ESF Information Memo 04/21: Performance monitoring - improper use of No Educational Attainment

Advice to ESF programme 2014-2020 project promoters around performance monitoring and the improper use of 'no educational attainment' as a measurement of a participant's educational achievement.

Dear Project Promoter,

European Social Fund Northern Ireland logo containing text "European Union, European Social Fund, Northern Ireland"Recent analysis of ESIF data has revealed a higher than expected number of participants being categorised as having No Educational Attainment on enrolment.

The No Educational Attainment category should only be used if the participant has never been to school. The minimum school leaving age in Northern Ireland is 16 so it would be very unusual for someone who comes from Northern Ireland to fit into this category.

The level of education achieved in each International Standard Classification of Education (ISCED) category is listed below. To determine the correct Educational Attainment category projects should begin by asking the participant at what stage they left school.

  • ISCED 1 - Primary Education
  • ISCED 2 - Lower Secondary Education
  • ISCED 3 - Upper Secondary Education
  • ISCED 4 – Post Secondary Education
  • ISCED 5 – 8 – Tertiary Education

An educational attainment table is attached and also included in ESF Memo 24/18. This provides further guidance on the determination of which ISCED category a specific qualification falls into. This table also details the corresponding ESIF Database category.

If you have selected No Educational Attainment for any of your participants I would be grateful if you could review and amend if required. All corresponding paperwork should also be amended.


Sarah Sheppard
ESF Performance Manager

Educational Attainment Assessment

1. At what stage did the participant leave school?

ISCED 1 - Primary Education

ISCED 2 - Lower Secondary Education

ISCED 3 - Upper Secondary Education

ISCED 4 – Post Secondary Education

ISCED 5 – 8 – Tertiary Education

Corresponding ESIF database choices are detailed in the table below.

2. Did the participant gain any qualification during their time at school?

Table below sets out ISCED equivalent categories for qualifications achieved.

Educational Attainment (ESIF Database choices)


ISED Level

EC Levels

No Educational Attainment

No Education (formal of home schooling)


Primary & Lower Secondary

Foundation/Key Stage 1/Key Stage 2

Entry level diplomas, certificates and awards, Essential Skills at entry level


Key Stage 3

GCSE grades D-G, Level 1 diplomas, certificates and awards, Key Skills level 1, NVQ level 1, Essential Skills level 1.  Music grades 1 to 3


Key Stage 4

GCSE grades A* - C, intermediate apprenticeships, Level 2 diplomas, certificates and awards, OCR Nationals, NVQ level 2, Essential Skills level 2, Music grades 4 and 5


Upper Secondary

Key Stage 5

AS  and A levels, Access to Higher Education diploma, advanced apprenticeship, International Baccalaureate, NVQ level 3, BTEC diplomas, certificates and awards, BTEC Nationals, OCR Nationals, Music grades 6 to 8



HNC, RQF levels 4 & 5, Certificate of Higher Education, Scottish Advanced Higher,[2]


Tertiary Educational

Bachelor/Foundation Degree/NVQ4/NVQ5/HND

HNDs, NVQs level 4 and 5, Foundation Degree, Bachelor Degree, Professional Graduate Certificate in Education, Graduate diplomas, Degree apprenticeship, Diploma of Higher Education (DipHE), BTEC Professional diplomas, certificates and awards


Studying towards Masters/Post Grad Diploma or Certificate

Postgraduate Certificate in Education, Postgraduate diplomas, certificates and awards.


Master's Degree/Doctorate

Master's Degree, Doctoral Degree, BTEC Advanced professional diplomas, certificates and awards, Specialist diplomas, certificates and awards.


Educational attainment  

* Key Stage 1 / Key Stage 2/Key Stage 3/Key stage 4/ Key Stage 5 /Key Stage 6/ HNC CertHE/ Bachelor, F- degree,NVQ4,NVQ5,HND/ Studying towards Masters or PG Diploma or Cert/ Master’s Degree/doctorate /No Education Attainment

* delete as appropriate

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