A Levels or Vocational Course | What's the difference between Levels 1, 2 & 3 | Poole Dorset


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What are the different types of courses at College?

There are so many college courses out there, sometimes it’s hard to work through them all, let alone understand what they all mean or what they’ll cover! Head of Education Clare Hicks explains all.

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Here’s a run-down for you, to help you with all the courses that are available to you at College. 

1. Let’s start with the levels to begin with!

Level 1 - Level 1 programmes are often referred to as Foundation level. These courses are designed for students that gained a range of GCSE’s at grade 1 – 3. 

Level 2 – Level 2 programmes are equivalent to GCSE level study, normally for students that gained a range of grade 3’s at GCSE’s and these programmes will often be combined with English and Maths GCSE’s. You can complete Level 2 programmes from a range of exam boards like NCFE, BTEC, OCR and City and Guilds. You can also complete Apprenticeships at Level 2. At Rockley we run the NCFE Level 2 Diploma in Sport (Outdoors). This programme is a 1-year course and equivalent to 4 GCSE’s. 

Level 3 – Level 3 programmes are equivalent to A-level study and predominantly for students that have gained at least 4 or 5 GCSEs, at grade 4 and above. There are a wide range of courses for you to study at this level, in a wide range of areas and subjects. Some programmes are equivalent to 1 A-level, some 2 and some 3 A-levels. You can complete Level 3 programmes from a wide range of exam boards, just like you can at Level 2, such as AQA, NCFE, OCR and BTEC. You can also complete Apprenticeships at Level 3. At Rockley, we run the NCFE Level 3 Extended Diploma in Sport and Physical Activity (Outdoors). This programme is a 2-year course and equivalent to 3 A-levels. We also run the Level 3 Outdoor Activity Instructor Apprenticeship. This course is 12 – 18 months long and is equivalent to 2 A-levels. 

2. A-levels or Vocational course?

At Colleges you tend to have options to study either an A-level route, often referred to as an Academic route or a Vocational route. So, what does this mean? A-levels have been around forever and are the most well know route for most people that have been to college or sixth form. Most people have completed these, not necessarily because they are better or worse than any other programme, but more because this is just what was available and has always been available. 

With this being said, Vocational courses have been available for just as long, however they have not always been seen as favourably as A-levels. This changed in the 90’s, when there was a big boom in Educational Vocational courses, and this is when we saw the introduction of Level 2 and Level 3 Diplomas and Extended Diplomas. Over time there have been loads of Vocational programmes from exam boards covering a range of topics, these being NVQ’s, GNVQ’s BTEC’s, NCFE, CNAT etc etc.  

What you will find now is that at a College, there will be a range of courses available for you and your decision now is, do I want to study A-levels in traditional subjects like Maths, History, Physics or would you prefer a Vocational course or Apprenticeship in Sport, Business, Childcare, Travel and Tourism, Engineering etc. 

3. So how are these programmes assessed?

Assessment is really where the courses are different. Quick question for you, do you like exams, enjoy learning, retaining and revising content and then sitting an exam at the end of a 2-year programme? Or do you prefer coursework, projects and more applied practical learning? This is really where you’ll see real differences in the courses available at Colleges, and this is where it really is important to decide as to what suits you best. 

Picking a two-year programme and having lots of exams at the end of the two years that depict your overall grade might be perfect for you, or it may be the most daunting thing ever. Likewise, completing lots of coursework throughout the two years may be perfect and suit how you learn, or again might be the worst thing for you. Which do you prefer? If you like exams, go for A-levels. If you like projects and assignment work without exams, go for a Vocational programme or an Apprenticeship. 

How do I Choose?!

Choosing a College course is ironically firstly about understanding the language and understanding what everyone is talking about. It’s easy to get confused early on until you understand it clearly yourself and also, don’t forget, your family members probably did A-levels, so if you start talking to them about Apprenticeships and NCFE Level 3 extended diplomas, they might not know what you are talking about!

At Rockley we cover the following courses:

Level 3 Extended Diploma in Sport and Physical Activity (Outdoors)

Level 2 Diploma in Sport (Outdoors)

Fast Track - Level 3 Diploma in Sport and Physical Activity (Outdoors)

Level 3 Outdoor Activity Instructor Apprenticeship

If you would like to find out more about courses at Rockley and what we have to offer, maybe head over to our YouTube Channel and watch our courses presentation, that covers everything we have to offer you: 

Remember as always, do your research and keep your options open, consider all your choices and Good luck! 

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