Further Education (College & 6th Form)

Further Education (FE) refers to educational choices made after your 16th birthday. It covers all qualifications lower than a degree. Everyone has to study FE until they are 18.

When thinking about the future, your next steps are an exciting part of your journey. There are lots of options available, so you need to do some research. Not everybody knows what they want to do, and this is quite normal, so you need to take the time to speak to your teachers, parents / carers and Careers Adviser to gain support.

It is a legal requirement to stay in full time education until you are 18 and you have 4 key options that you can look at going into:

  • Full time education at your current school (sixth form), an external sixth form or a further education college
  • you could look out gaining an apprenticeship or traineeship
  • or your other option is to look at employment or volunteering with training

Deciding what to study and where, really depends on how you like to learn and what has motivated you over the last few years. You could look at academic qualifications such as A-levels or vocational qualifications such as BTECS.

A levels

A levels are academic qualifications studied over 2 years and you would normally choose to study 3 or occasionally 4 subjects.

A levels are exam based however in some subjects there may still be some coursework

To be able to study A levels you will normally need 5 GCSES including Math and English at grades 5 and above (some subjects may require a higher GCSE grade so make sure you check with the school or college)

How to choose your A levels

Things to think about

  • choose subjects that you feel you are good at and will enjoy, think about your strength’s
  • Research the content of the course, some subjects may not be what you think so it’s important to look at the modules and see if they are what you expected.
  • Do you have a particular job or university course in mind for which you require specific A levels?

If you are thinking about going onto University (Higher Education), some courses will require you to have specific A level subjects, this may also be the same with you GCSE’s, so make sure you do your research when picking your course. Speak to your teachers and Careers Adviser to help support your choices.


BTEC qualifications are vocational and are often based on an area of study such as Health & Social Care, Engineering, Catering & Hospitality… This type of study is mainly practical and ‘hands-on’ in nature and features assignments and practical tasks for assessment (some courses will still have exams). There are lots of different BTECS at various levels, so there will be one to suit you. If you are unsure whether to take A levels or BTECs some sixth form colleges will allow you to mix both A levels and BTECs together.

Cambridge Technicals

Cambridge Technicals are also a vocational qualification and you can study them at level 2 and level 3. They are work related qualifications. They are flexible in the units studied so if you want to specialise in a particular area, you can choose a unit on that area. Make sure to explore this type of qualification fully.

What are T levels?

T levels are a new post 16 qualification, these qualifications have been designed alongside employers and business to enable students to gain both theory and industry-based experience. They are the equivalent to 3 A levels and take 2 years of full-time study.

These qualifications are available to study at some schools sixth forms, sixth form colleges and Further Education establishments

How do they work

Students spend 80% of their time in the classroom and 20% of their time on an industry-based placement. This equates to 45 days within the workplace during which time you will develop the skills required to work within that industry.

T Levels are not currently available in all subject areas so you need to research which schools and colleges offer which courses.From 2023 and over the coming years more subjects and sectors will be available. As these qualifications have been designed alongside employers and business, the skills and the industry placement you engage with should help you gain easier access into the workplace.

Sixth Form

Sixth form is quite a popular choice. Depending on the type of sixth form (some are based in schools and some at colleges), you can study a blend of academic A levels and more vocational BTECS. Most sixth forms have a wide variety of subjects that you can study, with a great extra-curricular programme. Sixth form colleges are usually more informal than sixth form schools.

Understand the difference between BTEC, A Levels, T Levels, Cambridge Technicals and all other qualifications and styles of learning on offer.

  • Have a good understanding of the kinds of grades that you should achieve in your exams. This will help you to understand which pathways you could apply for.
  • Explore the colleges and sixth forms in your local area. Consider how far you would travel for a great opportunity.
  • Use the options checklist below to help you decide which course or provider to choose. You should also think about:
  1. What subjects you want to study and what providers offer the courses you are interested in
  2. If there a work placement as part of the course – and whether you have to find that yourself
  3. How far you need to travel to get to sixth form or college and how you will get there
  4. Explore the facilities on offer which are important to you, for example, sports clubs, enrichment activities and extra support to help you with your studies.
  • All colleges and sixth form colleges offer open days. These are a great opportunity to find out about the courses on offer and to talk to staff and students about the courses and the kind of support you can expect.  It is also a chance to ask tutors questions about how courses are delivered and assessed to make sure they suit your needs.
  • Attend a careers fair or options event at your school to find out what is on offer in your local area.
  • Find out if you can arrange some work experience in the industries that interest you – gaining some experience will give you real insight into working life and you may gain a few contacts along the way!
  • Complete an application form for each sixth form or college. Application forms are usually available on each sixth form or college website or you can ask your Careers Adviser.

