Education CommitteeFurther written evidence submitted by Ofqual (Annex A)

The Range of Qualifications

1. Qualifications taken by 15–19 year olds in schools and colleges have a range of purposes and progression opportunities. Some are commonly taken in preparation for entry to university, some lead into further vocational training or employment; others may be taken for other learning or recreational purposes.

2. As learner age is just one way to classify qualifications, there is no clear mapping of qualifications for 15–19 year olds. Alongside GCSEs, AS and A-levels, many other qualifications are commonly taken in schools and colleges, including:

Vocational qualifications including BTECs and OCR Nationals.

Other proprietary qualifications such as the Cambridge Pre-U and the International Baccalaureate.

Composite “qualifications” such as the Diploma.

Other alternatives and complements to GCSEs and A-levels such as Level 1/2 certificates (derived from IGCSE qualifications), Advanced Extension Awards (now only mathematics) and functional skills.

3. There is also extensive choice within qualification types. For example there are currently 87 different A-level subjects, and for vocational qualifications the choice is even broader.

4. Over the last five years, vocational qualifications have grown in popularity in schools, with the number of achievements increasing threefold from roughly 334,000 in 2006–07 to over 1.32 million in 2009–10. By contrast, general qualification achievements rose from approximately seven million to 7.33 million over the same period. Vocational qualifications now account for 15% of all achievements in schools.

Figure 1

The Current Providers of Qualifications for 15–19 Year Olds

5. A significant number of awarding organisations provide qualifications for 15–19 year olds. These include both large awarding organisations providing many different qualification types, and smaller organisations active in niche areas.

6. There are five major providers of GCSEs and A-levels in England (AQA, OCR, Edexcel, WJEC and CCEA), with three (AQA, OCR and Edexcel) accounting for over 85% of awards and AQA alone accounting for roughly 45% of GCSE awards and 42% of A-level awards. The market share of each awarding organisation has remained relatively stable over a number of years.

Figure 2

Figure 3

7. However whilst there are five major providers across all GCSEs and A-levels, for some subjects there are fewer than five providers, and for many there is only one. For example, of the 87 A-level subjects currently offered, only 21 are provided by all five awarding organisations, and 40 are provided by only one organisation. Subjects provided by all five organisations tend to be more traditional subjects such as English Literature, Maths, Sciences, History and Geography, whereas those provided by only one include lower volume niche subjects such as Anthropology, Biblical Hebrew, Film Studies and Philosophy.

Table 1

Number of

Number of

Examples of A-level subjects



Anthropology (AQA), Biblical Hebrew (OCR), Chinese (Edexcel), Engineering (Edexcel), Film Studies (WJEC), Moving Image Arts (CCEA), Philosophy (AQA), Portuguese (OCR)



Accounting, Critical Thinking, Geology, History of Art, Home Economics



Applied Art and Design, Computing, Electronics, Human Biology, Sociology



Applied Science, Physical Education, Psychology, Travel and Tourism



Applied ICT, Biology, Chemistry, English Literature, French, Geography, History, Maths, Physics

8. For vocational qualifications, the 20 most commonly taken qualifications are provided by five awarding organisations (AQA, British Safety Council, Edexcel, OCR and Sports Leaders UK), with Edexcel and OCR accounting for over 80% of achievements in these top 20 qualifications. Both of the most commonly taken suites of vocational qualification (BTECs and OCR Nationals) are offered by only one awarding organisation (Edexcel and OCR respectively). However some vocational qualification taken in schools are seen as interchangeable by schools, for example level 2 ICT qualifications and this would influence any formal market definition undertaken.

Figure 4

February 2012

Prepared 2nd July 2012