Popularity of Level 3 vocational subjects

Popularity of Level 3 vocational subjects

March 2017


In the Spring Budget, the UK Government announced additional funding for T-levels, a streamlined system of fifteen technical education routes that were announced in the Post-16 skills plan in 2016.

Currently, there are a variety of vocational qualifications offered to post-16 learners as an alternative to academic qualifications (such as A levels) or other training options (such as apprenticeships). In this Data Byte, we show the most popular vocational subjects taken at Level 3 by 16–19 year olds in England.

Graph of popularity of Level 3 vocational subjects in England by centre type

What does the chart show?

The chart shows the uptake of the twelve most popular subjects as measured by the raw number of qualifications taken. In 2015-2016 these subjects accounted for 76.8% of all entries. We do not account for variations in size of each qualification. For example, extended diplomas are studied full-time and are therefore worth three A levels; by contrast, introductory certificates are worth the same as an AS level.

We have presented the data for the last four academic years and have grouped the uptake data by centre type, separating Further Education colleges from sixth form colleges and state-school sixth forms.

The source of the data is the Department for Education’s Performance Tables. Recent changes to eligibility have affected the qualifications included in the data. For example, no Public Services qualifications were included in the 2015-16 tables, and a popular Childcare Skills qualification was excluded.

Why is the chart interesting?

Business Studies has recently overtaken Computer Appreciation and Sports Studies as the subject with the most entries (36,381 in 2016). For comparison, there were 75,965 entries in the most popular A level, Mathematics.

The uptake of Level 3 vocational qualifications has been growing in recent years. Within these subject areas, the rate of growth has been strongest in Engineering (entries have increased by 134% since 2012-13) and Applied Sciences (82%).

For the most popular subjects – such as Computer Appreciation, Sports Studies, and Business Studies – uptake is spread widely between different centre types. However, other subject areas such as Art & Design and Multimedia are predominantly studied in further education colleges. The highest growth in entries over the four-year period has come from sixth form colleges and schools.

It will be interesting to see how patterns in subject offer by centre type evolve over the coming years, as there are several changes taking place. For example, in parallel to the development of vocational qualifications, Applied A levels are being withdrawn as part of the reform of A levels.

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