For those with teens taking GCSEs, the next few weeks will be a mix of emotions – and hard work for you too! They’ll have seen the year-above wearing their ‘Leavers’ hoodies last summer and know this is on the horizon, even if they are keen to stay on for sixth form. But what are their options – and, for today’s blog, what could you be doing to help whilst they are concentrating on their revision and exams?

A quick overview of their options

The law says that they can leave school on the last Friday in June if they will be aged 16 by the end of the summer holidays. So, for those in Year 11 this is the last compulsory year in school. But what next?

The law then provides them with three options until they reach their 18th birthday:

(1) Stay in full-time education

(2) Start an apprenticeship (or traineeship)

(3) Spend 20 hours (min) a week working (or volunteering) if also in part-time education (or training)

We’ll cover the apprenticeship option in future blogs, so please keep an eye out for that, but if they are seriously considering staying on in full-time or part-time education, here’s a look at the various Sixth Forms and Further Education (FE) options available.

Where can they study in September?

If your teen wants to stay in classroom-based education after GCSEs, the following are their main options:

School Sixth Form – These mostly offer A-levels, but many do have a range of vocational qualifications available so it’s worth a look at the list of possible courses in the school prospectus online or on pdf. They could choose to stay at their current school or apply to transfer to another school for Sixth Form – perhaps due to the choice of courses on offer.

Standalone Sixth Form – Many schools are now working together in Multi-Academy Trusts (MATs) across the region and have combined their Sixth Forms onto one site. For most in the Trust, this will mean moving to a different location for their post 16 courses. However, there are other options to consider such as St Brendan’s Sixth Form College in Brislington, BS4.

Sixth Form at College – For some it will be crucial to leave school and start afresh elsewhere after GCSEs, whether that is at a new school or at a standalone Sixth Form. But another option is to apply to a college offering level 3 courses. The colleges typically offer different ways of learning, including part-time courses so they usually also have a much wider age range than in school sixth forms. The larger ones such as City of Bristol College offer a mix of vocational courses and A-levels, so definitely worth a look.

Specialist courses – If your young person is already looking to specialise in a career sector, they may want to look at a level 3 diploma (or extended diploma) at a specialist college. Did you know, for example, that they could study Games Design at the new The IDC: The Institute of Digital Creatives college in Bristol? It’s a 2-year course equivalent to 3 A-levels which will give them work experience as well as 15 hours a week in the classroom and another 10 hours a week spent producing and developing their projects independently or in groups. Or they could study LTA Tennis Coaching (BTEC L3 Extended Diploma) at Bristol City Community Trust at Ashton Gate? They’ve an open evening on Tuesday 8th May 7pm – worth a look.

And to broaden the choice even further, companies such as boomsatsuma education deliver specialist media-related diplomas in schools across the region such as at Digitech Studio School Bristol in Warmley, BS30 and at Backwell School in North Somerset BS48.

What GCSEs grades do they need?

To continue studying in full-time education, students in Year 11 will need to get some good grades this summer. Whether or not they stay at their current school, it is unlikely that they can start any A-level courses without at least five GCSE passes (grades 4-9) – and most likely a grade 6 in the subject they want to continue studying in Sixth Form.

There’s also a very high chance that they will need to pass GCSE English and Maths otherwise there may need to be arrangements in place to allow them to either re-sit or take a Functional Skills exam instead, depending on their actual grades. There’s more on the resit rules here from the NAHT –

What can they study?

What they can study will depend on what the school or college is offering. Not all offer A-levels in Fine Art or Law, for example. And the timetabling of courses will also impact on their decision, although St Brendan’s Sixth Form, for example, allows students to mix and match any combination.

Here are some of the most common types of academic courses they can find for September –

A-levels – These are level 3 qualifications whether based on traditional / facilitating subjects such as History, Languages, Mathematics or Biology – or new subjects such as Psychology, Sociology, Business and Dance. Most Unis will want to see that students have taken these together at the end of year 13 so they can show that they can handle the expected workload on a degree course. And it may be wise to discuss the proposed mix of A-levels with a careers adviser – or take a look at the Uni websites – if anyone is thinking of applying for a particular degree after Sixth Form.

BTEC Nationals – These level 3 courses are taken over two years. They can be equivalent to one, two or three A-levels and so it is usually possible to take a mix of both depending on what subjects a student wants to study. They are more vocational than A-levels, they are assessed through coursework, you will be awarded a diploma qualification and subjects can include Engineering, Business, and IT.

Cambridge Technicals – These are broad vocational qualifications which help students get relevant transferable skills such as problem-solving, communication, research and teamwork. Subjects can help towards longer-term career choices such as sport, performing arts, business or general science.

International Baccalaureate (IB) – This qualification is not offered everywhere, but it can be very popular where it is available. Essentially, it offers a broader mix of six subjects under a single qualification and three of these subjects are studied at a higher level equivalent to A-levels.

Extended Project Qualification (EPQ) – This is a standalone qualification in addition to their main courses enabling your teen to specialise in a subject of particular interest and demonstrate independent study and research skills which will be valuable if they want to go on to Uni. It is worth roughly half an A-level and so can be used to earn extra UCAS points to help when applying. EPQ subjects can also include Cyber Security which is offered, for example, at Digitech Studio School.

And finally …

The choice of what and where to study may come down to transport and convenient access as much as timetabling and the actual subject(s), and if your young person might like to go on to Uni after sixth form/further education, most degrees require specific level 3 qualifications (or combinations of them). Whilst they will be working hard for their GCSEs, this is a great time for you to research the choices out there for them, even if they are not exactly sure what they might want to do in the longer term yet.

Careersnearhere: It’s Their Future – Let’s Get It Started!

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