If you are aged sixteen by the end of the summer holidays, you can – in theory – finish school today as it is 30th June on Saturday. Sad, but true – you don’t have to go back!*
However, the law** says that until your eighteenth birthday you have three options: either (a) stay in full-time education – perhaps switching to a college instead of school sixth form (b) start an apprenticeship / traineeship or (c) opt for part-time education / training as long as you are spending 20 hours or more a week working / volunteering.
Only when you are eighteen are you legally able to choose to stop learning.
* It’s slightly different outside England, but let’s consider your options in more detail ….
Stay in full-time education***
Same Sixth Form – If you want to stay on in full-time education, the most obvious pathway is probably already underway and that is for you to remain in school and continue on to study A-levels and/or BTECs in the same sixth form. Increasingly these are in separate locations as part of a growing Multi-Academy Trust made up of several schools, but most likely still with your current GCSE year group.
Another Sixth Form – Another option is to consider switching to a different sixth form. This could be as simple as wanting a change of scenery but can also be worth a serious look simply for the sheer variety of courses available. In addition to core subjects at most sixth forms, many also deliver hard-to-find courses such as A-levels in Theology at The New Sixth in BA2, Media & Film at St Katherine’s in BS20 and Law at Churchill Academy in BS25.
A-levels at College – The colleges generally offer an alternative environment to study for A-levels. You can still expect the core/facilitating subjects, but SGS College in BS34 also delivers A-levels in subjects such as Philosophy or Physical Education, whilst in BA5, Strode College offers A-levels in Textiles, Environmental Science and Geology.
Other Level 3 courses at College – In addition to A-levels, the major colleges also offer other level 3 courses, such as City of Bristol College which offers a two-year BTEC Extended Diploma in Applied Science (Medical Science) equivalent to 3 A-levels. And Yeovil College which offers level 3 courses including Engineering Technical, Light Vehicle Maintenance & Repair as well as Art & Design.
Specialist College – And there are, of course, the smaller, specialist colleges which offer incredible level 3 courses as an alternative to sixth form, such as The IDC in Bristol which offers a Diploma in Games Design, Access Creative College which offers level 3 courses including Music Technology, Bristol City Community Trust which delivers a level 3 extended diploma in Sport (LTA Tennis Coaching) and BIMM Bristol is also launching an Artist Development Diploma in Songwriting.
Start an apprenticeship / traineeship
An apprenticeship is an opportunity to learn and get a qualification whilst you’re in paid employment. You might go to college perhaps one day a week or the training provider might come out to see you in the workplace. Each one will be different, but it will either be explained in the advert or when you apply.
Whether you need help getting your Maths and English alongside a specialist qualification in the sector you have applied for – e.g. Customer Services – or whether you’re looking for a top salary, all expenses paid and a professional qualification as well, there is an apprenticeship worthy of your consideration.
A Traineeship on the other hand is designed to help you to become ‘work ready’ if you perhaps haven’t got any qualifications or experience in the workplace already. Over 1-6 months, you can expect to get a programme of critical work experience incorporated with a lot of help to get you started on your career path.
Choose part-time education/training
As long as you are spending 20 hours or more a week working / volunteering, you should be okay to choose a part-time course. However please check with the admissions team at the college or training provider you are considering so they can evaluate your particular circumstances.
Having the opportunity to work and/or volunteer for that number of hours each week whilst continuing your studies will give you plenty of experience for your CV and lots to discuss at future interviews, potentially providing the ‘happy-medium’ you are seeking between full-time education and a full-time apprenticeship.
And there are plenty of part-time level 3 courses in the region. However always be mindful that some part-time courses are only for a limited number of weeks in which case you will need to keep finding another one afterwards so do check the details carefully before applying.
And finally, …
What if you don’t quite get the grades you need to study those level 3 courses? When you signed up for them, how many teachers specified that you needed at least a grade 4 or 5 (or a C) before you could start on level 3? Most, I would say, based on the sixth form prospectuses.
And how many will expect you to have GCSE Maths and English at grade 4 or above to be able to stay on and study any subject in sixth form? Are you confident that you can get those grades or are you worried that you might get the sixth form ‘pink slip’ on results day refusing your application to stay on?
This is a great time to check out and fully understand all your options and be prepared for all eventualities. There will plenty of college open days in the autumn if you have got it wrong and need to rapidly rethink. I did and it one of the best things I’ve done, leading me on to top grades and a degree form a Russell Group Uni.
And if you opt for one of the part-time study options, keep in mind that many courses include and/or expect you to do work experience as part of the course – such as the Health and Social Care BTEC. As a result, always try and choose something that you enjoy, and which is relevant to what you want to do in life.
** The applicable law is covered here – https://www.gov.uk/know-when-you-can-leave-school
*** Information accurate at the time of going to press, but you are always advised to please check the latest details direct before applying or visiting.
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