Student Advice

NVQ (National Vocational Qualification)

Ben Maples  · Apr 13th 2023

NVQ stands for National Vocational Qualifications in England and is equivalent to the Scottish Vocational Qualification (SVQ) in Scotland.


The NVQ has been around since 1986 and has been a mainstay of British educational frameworks ever since. NVQ courses have taken on many different forms over the years, with the regulatory bodies changing, the grading criteria and the list of subjects offered as well.

Here, we will talk about the NVQ meaning, how NVQ levels have changed over the years, speak about how the NVQ qualification can benefit you and your later career and speak about the NVQ star and answer questions like what is NVQ?

National Vocational Qualifications

What is an NVQ?

NVQ, or National Vocational Qualification, is a work-based qualification designed to validate an individual's skills and knowledge required for a specific job or career path. It is a practical, competency-based certification demonstrating a candidate's ability to perform tasks effectively within their chosen profession.

Critical Aspects of NVQs:

  1. Purpose: Validate skills and knowledge required for a job or career path
  2. Structure: Competency-based, focusing on practical skills and real-world application
  3. Assessment: Candidates must demonstrate and prove their capabilities in their chosen role
  4. Levels: NVQs range from Level 1 (basic skills) to Level 7 (advanced professional skills)

NVQs offer a flexible learning approach, allowing individuals to progress at their own pace and achieve their qualifications while working. NVQs are ideal for those seeking career advancement and employers looking to develop their workforce. In addition to vocational skills, NVQs can help individuals develop essential transferable skills, such as problem-solving, communication, and teamwork.

An NVQ is equivalent to the Scottish Vocational Qualification (SVQ) in Scotland.

Both of these awards are work-based awards, achieved through assessments and training. Studying for an NVQ is a good option if you know exactly which career you’d like to pursue, much like you would with a BTEC or with your SQAs.

For the most part, NVQs are vocational (professional) qualifications and do not come with academic UCAS tariff points.

Who can study an NVQ?

An NVQ can be studied at a school or college if you have a work placement. It can also be studied by full-time employees at the workplace, or by part-time workers if they need to develop a particular skill. You may also study for an NVQ as part of an apprenticeship. It is a great way to learn, because you do not have to give up work to earn this vocational qualification.

As there are different levels of NVQs, each is very accessible to study as and when suits you, depending on your current experience. You can even do an NVQ through the Open University, making it an attractive prospect for people who live some distance from their local college.

How to choose NVQ subjects

There are more than 1000 subjects to study so it can be very daunting when choosing what to study at NVQ level. When deciding on what to study at NVQ level you should consider both your current educational qualifications and your personal interests.

If you are unsure on what subject could help your study or job, you can talk to a career advisor at your school or college; they will be able to look through your previous exam results and stronger subjects and help you decide how these might translate into an NVQ subject. Finally consider what you enjoy doing the most and what you would like to do in the future.

Although it is helpful to get suggestions and ideas from the people in your life, ultimately the decision has to be yours and should not be made for you: you should not be pressured by anyone else.

Each level of the NVQ can take any amount of time to complete, but it usually takes around a year to complete each NVQ Level 1 and NVQ Level 2.

NVQ subject list

There are plenty of subjects to choose from when selecting an NVQ. These subjects include the following:

  • Building and construction, and warehousing and distribution
  • Engineering, manufacturing, and transportation operations and maintenance
  • Science, horticulture, animal care and veterinary science
  • Sport, leisure and recreation, and travel and tourism
  • Hospitality and catering and service enterprises
  • Language, literature and culture
  • Health and social care, public services and child development
  • Marketing, sales, administration and business management
  • Crafts, creative arts and design, and media and communication
  • Direct training and support

With the subjects, you can study these at different levels.

How long does an NVQ take?

Each level of the NVQ can take any amount of time to complete, but it usually takes around a year to complete each NVQ Level 1 and NVQ Level 2. On reaching NVQ Level 3 it may take a further year or even two further years due to the higher level.

Once you’ve earned your NVQ, it’s a life-long qualification. There is no definitive time limit put on the actual study process, although extreme cases might be an issue. City & Guilds, one of the major UK NVQ providers, states that “within reason, NVQs do not have to be completed in a specified amount of time”.

Do I actually need to study an NVQ?

In some jobs, studying for an NVQ is an optional extra, but not essential. So what are NVQs for if they aren’t necessary to a profession? Well, for an increasing number of jobs, employees are required to study for an NVQ in their field. Additionally, it’s a badge of competence and professional expertise, so it can aid promotion, and it can command a higher salary in your current role compared to if you don’t complete the NVQ.

