Post 16 Options – Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

9th September 2019 by Richard Allnutt

What are my options when I leave school?
Your options can be broken down into two main routes. Imagine yourself in a car, approaching a junction.

To the right is a road to specific job/industry focused learning. This is known as a technical learning. You can learn skills for a specific job or prepare for a career in a wider industry. You might study at a College of Further Education or as an Apprentice with an employer.

To the left is a road to continued academic learning. The academic qualifications are known as A-Levels and they are taught mainly in Sixth Forms. This kind of learning is not job/industry specific, but the study of certain A-levels can open up doors to specific higher level study at University or in the workplace.

What are the differences between a Sixth Form and a College of Further Education?
There are differences between the two, but neither one of these options is ‘better’ than the other.

Sixth Forms tend to be closer to the experience that you have had at school, mainly because the most common qualification is the academic and classroom-based A-level. Often you might find the same level of formality is retained, especially in a school-based Sixth Form. As well as A-levels, many Sixth Forms offer a selection of technical courses, especially larger Sixth Form Colleges. Lots of Sixth Form students study a mix of A-level and technical courses. It is a misconception that Sixth Formers only progress to University. Indeed, a significant number are applying for and taking up apprenticeship opportunities including Higher and Degree Apprenticeships.

Colleges of Further Education tend to offer mostly technical courses focused on specific jobs and industries. This is their strength. When a College of Further Education offers an A-level programme, it tends to be delivered within a ‘Sixth Form Centre’ based in the college itself. This Sixth Form Centre might have its own identity and be distinct from the larger technical body of the college. Colleges can appear to be a little more relaxed and less formal, with no dress code (unless you are wearing a uniform for a technical course such as catering or hair and beauty). It is a misconception that college students only progress into work at the end of their course. Indeed, a significant number of technical learners are applying for, and taking up, Higher Education degrees, often in a subject related to their current study.

How do I decide on what route is best for me?
This depends on your career aspirations, your exam results and how you like to study.

If you think you might be interested in finding a job immediately after leaving school and want to get some job specific qualifications and training, then an apprenticeship could be for you.

If you have an open mind about future career possibilities, like to study academic subjects in-depth and do well in exams, then A-levels might be the perfect fit.

If you have some idea about the kind of work you want to do, prefer to do coursework and get some work experience, then a technical course could be right for you.

Remember there is also the possibility of combining A-level and technical study at many Sixth Forms.

What is an A-Level?
An A-Level is an academic course which involves in-depth study of a subject. It is focused on theories, ideas and knowledge, although some provide clear skills for work too (e.g. a Modern Foreign Language or Art and Design). Those students who progress to A-Level study tend to have succeeded at, and have enjoyed, their GCSEs. After all, A-levels are like GCSEs only harder! They are studied in a Sixth Form (school-based, within a College of Further Education, or Sixth Form College) and students will choose up to 4 subjects (most commonly 3). Assessment is almost entirely exam-based and, in some subjects, 100% of your grade is derived through the final exams at the end of the second year.

To study an A-Level do I have to have a GCSE in that subject?
In many cases, no. However, it might not be advised to choose all new subjects as you will have no prior background in them and, importantly, you might be overlooking familiar subjects you excel in. If your aspirations involve attending a ‘prestigious’ University it is worth noting that the ‘core’ subjects you have studied all of your life are sometimes needed for some degrees. There are certainly some A-Levels where you would need a good GCSE grade to be allowed to study them e.g. English, Math and Science. It is always best to check the requirements at the place you want to study at.

What is a Technical course?
Mainly taught in Colleges of Further Education, they are related to a specific job or industry. They are taught at all levels from ‘entry level’ to Level 3 (for school leavers). Level 3 qualifications are ‘equivalent’ to A-levels and therefore they can provide progression to University or Higher and Degree Apprenticeships. Assessment is mainly coursework-based, however recent changes to Level 3 Technical learning has seen academic rigour added. This means that there are also some challenging exams throughout the programme. In the coming years we will see the introduction of T Levels across 15 career sectors (at Level 3). As of now, these T-Levels are in the pilot phase and by 2020 entry there is a very good chance that you will be doing one if you choose the technical learning option.

If I do a Technical course, can I still go to University?
A resounding yes! Technical qualifications are well respected by universities and offer a pathway to a full-time degree course in the same way that A-levels do. In fact, some courses love students from this pathway because they have had more work experience than their A-level peers and can show the desired qualities and skills for the applied for degree. Nursing, for example, is a career related degree which looks for these kind of things in applicants. Bear in mind that there are many academic degrees (at the more academic Universities) for which academic A-level study is better preparation and therefore a requirement.

If I do an Apprenticeship, can I still go to University?
Yes of course you can! Again, it is likely that the degree will be directly linked to your apprenticeship, but you must have achieved at Level 3. In addition, the emergence of Degree Apprenticeships provides a continued work-based pathway for apprentices to achieve higher level qualifications and experience University (albeit attending on a part-time basis). These are exciting times for apprentices.

What is a Degree Apprenticeship?
This is a new education route bringing together Higher Education and work-based training. The focus of Degree Apprenticeships is to develop the skills and knowledge for professions which previously required you to study a full-time University degree. The work-based nature of the Degree Apprenticeship means that you are paid by the employer and therefore ‘earning’. Furthermore, the employer bears the cost of the qualification. This means that those people who succeed in getting an apprenticeship of this kind will complete their ‘degree’ debt-free and will have been earning an often competitive salary throughout (£15,000 per year is commonplace).

How do I apply for a course or courses at a College of Further Education or a Sixth Form?
The quickest and easiest way to do this is go on the relevant College/Sixth Form website and complete the on-line application form. If there is not an online option, you will be able to download the application form and return by post or email. All Colleges and Sixth Forms have Open Evenings at various times throughout the year- at these events you can usually apply there and then.

How do I apply for an apprenticeship?
The easiest way to do this is go on the website and create an account. This will give you access to local vacancies and you can apply directly from there. You should also go to the websites of local training providers (all advertised vacancies have contact details of the training provider). There are other apprenticeship search websites including, and

Who can help me if I still need some support with all of this?
All schools now have a member of staff with the designated role of Careers Leader. They will be able to refer you to the specialist Careers Adviser for independent and impartial career guidance. This is called a Personal Guidance meeting. CareerWave provides independent, impartial and professional Personal Guidance to schools and students across the north-east of England.