Countryside Management Association

The Qualifications Jungle

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Mark Wallington: Lecturer at Moulton College, guides us through the various levels of qualifications on offer these days and how they relate to each other.

Courses for Horses!
This article is designed to help those who:

- want to gain qualifications for the first time,
- seek to add to their existing qualifications,
- advise or counsel staff or volunteers and need to be aware of the range of qualifications available,
- advertise for/employ staff and need to be aware of the different types of qualification offered.

Further Education Qualifications
Qualifications are organised into different levels under the National Qualifications Framework. The table below has been modified from the Qualifications & Curriculum Authority.

Qualification Level
Qualification Category
1: Foundation GCSE grades D-G   NVQ Level 1
2: Intermediate GCSE grades A*-C First Diploma NVQ Level 2
3: Advanced A level National Certificate; National Diploma NVQ Level 3
4   Higher National Certificate/Diploma NVQ Level 4
5   NVQ Level 5

NB - Qualifications at the same level are broadly comparable in terms of general level of outcome; they will not necessarily have the same purpose, content or outcomes.

First Diploma e.g. FD Countryside and Environment

- Usually no formal entry qualifications required.
- Needs a reasonable general level of education.
- First Diploma is equivalent to GCSE A*-C.
- Usually a one year full time course.

National Certificate e.g. NC in Environmental Conservation

- May not have any formal entry qualifications.
- Good level of general education needed.
- Equivalent to GCE A level.
- Usually a one year full time course.

National Diploma e.g. ND in Countryside Management

- Usually formal entry requirements e.g. 4 GCSE A to C passes, or a First Diploma or National Certificate or an NVQ2.
- Equivalent to GCE A level.
- Usually a two year full time course.

Higher National Certificate e.g. HNC in Countryside Management.

- Often a part time course over 2 years.
- Entry requirements usually one A level or a ND (negotiable for mature students).

Higher National Diploma e.g. HND in Countryside Management.

- Full time over 2 years.
- Some institutions offer the Foundation Degree instead.
- Entry requirements are similar to the HNC.

Higher Education Qualifications
Higher Education provision is delivered via a separate framework, set by the Quality Assurance Authority. The table below has been modified from the Qualifications & Curriculum Authority.

1: Certificate Certificates of Higher Education
2: Intermediate Foundation Degrees; Bachelors Degrees; Diplomas of Higher Education
3: Honours

Bachelors Degrees with Honours; Graduate Certificates and Diplomas

4: Masters Masters, Postgraduate Certificates and Diplomas
5: Doctorates Doctorates (PhD)

Foundation Degree
A relatively new qualification designed to integrate academic and work-based learning. There are around 20 “countryside” type courses. They generally replace HNC/HND’s and are usually available as 3 years part time or 2 years full time modular courses. Entry qualifications are typically one A level at C or an A level vocational equivalent (mature students can often negotiate). Applications are via UCAS.

Top up Degree
For students who successfully complete an HND or Foundation Degree, this 1-year course gives a qualification equivalent to a full Degree.

A huge range is available. UCAS has a facility to search for courses by name, institution or region (e.g. the word ‘countryside’ found 61 matches). Entry requirements will vary between institutions.

Post Graduate qualifications such as diplomas, masters, and doctorates.
Many institutions offer these types of qualifications, (e.g. Birkbeck), tailored to the needs of those in employment. Again, entry qualifications will vary, but professional experience may count towards this.

Occupational Qualifications

Modern Apprenticeships
These are for young people aged between 16 and 24. The trainee gets paid and receives other allowances such as accommodation and travel expenses. Typically, trainees spend 4 days per week in the workplace, then 1 day in College. They work towards a National Vocational Qualification. The framework for the Modern Apprenticeships in Environmental Conservation has been drawn up by LANTRA.

National Vocational Qualification e.g., NVQ in Environmental Conservation levels 2 and 3.
These are based on National Occupational Standards (N.O.S.) written by LANTRA. The Level 2 course is available via three different pathways:

- an environmental conservation pathway;
- a rivers, coasts and waterways pathway; and
- a community recycling pathway.

The difference between Level 2 and Level 3 is that the latter assumes a greater involvement in organisation and management.

Details from LANTRA.

Colleges will differ in whether these courses are offered as ‘stand alone’ options, and whether candidates need to attend College. It should be possible for a candidate to gather all the evidence required for an NVQ in the workplace and to gain the qualification without needing to visit College.


As can be seen, there are a wide range of options available. If you are thinking of pursuing a course, you should::

- Compare courses between different institutions – they are not all the same, even if the titles sound similar!
- Look at the institution’s website to see how they promote themselves.
- Telephone the institution and see if you can chat to someone in the relevant department – ask about the course and whether it will be right for YOU. Staff will be willing to answer questions as it is in their interests to make sure students are on the right course. You may also find out if courses are available part time or on a modular approach, and whether entry requirements can be negotiated.
- Ask if the institution has had a recent Government inspection.
- Visit the institution – most have open days. You will be able to gauge the level of resources available, and chat to the staff responsible for delivering the course.

If you have any comments or questions, please contact Mark Wallington. Phone 01604 491131 extension 404

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