may meet the entry requirements for higher education in their own right in a related area, and some may need to be offered in conjunction with other Level 3 qualifications, for instance, A levels. In addition, some higher education courses may require specific levels of achievement in particular units, or ask for additional qualifications to satisfy subject knowledge requirements.

Progression to HE will probably be in the vocational area of the qualification, and may be to a foundation degree or a Higher National qualification (HNC/HND).

All students have to take part in meaningful activity involving employers in the course of their study. Examples are work placements, taking part in projects, or some of the course being taught by someone who works in the industry.

As an expanding sector, employers are looking for new entrants to help with the delivery of a wide range of civil engineering projects. By completing this qualification, you will be able to demonstrate to employers that you have an interest in working in civil engineering, and will be in a stronger position to secure an apprenticeship or gain employment at a technician/trainee level. If you have achieved A level mathematics (grade A) alongside a Distinction in this qualification, you may have met the entry requirements for university.

Employment opportunities could include:

  • Trainee Civil Engineering Technician
  • Trainee Quantity Surveyor
  • Trainee Structural Technician
  • Trainee Computer Aided Design Technician

Achievement of this qualification could support progression onto the following apprenticeships:

  • Surveying Technician Apprenticeship Standard
  • Level 6 Higher Apprenticeship in Construction Management
  • Level 5 Higher Apprenticeship in Construction
  • Level 3 Advanced Apprenticeship in Engineering Construction
  • Level 3 Advanced Apprenticeship in Building Services Engineering Technology and Project Management

Achievement of a Distinction grade in this qualification, together with A level mathematics (grade A), may support your application to university for study in the following subjects:

  • Civil Engineering MEng, BEng
  • Civil and Structural Engineering MEng, BEng
  • Quantity Surveying BSc