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There are so many different levels of qualifications available that it can be very confusing – for students and employers.

This is Farmers Weekly’s guide to the different levels and how they might apply to agriculture.

Level 1 (or level 4 in Scotland) 

Qualifications are comparable to GCSEs graded D to G or 3 to 1 under the new grading system being phased in from 2017.

Agricultural courses at this level cover routine tasks and basic knowledge and are designed to give people basic skills to work safely in a supervised role. Can also be used as foundation for further training.

See also: A guide to land-based college courses

Level 2 (or level 5 in Scotland) 

Qualifications are on a par with GCSEs graded A* to C or 9 to 4. Courses aim to give students the practical skills and necessary supporting knowledge so they are ready to enter skilled employment as a farmworker.  

For people who prefer to work while learning there is also the option of an apprenticeship at level 2.

Level 1 and level 2 qualifications span a range of age groups. The vast majority of people studying at this level will be over 16 and studying for a broad vocational qualification with a specialist land-based college. However, there are some level 2 qualifications for learners aged 14-16.

Level 3 (or level 6-7 in Scotland) 

These are roughly the equivalent of A- or AS-levels, the Welsh baccalaureate, or highers in Scotland. Courses are typically aimed at people who already have some experience of agriculture or have previously completed a level 2 qualification. 

Designed for people who want to develop their skills to take on responsibility – perhaps as a senior farmworker or manager – or for people who want to go into higher education. Likely to mix practical work with theory.

Students can also work towards a level 3 qualification through an advanced apprenticeship.

Level 4 (or level 7 in Scotland)

Higher education starts at this level, with qualifications including higher national certificates (HNC), CertHE and advanced highers in Scotland. Skilled workers at this level are likely to be supervisors or managers.

Courses offered at this level are suitable for people who already have experience in the sector, but are looking to take on a position where they have day-to-day responsibility for the planning of an enterprise or start running their own business.

Likely to include more business and staff management content.

Level 5 (or levels 8-9 in Scotland)

Qualifications include foundation degrees and higher national diplomas (HNDs). This level is the equivalent of studying for the first and second years of a bachelor’s (BA or BSc) degree, so can be topped up to a degree with a further year of study.

Courses are far more theoretical, but do also seek to give students the practical skills they need to run a farm business.    

Level 6 (or levels 9-10 in Scotland)

Includes degree-level courses and graduate diplomas. Most courses will be three years full-time (four years in Scotland), although some universities in England also offer a placement year in industry.

Individuals who complete a course at this level should have the potential to operate at senior management levels.

Masters degree (level 7 or 11 in Scotland) or PhD (level 8 or 12 in Scotland)

Students who successfully complete their degree can also go on to study at these higher levels.


Farmers Weekly Ag Careers Live logo Talk directly to employers, get careers advice or find a job in agriculture at Farmers Weekly’s Ag Careers Live on 2 November at the Telford International Centre, Shropshire.

If you are a student, graduate or just looking for your next job, our national event can help you progress your career.

For further information, and to register for free, visit the Ag Careers Live website.