Q2. Are students able to easily access post-16 vocational courses in the local area for STEM? What proportion of students choose to go on to vocational study or an apprenticeship in a scientific or technical field?

Why this is important

  • Vocational courses or apprenticeships offer an alternative to A levels and can lead to a wide range of employment opportunities in STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) fields, for example becoming a science technician. Apprenticeships are also a popular route into engineering.
  • Vocational courses are not often offered at schools, so it is important that students have enough information about where and what vocational courses are available locally to decide whether to pursue them.


  • Further education is a large and diverse sector with many options for young people and adults. As a result, benchmarking data can be very difficult to compile, particularly for vocational qualifications. The most important thing is that students have full access to information about the opportunities available to study for vocational qualifications in further education.  See the careers advice and guidance for more information.
  • The DfE’s tables on employment32 destinations should make it possible to benchmark your school against others on employment destinations as well as universities. They show the number of school leavers continuing with education, entering sustained employment and not in education, employment or training (NEET).

The government’s Compare school and college performance website allows you to see your school’s performance, including Progress 8 scores and top line performance in a wider context.

Table 12 shows the different levels of qualifications in England, and examples of each, taken from the QCF (Qualifications and Credit Framework).

Table 12: Levels of qualifications in England
Example qualificationLevel
Doctoral degree8
Master’s degree Postgraduate study7
Bachelor’s degree6
NVQ level 4 / Vocational qualification level 55
AS and A level / NVQ level 33
GCSEs grade A*-C / Vocational qualifications level 2 / NVQ level 22
GCSEs grade D-G / NVQ level 1 / Vocational qualifications level 11
Functional skills entry level / Entry level certificatesEntry

Table 13 is a guideline for the range of further education pathways that came out of recent post-16 education reform, and some examples of what is available.

Table 13: Further education pathways available post-16
ApprenticeshipsAcademicApplied generalTechnical level
DescriptionCombines practical training in a job with study. Gains job-specific skills and works towards a related qualification. Earns a wage. Advanced qualifications in a subject, usually leading on from GCSEs. Achieves broad knowledge base in chosen subject. Broader study than technical level, offering advanced study through applied learning.Leads on to recognised occupation and is specific learning for that occupation.
QualificationIntermediate (equiv 5 GCSE passes), Advanced (equiv 2 A levels), Higher (leads to NVQ level 4)AS and A levels (all level 3)All level 3 vocational qualifications e.g NVQ level 3All level 3 vocational qualifications e.g NVQ level 3
ExamplesHuge range from many sectors including: laboratory and science technicians, engineering (chemical, automotive etc), nursing. Physics, chemistry, biology etc.DfE have produced a list(see link 1 below) of Applied General qualifications, including diplomas in engineering, health care and science.Dfe have produced a list(see link 1 below) of Technical Level qualifications, including in engineering and health care.
More informationSee Link 2See Link 3See Link 4See Link 5
Link 1 from tableLink 2Link 3Link 4Link 5

Ideas for improvement

  • See the careers section of this resource for detailed information.
  • Schools may want to use STEM Insights, which provides teachers with five or 10-day placements in industry or university to help develop their understanding of different career pathways. The scheme has bursary funding.

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