Qualifications harmonised standard

This standard has been published while under development because we want to understand how well it meets the needs of government departments and other researchers.

By sharing this standard while under development and monitoring its usage and feedback, we hope to understand more about how it performs in action, in surveys and administrative data.

We are keen to hear your feedback and answer any of your questions. Please email: gsshelp@statistics.gov.uk.

Policy details

Metadata item Details
Publication date:30 December 2020
Author:Marie John
Approver:Sofi Nickson
Who this is for:Users and producers of statistics
Type:Harmonisation standards and guidance


What is harmonisation?

Harmonisation is the process of making statistics and data more comparable, consistent and coherent. Harmonised standards set out how to collect and report statistics to ensure comparability across different data collections in the Government Statistical Service (GSS). Harmonisation produces more useful statistics that give users a greater level of understanding.

What do we mean by qualifications?

Under the topic of education, there are two harmonised standards – educational attainment, and qualifications. Attainment is high level questions and output guidance around the highest level of education that has been reached. Qualifications is output guidance if specific qualifications are collected.

In some instances, users need to know specific qualifications that respondents hold. For those situations, there is the harmonised standard for qualifications. It must be noted that this standard is not for respondents to select their highest qualification – when respondents do this there is consistency only to the level in the educational attainment principle.

Questions and response options (inputs)

The harmonised questions on this topic are designed to collect basic information, for use in the majority of surveys. They are not designed to replace questions used in specialist surveys where more detailed analysis is required.

The question

The inputs needed to produce harmonised outputs on qualifications will be data on all of a respondent’s qualifications. This provides the means for consistent decisions on which qualification is the highest. Some GSS surveys which specialise in qualifications data will need more detailed groupings.  The Labour Force Survey (LFS), includes a set of questions on qualifications; users who are interested in collecting information on qualifications for substantive analysis may wish to look at the questions used in this survey and refer to the detailed breakdown which is presented under a harmonised concept for qualifications. The questions are too extensive for presentation here but can be found in the LFS user guide volume 2.

Presenting and reporting the data (outputs)

Harmonised qualifications outputs provide greater detail in relation to the type and nature of the highest qualification held. It is possible to map these more detailed outputs onto the outputs for educational attainment. Respondents are allocated to the group containing their highest qualification as shown in the composition of proposed output categories listed below in category of response options.

Level of highest educationOutput category
Higher degree and postgraduate qualifications Degree, or Degree equivalent, and above
Degree, or degree level equivalent
Other Higher Education below degree level ‘A’ levels, vocational level 3 and above
A levels, vocational level 3 and equivalent
Trade Apprenticeships Other qualifications below ‘A’ level, vocational level 3 & level unknown.
GCSE/O level grade A*-C, vocational level 2 & equivalents
Qualifications at level 1 or below
Other qualifications - level unknown
Other Qualifications
No Qualifications

Composition of the proposed output categories

This list is not a complete listing of all qualifications, but aims to help the user with identifying how different or equivalent qualifications could be categorised.

Degree or degree equivalent and above:

  • First degree (including B.Ed.)
  • Postgraduate Diplomas and Certificates (including PGCE)
  • Professional qualifications at degree level e.g. graduate member of professional institute, chartered accountant or surveyor
  • NVQ or SVQ level 4 or 5

Other Higher Education below degree level:

  • Diplomas in higher education and other higher education qualifications
  • Higher National Certificate (HNC), Higher National Diploma (HND), Higher level BTEC
  • Teaching qualifications for schools or further education (below Degree level standard)
  • Nursing, or other medical qualifications not covered above (below Degree level standard)
  • RSA higher diploma

A levels, vocational level 3 and equivalents:

  • A level or equivalent
  • AS level
  • SCE Higher, Scottish Certificate Sixth Year Studies or equivalent
  • NVQ or SVQ level 3
  • GNVQ Advanced or GSVQ level 3
  • OND, ONC, BTEC National, SCOTVEC National Certificate
  • City and Guilds advanced craft, Part III (and other names)
  • RSA advanced diploma

Trade Apprenticeships GCSE/O Level grade A*-C, vocational level 2 and equivalents:

  • NVQ or SVQ level 2
  • GNVQ intermediate or GSVQ level
  • RSA Diploma
  • City & Guilds Craft or Part II (& other names)
  • BTEC, SCOTVEC first or general diploma
  • level or GCSE grade A-C, SCE Standard or ordinary grades 1-3

Qualifications at level 1 and below:

  • NVQ or SVQ level 1
  • GNVQ Foundation level, GSVQ level 1
  • GCSE or O level below grade C, SCE Standard or Ordinary below grade 3
  • CSE below grade 1
  • BTEC, SCOTVEC first or general certificate
  • SCOTVEC modules
  • RSA Stage I, II, or III
  • City and Guilds part 1
  • Junior certificate
  • (In future: entry level qualifications, as yet undefined)

Other qualifications: level unknown:

  • Other vocational or professional or foreign qualifications


We aim to harmonise data collection and outputs across the United Kingdom (UK) where this is appropriate, but,  needs and circumstances sometimes differ between the countries.

We encourage researchers to implement the harmonised standard for collecting qualification data.  If researchers implement this question in a UK-wide context they should bear in mind that data collected may not be fully comparable with country-specific official statistics.


We are always interested in hearing from users so we can develop our work. If you use or produce statistics based on this topic, get in touch: gsshelp@statistics.gov.uk.

See the GSS harmonisation webpage for further information on harmonisation.

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