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/sector focused learning. This is known as a technical learning. You can learn skills for a specific job or prepare for a career in a broader sector. 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 post-16 academic qualifications are known as A-Levels and they are taught mainly in Sixth Forms. This kind of learning is not job/sector 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?

Sixth Forms tend to be closer to the experience that you have had at school, mainly because the most common qualification is the academic A-level, the next level up from GCSE.

Many Sixth Forms also offer a selection of technical courses including T-levels and Level 3 Diplomas. Therefore some sixth formers might study a mix of A-level and technical Level 3 courses.

It is a misconception that Sixth Form always leads to University. It certainly can lead to University, but a large number of sixth form leavers also apply for apprenticeships (at Advanced, Higher or Degree level).

Colleges of Further Education tend to offer mostly technical courses focused on specific jobs and sectors. Technical learning is their strength and courses are offered at all levels, catering for everyone.

Many colleges also offer A-levels, although they tend to be taught in the college’s own dedicated Sixth Form centre.

Colleges can feel a little less formal, especially when compared to school-based sixth forms. Often there is no college wide dress code, however you may have to wear a specific work uniform related to the course you are studying.

It is a misconception that college students always progress into work at the end of their course. A large number of technical learners progress to University, often in a subject related to their studies.

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 would like to get into a full-time job straight after school job then you will need to apply for apprenticeships. Worth noting here that apprenticeships are competitive so students will also apply for other options too as a back-up.

If you have an open mind about future job possibilities, you like to study academic subjects in-depth and you do well in exams, then A-levels at a Sixth Form 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 practical work experience, then a technical course at a College of Further Education (or at a sixth form) could be right for you.

Remember, some Sixth Forms and Colleges also offer the possibility of doing a combination of academic A-levels and technical Level 3 study.

What is an A-Level?

An academic A-Level 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 enjoyed and/or done well at GCSE. Remember, A-levels are like GCSEs only at the next level up.

A-levels are studied at Sixth Form whether it is one based at a school, one linked to a College of Further Education, or one that is it’s own Sixth Form College (or ‘Centre’).

A-level students will commonly choose 3 subjects. Assessment is exam-based- in some subjects the final exam accounts for 100% of your grade.

To study an A-Level do I have to have a GCSE in that subject?

In many cases, no. Lots of A-levels will not have even been offered to you at GCSE. For example, popular A-levels like Law, Psychology and Sociology are rarely offered at GCSE level. On the other hand, there are other A-levels which you must have studied at GCSE and done well in. For example, core subjects such as English, Math and Science and other common GCSEs such as Geography, History and Modern Foreign Languages.

What are Technical courses?

Basically, they are courses directly related to a specific job (e.g. motor vehicle maintenance and repair, hairdressing) or a broader sector (e.g. engineering, I.T.).

Technical courses for 16-18 year olds are taught at all levels from Entry Level to Level 3. What level you do depends on your school grades and the kind of course you want to do.

If you choose to study a technical course related to a specific job you are likely to start at Level 1 or Level 2 even if your school grades are high. This is because you need to know the very basics about doing the specific job before doing the more complicated stuff. For example, a bricklayer needs to know how to mix cement before they can build a wall. For many getting a Level 2 is enough to then get started in work. For others they might continue to Level 3 if appropriate/available.

If you choose to study a technical course related to a broader sector, the level you start at is related to your school grades. Get grades 4 or above in four and five of your GCSEs (often including English and Math) and you are likely to go straight onto a Level 3 course. Get below this and the college will put you on the appropriate Level 2 programme.

For many school leavers the technical learning journey will start at a foundation level. This includes all Entry Level and Level 1 courses. Foundation learning might also include greater support with English and Math, personal development including confidence building, employability skills and an option to try out a few different technical courses. Progression could be to a Level 2 technical course related to a specific job OR a Level 2 technical course related to a broader sector.

Level 3 courses related to broader sectors (e.g. health & social care, travel & tourism, business, I.T.) are ‘equivalent’ to A-levels. Therefore they are perfectly acceptable for entry to university and with them you can also apply for higher level apprenticeships.

Assessment on a technical course is mainly coursework-based, however recent changes to Level 3 Diplomas have seen more academic learning too. This means you can now expect to sit some exams on a Level 3 Diploma, related to broader work sectors.

T-levels are the new addition to the Level 3 technical learning option. They are being introduced gradually, but it is likely that they are now available in your area. T-levels are technical courses related to a broader sector. They have been designed to bring hands-on, practical learning together with academic study. Think of them as a mix of previous Level 3 technical courses and A-levels.

If I do a Technical course, can I still go to University?

A huge yes! Level 3 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 University course leaders love technical students because they have had more work experience and can show the desired qualities and skills needed for certain degrees. Nursing, for example, is a career related degree which looks for evidence of practical skills.

Bear in mind though that there are somedegrees, often at the more academic Universities, for which A-level study is better preparation and therefore a preference or requirement. For example, a degree in one of the core subjects you have studied at school.

If I do an Apprenticeship, can I still go to University?

Yes of course you can! It is likely that the degree will be directly linked to your apprenticeship and you must have achieved a Level 3 (Advanced Apprenticeship). The emergence of Degree Apprenticeships provides a continued work-based pathway for apprentices to achieve higher level qualifications and experience University on a part-time basis.

What is a Degree Apprenticeship?

A Degree Apprenticeship develops the skills and knowledge for professions which would otherwise require 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 a salary. A big advantage is the learner does not pay for the degree qualification. This means they will not have to take out a student loan and will have earned a competitive annual salary (£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 online application form. If there is not an online option, you will be able to download the application form and return it by post or email. All Colleges and Sixth Forms have Open Events, sometimes monthly throughout the year. Open Events are an opportunity to find out more and apply if you like what you see.

How do I apply for an apprenticeship?

The easiest way is to use the national Find an Apprenticeship website. Here you can search for ‘live’ local vacancies and apply.

It is advisable to register an interest in apprenticeships with training providers. All advertised vacancies on the Find an Apprenticeship service give you the contact details of the training provider who works with the employer to deliver the qualification. Colleges, charities and private training organisations can be the provider.

There are lots of other websites that advertise apprenticeships including Rate My Apprenticeship, Not Going to Uni and Get My First Job.

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.