Qualification, highest level of

Mnemonic (reference code): HLQPS11

Note: This variable is also listed under the title 'Highest level of qualification'

Type: Derived variable

Definition: The highest level of qualification is derived from the question asking people to indicate all types of qualifications held. There were 10 response options (plus “no qualifications”) covering professional and vocational qualifications, and a range of academic qualifications. For the purpose of statistical outputs, these are combined into four categories for the highest level of qualification, plus a category for no qualifications.

Applicability: Person





No qualifications


Level 1:

O Grade, Standard Grade, Access 3 Cluster, Intermediate 1 or 2, GCSE, CSE, Senior Certificate or equivalent;
GSVQ Foundation or Intermediate, SVQ level 1 or 2, SCOTVEC Module, City and Guilds Craft or equivalent;
Other school qualifications not already mentioned (including foreign qualifications)


Level 2:

SCE Higher Grade, Higher, Advanced Higher, CSYS, A Level, AS Level, Advanced Senior Certificate or equivalent;
GSVQ Advanced, SVQ level 3, ONC, OND, SCOTVEC National Diploma, City and Guilds Advanced Craft or equivalent


Level 3:

HNC, HND, SVQ level 4 or equivalent;
Other post-school but pre-Higher Education qualifications not already mentioned (including foreign qualifications)


Level 4 and above:

Degree, Postgraduate qualifications, Masters, PhD, SVQ level 5 or equivalent;
Professional qualifications (for example, teaching, nursing, accountancy);
Other Higher Education qualifications not already mentioned (including foreign qualifications)


No code required

Total number of categories: 6

Not applicable (‘XX’) category comprises: Schoolchildren and full-time students living away from home during term time and all those under the age of 16.

Source variables HLQPS11 is derived from:

AGE (Derived variable)

DOB (Primary variable)

QUALS (Primary variable)

QUALS01PS11 to QUALS11PS11 (Derived variable)

TERMIND (Primary variable)

Source question:

Image of Scottish question 23 from 2011

Reason for asking: Information from this question will be used to help measure shortfalls in the provision of education and training and to monitor the take up of government initiatives. It will also be used to help assess reserves of skilled and qualified people who are unemployed, including those not currently seeking work. The census is the only source of this information for small areas and the only one which allows cross-tabulation of qualifications with other factors such as employment.

England & Wales (2011) and Scotland (2001) comparison:

Image of E & W question 25 from 2011

England & Wales (2011)

There were 11 response options (plus ‘Foreign qualifications’ and ‘No qualifications’) covering professional and vocational qualifications, and a range of academic qualifications. The main differences between this question and the one asked in Scotland are as follows:

  • people holding foreign qualifications were asked to “tick the ‘Foreign qualifications’ box and the nearest UK equivalents”,
  • there is an ‘Apprenticeship’ option, and

people are asked to tick different boxes depending on the number of O levels, A levels and AS levels they have. For example, a person with 4 O levels would tick a different box to a person with 5 O levels.

Image of Scottish question 34 from 2001

Scotland (2001)

Whilst not a new question in 2011, there were a number of changes made to the qualifications question since 2001, meaning direct comparisons between the two sets of census results are not possible without further processing of the data. The 2011 question included three additional ‘other’ qualifications categories so that respondents (including those with foreign qualifications) could more easily identify appropriate responses, while SVQ Levels 4 and 5 (included under the same response category in 2001) were included in seperate response categories in 2011. There was also an additional 2011 category for ‘No qualifications’, to replace the 2001 ‘None of these’ category. These categories in particular cannot be considered comparable as it is possible that a person will have responded differently in 2011 and 2001 for the same qualification. For example, a respondent who had foreign qualifications which were not listed in categories in 2001 may have ticked ‘None of these’, whereas, in 2011, they will likely have chosen an appropriate ‘other’ category of qualifications rather than ticking ‘No qualifications’.


To see which of our published standard, additional and commissioned tables use this variable please use the Table Index.