Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Going for Gold Is Not the Only Route to Success; You Don't Always Need A-Levels to Get into Higher Education. Other Qualifications Will Do, Says Joel Wolchover Education 2004

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Going for Gold Is Not the Only Route to Success; You Don't Always Need A-Levels to Get into Higher Education. Other Qualifications Will Do, Says Joel Wolchover Education 2004

Article excerpt

Byline: JOEL WOLCHOVER

THEY have been around for more than 50 years and are familiar currency to employers and universities. A-levels are often described as the "gold standard" of qualifications, due to their supposed reliability as an indicator of students' ability.

You might be surprised to learn, however, that they are by no means the only route into higher education.

In fact, universities and colleges accept a wide range of other qualifications, including vocational subjects which are not available at A-level.

Admissions tutors will even take into account work experience and any other special skills you can demonstrate, especially if you are a mature student returning to education some time after you left school.

However, with so many different qualifications available, it can be difficult to work out what each one is "worth". This is the job of the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority (QCA), the Government agency which accredits both academic and vocational qualifications.

The QCA's National Qualifications Framework (agreed with the equivalent bodies in Wales and Northern Ireland) has five different levels. Levels 1 and 2 are for qualifications equivalent to GCSE standard, Level 3 is for A-levels and equivalent vocational qualifications, and Levels 4 and 5 are for higher education.

If you are looking to get into university, look for qualifications at Level 3, because they carry the same weight as A-levels.

But each university is responsible for its own admissions, so you should check what individual institutions will accept.

Michael D'Santos, 22, was working on the railways when he saw a poster for an open day at London Metropolitan University. He went along, enrolled on the spot and has just passed his Higher National Diploma (HND) in electronics and communications with flying colours. He is due to start a degree course this autumn and hopes to return to the railways as a graduate, helping to design the signalling systems he once repaired.

He says: "I did GCSEs at school but I wasn't very academic and the teachers didn't recommend that I go on to do A-levels. But I have always been good with my hands and I decided to do an advanced GNVQ in engineering at my local college, which is equivalent to two A-levels. It has helped me to understand the basics of engineering, which I have been able to build on at university.

"After college I became a trainee signal technician on the railways. I could have stayed in that job, but the other technicians said I was a bit too bright for what I was doing. They made me realise that I had undervalued myself.

"I was often travelling by train from Peterborough to London for work and always saw the university from the train window. I saw the posters advertising an open day, so I went along and they seemed quite interested in me and enrolled me on the spot. …

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