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Qualifications Explained

At North Durham Academy we offer 3 types of qualifications in our 16+ curriculum. Your GCSE grades will determine the number and combination of course options that you can choose:

AS/A2 Level Courses

Level 3 Vocational Courses

Professional Courses

Frequently Asked Questions

AS/A2 Level Courses

A Levels are traditional academic qualifications involving examinations and some coursework in a small number of subjects. Historically, A Levels comprised two parts: the AS in the first year of sixth form study – Year 12, and the A2 in the second year – Year 13. To achieve the full A Level qualification students must continue to study a subject in Year 13 after completing the AS examinations in Year 12. Most students take three or four AS courses in Year 12 and continue with three A2, or full A Level courses, in Year 13.

As you may be aware, in September 2015 the Government changed the way most A Level courses were structured; this was a national change which applied to every sixth form and college in the country. As a result, centres may elect not submit students for AS examination at the end of Year 12 as students are examined on learning and content from both Year 12 and Year 13 at the end of their Year 13 studies.  Here at NDA16+, we will continue to submit the majority of students for AS examinations at the end of Year 12 as we consider this to be a valuable experience for students, and it will allow students to claim AS qualifications (which attract UCAS points) for courses they no longer wish to study in Year 13 i.e. if they drop from four to three courses.

Level 3 Vocational Courses:

BTEC Level 3 qualifications offer students a more practical learning programme that relates directly to specific careers and areas of employment. They are equal in value to A Level courses and are widely recognised by both employers and universities. These courses enable you to demonstrate your skills and knowledge in practical situations throughout the course; however, again following Government reform, all BTEC courses now attract assessment by external examination.  You could choose to study a Level 3 Extended Certificate which is a single option (worth 1 A level) or a Level 3 Diploma (worth 2 A Levels).

Professional Courses:

At North Durham Academy you could choose to study one of our professional courses in either Motor Vehicle or Hairdressing. Both of these courses are full-time programmes and will teach you the practical skills that employers are looking for - or they may inspire you to study further in these growing and dynamic industries. The course involves practical workshop-based learning and assessments along with sessions on the theory and operation of real-life businesses. These qualifications are highly regarded by employers and prepare students extremely well for a career in their chosen vocational area.

Frequently Asked Questions

What do some universities mean by ‘enabling’ or ‘facilitating’ subjects?

Some of the top ranking universities refer to ‘traditional’ academic A Levels such as English Literature, Maths, Sciences, Language subjects, History and Geography as ‘enabling’ or ‘facilitating’ subjects. These selective universities prefer applicants for their degree courses to have studied mainly ‘facilitating’ subjects at sixth form as they provide a greater theoretical and conceptual background than other courses which may be focused on more practical or applied learning.

When applying to university it is equally important that students achieve the best grades they can on their sixth form courses. Based on the grades a student achieves at GCSE, ‘facilitating’ subjects may not give them the best chance of success at A Level, and we will therefore provide all students with personalised advice about the best course choices for them. We will not lower any students’ aspirations; however, we will ensure that they have the best chance of success in their future ambitions. Each university will have their own preferred combination of subjects on entry so if you have a specific university in mind, it is always best to check on their website, or do a course search at www.ucas.com, to check if your choices will be appropriate.

Are BTEC Level 3 Diploma qualifications well established?

BTEC Level 3 Diplomas are well-established with employers and universities and have been awarded for almost twenty years. BTEC Level 3 Diplomas can be studied on their own or alongside examination-based A Levels; earn the same UCAS points as A Levels; and are valued by universities as a route into a wide range of degree courses.

Do all universities accept vocational a levels?

Universities select students based upon their best GCSE grades as well as their post-16 qualifications. For students who gain mainly C grades at GCSE, or have done extremely well at BTEC in Year 11, it will be better to choose BTEC Level 3 Diploma courses. This is because for these students a BTEC Level 3 Diploma will increase their chances of achieving the highest possible grades at sixth form which will ensure they can progress to a wide range of quality universities and careers. Grade Cs at GCSE and BTEC Level 3 Diplomas are not likely to be sufficient for entry to the top 20 UK universities (‘The Russell Group’) – although it is still possible. If you want to progress to a Russell Group university then A Levels in traditional academic subjects will be the best option for you, but it is always worth checking with individual university websites if you are interested in taking a BTEC Level 3 Diploma course.

For more information about NDA16+ or to discuss the courses available please contact the Sixth Form Team on  01207 292 180 or email 16+@ndacademy.co.uk .