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Options after year 11

Some year 11 students have a clear idea about what they want to do in the future and how to get there, but some have no idea at all.

Others are somewhere in the middle or have changed their minds a few times. This is all normal, so if you’re feeling confused, try not to worry.

There is help and information out there.

First off, here are a couple of points to note about options after year 11:

  1. You must stay in learning until age 18. ‘Learning’ can mean a variety of things – not just full-time school or college (see below for more details).
  2. Whatever option you choose, if you don’t have a grade 4 (formerly C) in maths and/or English, you must keep studying these subjects until you achieve a 4 or equivalent (this applies until  your 18th birthday).

So what are the options?

 Here are the main options available after year 11:

There are other less common options. For example, it’s possible to combine part-time learning with full-time employment, self-employment or volunteering. For young people with learning difficulties or disabilities, there are also supported internships (contact us [link] for more information).

Qualifications

There are different levels and types of qualifications available after year 11. See the table below for a rough guide. 

 

COURSE

LEVEL

 

ACADEMIC

(6th form or college)

 

 

GENERAL VOCATIONAL

(6th form or college)

 

VOCATIONAL

(college or apprenticeship)

 

 

Level 3

(usually 2 years)

 

 

eg A-levels

 

 

eg BTEC level 3 qualifications

 

 

eg NVQ level 3

 

 

Level 2

(usually 1 year)

 

 

 

eg GCSEs

at grades 4-9

 

eg BTEC level 2

qualifications

 

eg NVQ level 2

 

 

Level 1

 

 

 

Foundation Learning

(can include a range of entry and level 1 qualifications)

 

Entry level

 

 

We have divided qualifications into three types. See below for an explanation of each type.

Note: We’ve given examples of some of the most common qualifications in the table. You may come across others. For example, the International Baccalaureate Diploma is a level 3 academic qualification. Cambridge Technicals (CTECs) are general vocational qualifications. CACHE childcare qualifications, AAT accounting qualifications and City & Guilds qualifications are all vocational.

Academic qualifications

Academic qualifications are usually based in the classroom, involve a lot of theory and are mainly assessed by exams. They are offered by schools and colleges. Subjects available include English, maths, sciences, languages, arts subjects and humanities subjects.

A-levels are academic qualifications that are a popular choice for year 11 leavers. Usually, students study three or four subjects over two years. If you are interested in doing A-levels, you need high GCSE grades, including in English and maths. Always check exact entry requirements with the 6th forms or colleges you are interested in.

Most students go on to university after A-levels, but there are other options too.

General vocational qualifications

General vocational qualifications involve a mixture of practical and academic learning. They are offered by school and colleges, but colleges tend to offer a wider choice of subjects. The subjects available are related to broad job areas, eg business, performing arts, engineering, and health and social care. Usually, you study just one subject.

BTECs are the most common type of general vocational qualification, but you may come across others, such as CTECs (Cambridge Technicals).

General vocational qualifications are offered at different levels, so year 11 leavers can progress to a level 1, 2 or 3 course, depending on GCSE grades. Level 1 and 2 courses take one year. Level 3 courses are equivalent to A-levels, take two years and generally require high GCSE grades. Always check exact entry requirements with the 6th forms or colleges you are interested in.

Level 3 general vocational qualifications are accepted by most universities for most courses (but not all, so do check the UCAS website, if you already have a university course in mind. There are also other options available after general vocational qualifications.

Vocational qualifications

Vocational qualifications involve training for a specific job, eg catering, hairdressing, construction, engineering, childcare or business admin. You can’t normally combine more than one subject / job area.

You can study them full-time at a college or other training centre. They can also be studied as part of an apprenticeship [link to apprenticeships section].

Vocational qualifications are offered at levels 1, 2, 3 and higher. Entry requirements can vary, so always check with the college or provider you are interested in.

Vocational qualifications can sometimes offer progression to university. There are also other pathways available, such as higher/degree level apprenticeships.

College or 6th form: choosing where to study

If you want to stay in full-time education, you will need to choose where to study. There are a range of things to consider, such as:

  • course choice
  • entry requirements
  • do you want a new start or stay with what you know?
  • travel – is it a journey you can manage every day?
  • class sizes
  • facilities
  • atmosphere
  • teaching.