How to get a CSCS Card without an NVQ

The CSCS is a Construction Skills Certificate Scheme, which is run by the Construction Industry Training Board and is now mandatory on all construction sites in the UK.

With regards to obtaining one without an NVQ, it’s a little known fact, but you don’t actually need to have an NVQ in order to apply for the CSCS Card.

However, those looking to apply for a CSCS Blue Skilled Worker Card, will be required to have an NVQ Level 2 Diploma.


How much are the NVQ fees, and is there any NVQ funding?

For many students, studying an NVQ is completely funded by their college or employer, and free NVQs are almost always available for 16-18 year olds.

However, the cost of an NVQ can sometimes vary, along with the criteria for funded places. It might be that a free NVQ is available to people who have not already completed a level 3 qualification, such as A Levels. It can also be age-dependent, related to the subject / profession, and level of study (e.g. funding may only be available for NVQ level 3 and above). For example, a year-long NVQ level 3 certificate in advice and guidance with the OU for 2019-2020 costs £1700. As the cost of an NVQ is so variable, it’s best to confirm with your employer and college to find out how much - if anything - you will need to pay.

Alongside the possible funding of your NVQ, or the chance of completing free NVQs, you will also be paid per hour for your contribution to the workplace. In many jobs, the NVQ is an ‘add on’ to a normal salaried role, in which you are already earning the national minimum wage.

If you’re working in a tailor-made apprenticeship, designed to combine work and study, then this may be different.

There is a specific apprenticeship minimum wage scale, which from October 2021 stands at £4.62 per hour for under 18s, £6.56 for 18 to 20 year olds, £8.36 for 21 to 22 year olds, and £8.91 per hour for apprentices over the age of 23. These are the minimum hourly wages, remember, so you may be paid above these rates.

Different NVQ levels

Each NVQ is a competency grading which shows how able you are at a particular job, therefore the higher your level the higher your proven ability to complete a task. You can either start at level 1 or a higher level depending on your current ability, up to level 5.

  • NVQ Level 1: this is the entry level NVQ and shows that you are able to apply a range of basic skills and knowledge in a routine and predictable way within the workplace.
  • NVQ Level 2: achieving the second level allows you to use your range of skills and knowledge in a variety of contexts and varied tasks, as well as complex issues or non-routine aspects of the job. You are required to demonstrate your teamwork skills and must showcase some individual work and individual responsibility.
  • NVQ Level 3: to reach level 3, you must use your range of skills and knowledge in complex or non-routine aspects more often than not. You must be trusted with more responsibility, and you are often left to guide others, which is essential in NVQ level 3 courses.
  • NVQ Level 4: this higher level showcases your good knowledge of workplace skills and knowledge in all situations. You will hold a substantial degree of responsibility, and you will direct others, it will often be left up to you to allocate resources.
  • NVQ Level 5: As the hardest level to achieve you will hold a high degree of responsibility for other workers, taking responsibility for their work as well as allocating resources. You will be able to use a variety of skills in any situation that may occur, including those that are unplanned and unpredictable. You are responsible for analysis, diagnosis, design, planning, executing and evaluating.
NVQ stands for National Vocational Qualification in England.

How are NVQs assessed?

The NVQ is a practical work-based qualification and is based on your practical skills, therefore the NVQ is assessed in the workplace.

Throughout your time studying for an NVQ, you will complete training, building up a portfolio of evidence based on your professional experience. You will also undergo two final assessments, during which an NVQ assessor will observe and ask questions.

First will be your portfolio assessment: within this portfolio, you will present a selection of work and evidence to prove the skills you have learnt while at work. Next, you will have an observation by an NVQ assessor. Your assessor will observe you while you are at work to ensure that you can do the skills required for your particular job.

How are NVQs graded?

After your NVQ assessor (you might even want to look into NVQ assessor jobs) has completed all the necessary steps to observe and record your progress, you will be awarded either a successful ‘competent’ award. Alternatively, if further work needs completing, you will receive a ‘not yet competent’, and you can try again. Throughout the five levels, you will be assessed against national standards for the job that you wish to do.

What can I do after an NVQ?

The path you choose after studying an NVQ very much depends on the level that you have just completed. If you have recently completed entry level 1, it is likely that you will progress onto the higher levels, when you’re given more responsibility in the workplace, and you will gather more and more experience. On achieving the three levels you can continue with further study in the same area as your NVQ, such as working towards a Higher National Certificate (HNC), or Higher National Diploma (HND), you could apply for a foundation degree or even a bachelor’s degree.

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