ESOL levels and certification

This diagram provides a visual representation of how some commonly used ESOL levels and qualifications map to the Scottish Credit and Qualifications Framework and to the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages. It also provides an indication of how an ESOL level or qualification on one framework corresponds to a different level on another framework. 

It is intended to support you in assessing learners' current English-language skills, helping you to plan learning experiences which are closely tailored to learners' needs.

On this page, you will find further information about the levels and qualifications available, with links to the websites of awarding bodies, and definitions of the ESOL terminology used in this diagram.

Scottish Credit and Qualifications Framework

The Scottish Credit and Qualifications Framework helps learners, learning providers and employers to understand qualifications in Scotland and to plan future learning. This is the Framework that can help ESOL practitioners and ESOL learners to map their learning.

SCQF uses the levels 1-12 to describe progression.


The SQA NQ Framework for ESOL offers SQA ESOL qualifications at Access 2 and 3, Intermediate 1 and 2 and Higher level.

Common European Framework of Reference for Languages

This reference grid for the CEFR forms the benchmark against which other frameworks and awarding bodies map their qualifications. You will find more information on the Council of Europe website.

The Common European Framework of Reference makes use of six levels (A1-2, B1-2, C1-2) and three terms 'Basic User', 'Independent User' and 'Proficient User' to describe progress.

General ELT Levels

These are terms used to refer to levels traditionally used in ESOL and EFL:

  • Beginner
  • Elementary
  • Pre-intermediate
  • Intermediate
  • Higher Intermediate
  • Lower Advanced
  • Advanced.

ESOL Levels (England, Wales, Northern Ireland)

ESOL level terms used in England, Wales and Northern Ireland to refer to national standards developed by the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority. Progress is described in terms of the following levels:

  • ESOL Entry 1
  • ESOL Entry 2
  • ESOL Entry 3
  • ESOL Level 1
  • ESOL Level 2.

Find information and descriptions of what can be taught at each level of the Adult ESOL Core Curriculum.

Cambridge ESOL qualifications

ESOL examinations offered by the University of Cambridge.

Cambridge Main Suite are offered at five levels:

  • Key English Test (KET)
  • Preliminary English Test (PET)
  • First Certificate in English (FCE)
  • Certificate in Advanced English (CAE)
  • Certificate of Proficiency in English (CPE).

International English Language Testing System (IELTS)

IELTS uses a 9-band scoring system to measure and report test scores. There is no pass or fail but scores are graded on the 9-band system.

Information on the International English Language Testing System.

Related pages

  • SCQF Handbook: User Guide

    This document presents the SCQF Guidelines along with explanations of the key principles and application of the SCQF itself.

Related links