Always go to open days to check out different schools and colleges. This is useful for getting information, but also, it means you get first-hand experience. You may feel more comfortable in some schools/colleges than others.

Something else to consider is that many colleges are more of an ‘adult’ environment than schools. They may have more adult learners. They may also expect you to get on with your work independently.

Here are some other resources:

Apprenticeships

Apprenticeships involve working and learning at the same time (you gain vocational qualifications).

They are available across the following job sectors:

  • agriculture, horticulture and animal care
  • arts, media and publishing
  • business, administration and law
  • construction, planning and the built environment
  • education and training
  • engineering and manufacturing technologies
  • health, public services and care
  • history, philosophy and theology
  • information and communication technology
  • languages, literature and culture
  • leisure, travel and tourism
  • preparation for life and work
  • retail and commercial enterprise
  • science and mathematics
  • social sciences

Please note: apprenticeship vacancies are more common in some job sectors than others, so it’s important to check with the Find an Apprenticeship service before deciding on an apprenticeship route.

Apprenticeships are also available at different levels. See the table below:

Apprenticeship Type

Level

Equivalent to

Intermediate

2

GCSEs at grades 4 and above

Advanced

3

two A levels

Higher

4, 5, 6 and 7

Foundation degree and above

Degree

6 and 7

Bachelor’s or master’s degree

 

Entry requirements for apprenticeships vary, so it’s important to check vacancies to see what qualifications, skills and experience may be required. Most require good GCSEs in English and maths. Apprenticeships can be very competitive – they are not an easy option.

Apprentices earn a wage and you can check out the legal minimum wage for your age.  Many employers pay more than this.

Apprenticeships are for anyone who is above school leaving age (you reach your official school leaving age on the last Friday in June in year 11).

For more information on apprenticeships and to view and apply for vacancies on the national apprenticeships site.

Traineeships

Young people who are not quite ready for an apprenticeship can do a traineeship (sometimes called by other names, such as ‘pre-apprenticeship’). Traineeships are aimed at 16-24 year-olds and last up to six months. They offer the chance to do work experience, improve work skills and (if needed) gain English and maths qualifications. Traineeships are not paid, but financial help may be available.

If you’re interested in a traineeship, keep track of the available vacancies.

When and how to apply

For 6th forms and colleges, we suggest you apply during the first term of year 11. Some courses become full quite quickly. Some have early deadlines – make sure you check this.

For most apprenticeships and traineeships, you can apply closer to the end of year 11 or during the summer. Apprenticeships and traineeship vacancies come up all year round. Employers and providers tend to want someone who is available to start soon.

It’s best to apply to several 6th forms or colleges. Getting a place isn’t guaranteed. It’s important to have several possibilities, plus a back-up plan.

Similarly, if you’re interested in apprenticeships, it’s a good idea to still apply for 6th form or college as a back-up.

For most 6th forms/colleges, you can apply through their websites (website links are on our 6th form and college list.

You can also apply for most apprenticeships through the national apprenticeships site . (Applying for apprenticeships is similar to applying for jobs.)

For help finding traineeships, you can contact us. We can go through the best options available and refer you.

Making the decision

Hopefully, you are now clearer about what the options are after year 11.

However, to make your decision, you should also think about the following:

  • what GCSE grades are you likely to get?
  • what are you best at?
  • what are you passionate about?
  • how do you learn best?
  • what jobs are you interested in doing in the future?

It's also important to consider what future jobs you're interested in and what qualifications they require.  If you’re not sure, some websites include a careers quiz to help you get some ideas.

Finally, it’s a good idea to speak to people, such as:

  • teachers – they will know what subjects you are best at and what type of learning may suit you
  • parents/carers or older family members – they know you well and may also have ideas (but remember: education pathways and the world of work have changed since they were your age)
  • friends – it’s great to share ideas and information, but don’t choose something just because your friends are doing it
  • careers advisers –  they will have the latest information and are specially trained to help you decide what’s best for you.

You will probably find that lots of people have different opinions. Some of these will be useful. However, it’s important to find out the facts by doing your research and seeing for yourself. Also remember that everyone is different. What is boring or hard for someone else, may be fun or interesting for you!