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4 Jun 2017

Why level 3 Diploma courses?

We often get asked, “What does “Diploma” actually mean? Should I be looking for a Diploma course when I do my massage course? ” The most important thing you need to know, is that “Diploma” doesn’t really mean anything! The answer to which course you should chose, lies in the following:

  • the title of the course,
  • the length of the course,
  • the accrediting body,
  • what you need your qualification for.

The Course Title: There are many courses entitled “Diploma”, so it can be a bit confusing as to what “Diploma” actually means. Many private schools give a “diploma” for attending one of their courses. This is an in-house certificate which can be of varying lengths and could be given for varying levels/difficulty of course.

The massage qualification that we at Orchid Massage Academy recommend is the level 3 (or higher) Diploma.

A  Level 3 Diploma is nationally and internationally recognised qualification of a required standard. The “Level 3” part shows that the diploma is recognised to be equivalent to an “A” level. This is the standard qualification needed in many salons and spas, to train at a professional level. These diplomas are awarded after the successful completion of a period of study through the awarding body, involving assignments, case studies, practical assessments and examinations. A set minimum number of hours is also required. (For more information on this see: https://www.ncfe.org.uk/learners/qualifications-explained/)

A VTCT Diploma is regulated by Ofqual (The Office of Qualifications and Examinations Regulation – A non-ministerial government department that regulates qualifications in England)

Accrediting Bodies: Be careful to do your research when choosing a course. Check who is the accrediting body. The accrediting body for many level 3 courses is VTCT. This is a charity and a Government approved Awarding Body offering National Vocational Qualifications (NVQs). It is the major awarding body in the UK for beauty, sports and holistic therapies. VTCT qualifications are widely recognised by employers and local licensing authorities. A VTCT Diploma is an International qualification which will enable you to gain employment working both in the UK and abroad.

Another accrediting body for level 3 courses is is FHT.  (Federation of Holistic Therapists)

Other accrediting bodies that you will come across are profit-making companies. (eg, Guild of holistic therapists.) These are not an awarding bodies. The qualifications are awarded by the school offering the course. The Guild accredits the course. This means that the course meets the Guild’s requirements for a diploma, these are however, the Guild’s own requirements, not nationally recognised requirements.This means that other schools or employers may not recognise this as an actual qualification.


Nowadays there are many insurance companies out there who will cover you, no matter what sort of course you end up doing. A Diploma accredited by the either the Guild or VTCT will allow you to gain insurance.


At the moment, the massage industry is unregulated. This means that anyone can theoretically set themselves up as a massage therapy with little to no qualifications. However in order to give the best possible treatments, and to be taken seriously within the profession (among other therapists and course providers) it makes sense to choose the nationally recognised courses.

If you do a 1 or 2 day non-recognised Diploma, you would  only be able to work self employed as a mobile therapist or in your own salon. If you plan on looking for employment in salons, spas or cruise ships, both in the UK and/or abroad, the level 3 qualification, being nationally recognised, is usually by employers.

One other thing to bear in mind – if you do a qualification that is not nationally recognised , then you will only be able to do other add-on courses through the same company. This is because many schools and colleges (Orchid Massage Academy included) have a level 3 Diploma as a prerequisite for their more advanced courses. If you do a diploma that isn’t nationally recognised, then the school doesn’t know if your qualification was at the right level for their more advanced courses. Thus you may find it hard to attend good quality more advanced courses.

Timing of the course: As mentioned above, a level 3 Diploma is equivalent to an ‘A’ level and as such it includes written assignments, case studies, practical assessments and examinations. A set minimum number of hours is also required. This means that this course takes at least 3-6 months to complete. In many local colleges, this means you are in school  once a week for 6 – 9 months. Some schools offer the more fast=track courses and with these, you can be in school for 7 – 10 days and the rest is home study. With all level 3 courses you have to complete case studies. In most cases this is around 30 hours of treatments. This means that there is quite a lot of work involved, but you finish the course already having at least 30 hours massage experience under your belt.

A Diploma through a non recognised qualification usually involves a written or online test and then the course itself is 1-2 days long, and doesn’t usually require any further practice beside what is done in class with the tutor. This may suit some people who want to have their qualification quickly. But it does mean that you do all your learning after the course finishes, on your own with no tutor to help spot and rectify mistakes.

Remember, however that in massage and holistic therapies, you are only as good as your training and experience. When you first set out, if you only have 2 days experience, your treatment is unlikely to compete well with other more experienced therapists out there. You may find it hard to retain clients. You will always need to do further courses to add to your knowledge.

Would you want a treatment from someone that has learnt a few techniques in a couple of days?

As you can see there are many differences between the different qualifications. At the end of the day, it is really up to you to choose a course which best suits your requirements. But if you are serious about making a career out of massage therapy, you do need to think, what work, time and money are you willing to put in, in order to get the most out?