Here is some key information about the local colleges and Sixth Forms in your area:

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Higher Education (University)

Higher Education (also known as HE) doesn’t just mean going to university. You have lots of other options, and alternative routes to gain a degree. If you want to study a degree you can do this either at University, or a further education college. Going on to study at HE level may give you further opportunities in the workplace, however this route may not be suitable for everyone, it also doesn’t mean that you won’t succeed! You may decide you are ready for a break from study and take a gap year, you may want to gain more skills through work or volunteer for a period of time.

Higher Education

Higher Education (also known as HE) doesn’t just mean going to university. You have lots of other options, and alternative routes to gain a degree. If you want to study a degree you can do this either at University, or a further education college.

Going on to study at HE level may give you further opportunities in the workplace, however this route may not be suitable for everyone, it also doesn’t mean that you won’t succeed!

You may decide you are ready for a break from study and take a gap year, you may want to gain more skills through work or volunteer for a period of time.

Why choose University?

University offers a huge variety of courses (there are more than 1200 separate degree subjects and over 50,000 joint courses!). Don’t restrict your applications to the well-known universities and well-known courses, make a wider application base and you will have a great deal of options. Base all of your applications on sound research and exploration.

University offers academic, vocational and practical degrees. Therefore you may decide to choose your degree through the subjects you picked at school or through any career ideas you have already formed. Your school, college and Careers Adviser will be able to support you with your choices.

Degree Apprenticeships

Degree apprenticeships (also known as level 6 or level 7) are a type of higher qualification that allow you to gain a full university degree during the course of your apprenticeship.

These specialist courses are offered by employers who have teamed up with universities and training providers to create a degree-course. These special courses help train students to succeed in all sorts of different sectors and areas of business.

Most students have to make a choice whether to find a job or to study at university, but degree apprenticeships offer the chance to do both!

Things to do to enter Higher Education
  • Start looking into the higher education option as early as possible. Your school or college will guide you through your research and application and you can talk to an adviser to get the help you need.
  • If you know what career you want to do in the future, check out what qualifications are needed and the routes you can take.
  • Get to know your way around the UCAS website. It guides you through each stage of researching and applying for higher education.
  • If you’re not sure what course you want to do, do a questionnaire to help you find the courses that suit your interests.
  • Find out what options the course you choose might lead to through Prospects.
  • Attend as many university open days as possible, so you can compare different places and courses.

Below are some of the local Higher Education opportunities in your area. Lots of young people choose to go away to University so we have also included some information about UK wide universities here:

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On an apprenticeship, you’re employed to do a real job while studying for a formal qualification – usually for one day a week either at a college or training centre. By the end of your apprenticeship, you’ll hopefully have gained the skills and knowledge needed to either succeed in your chosen career or progress onto the next apprenticeship level.

Apprenticeships are definitely not the easy pathway. They are probably the hardest to find, they are almost always the hardest to secure and they come with a lot of responsibility. As an apprentice you will be working alongside full time employees and will have a contract of employment. You will no longer work school term times and you will be expected to fulfil your job fully, every day.

That being said, they can be the most rewarding as you gain a qualification, some real work experience and also get paid!

Apprenticeships are growing in popularity as they offer an alternative to full time study and they are a cost-effective way of gaining a qualification up to degree level. As an apprentice you will work full time hours and complete a qualification which maybe 20% of your time.

There are several levels to an apprenticeship intermediate is level 2 advanced is a Level 3 higher can be 4, 5, 6 and upwards.

Name Level Equivalent
intermediate 2 5 GCSE’s grades 9-4
Advanced 3 2 A level passes or level 3 diploma
Higher / Degree 4,5,6,7 Foundation Degree, Batchelors masters

There is a huge variety of apprenticeships available covering different sectors. Some examples include Finance, Business administration, Nursing, Childcare, Law, Digital, Construction, Architecture.

Entry requirements to do an apprenticeship can be dependent on the employer so you need to double check this on their advertisement.

If you are aged 16 – 19 You can apply for an apprenticeship through a further education college. You must however, be mindful that you may still have to find the employer yourself. Not all colleges can support you in finding an employer. Double check this with the college.

There are other websites that are specifically for apprenticeships or you can look directly at employer websites. You will need an up-to-date CV to apply for an apprenticeship, demonstrating the skills you have and what you are looking for.

Employers should pay the national minimum wage.

To Do
  • Register on the Apprenticeships website to find Apprenticeship and Traineeship vacancies suitable for you.
  • Explore companies in your local area.
  • Write a winning CV that you can give to employers – don’t forget to include a covering letter to ask about possible Apprenticeship vacancies.
  • Ask families and friends to help you identify people and places you might approach to ask if they are recruiting apprentices.
  • Find out more from your teacher/tutor in school or your Careers Adviser.
  • Consider volunteering opportunities to demonstrate your employability skills.
  • Have a back up plan – Apprenticeships are very competitive and there is no guarantee that you will be successful. Play safe and have more than one option.

The live feed below contains all of the current apprenticeship vacancies in your area.

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