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How to Choose a Sixth Form or College

There are many sixth form schools and colleges situated around the country for young people to study courses after their GCSEs. Some students choose to stay in their sixth form school after their GCSEs; others choose to move on to a different sixth form college/school and the remainder choose to attend a further education college or maybe you’re considering studying a BTEC (Learn more – what is a BTEC).

What is the difference between attending sixth form or a further education college?

A further education college offers students a different learning environment to a school’s sixth form, from students attending a different institution in a new area, meeting new people and experience a new academic atmosphere. This is one of the main reasons why young people decide to attend a new institution when choosing their A-Level qualifications.

Types of courses at a sixth form school or college

Further education colleges tend to offer a wider range of courses for students to study, primarily A Levels, BTECs, Diplomas of Higher Education, Certificates (There are various certificates available for people, such as a Higher National Certificate and a Certificate of Higher Education) and the chance to re-take or sit a GCSE course. However, not all further education colleges will offer the same mix of courses and subjects; therefore, students should thoroughly check prior to applying if their sixth form or college does the course that they show interest in.

What is a Level 1 qualification?

Sixth forms and further educations may provide level 1 qualifications, which tend to be NVQ (National Vocational Qualifications – click here if you want to know what is an NVQ)  level 1, BTEC Introductory certificates, and OCR Nationals which are similar to GCSEs graded between D to G. level 1 qualifications aim to build confidence and provide individuals with an introduction to a specific industry, subject or an area of work. Students will need qualifications at this level to process to level 2.

What is a level 2 qualification?

A level 2 qualification offers a deeper insight of a subject and is equivalent to GCSEs graded between A* to C. These qualifications tend to be NVQ level 2, and a BTEC First. Students are able to continue onto Level 2 after successfully completing Level 1, and if they wish, can then continue onto level 3 qualifications. If students hold GCSE grades ranging from A* to C, they are able to head straight into level 3 qualifications.

What is a level 3 qualification?

Level 3 qualifications tend to include AS levels and A levels, BTEC Nationals, Advances and Progression Diplomas, and NVQ Level 3 qualifications. Students are able to study level 3 qualifications at a sixth form school or further education college and are able to progress onto a range of vocational courses and degree courses after completion. Also, many employers will look for level 3 qualifications in applicants within technical and supervisory roles.

What is above level 3 qualifications?

Levels 4 through to 8 may be available at your college, but will no longer be classed as further education courses and instead are known as higher education courses, such as Higher National Diplomas, Higher National Certificates, Foundation degrees and postgraduate, or professional qualifications.

What will my timetable be like at sixth form?

A student’s timetable at sixth form will be similar to when they were at school studying for their GCSEs, although, they may find that they’ll have a few free periods or times when there are not needed to attend classes. The start and end of the day tend to be the same, as sixth form students will be attending the same school, but may have a different lunch time as to be separated from year 7 to year 11 students. Although, each sixth form school is different and students can ask their teachers of their sixth form for more understanding.

What will my timetable be like at college?

At a further education college, students will most likely have a different timetable from what they grew accustomed to at school. The times can be different, ranging from an 8am start to a 5pm finish, and some students may find they have half-days, lots of free periods. Also, colleges can offer a part-time study option where students are able to study in the evenings or for a few days a week.

Vocational courses or further education courses that consist of work experience/placements and studying may have a different timetable altogether. Students can contact their local college to ask about course timetables and for more information.

What will it be like studying at Sixth Form?

The majority of students at a sixth form would have stayed at the same school they attended during their GCSEs; therefore, a lot of your fellow students will be your prior classmates. Furthermore, you may already know most of your teachers, classrooms and staff as most sixth forms don’t tend to fully exclude their sixth form students or buildings. Also, depending on your own sixth form dress code, there is a chance you’ll get to ditch the uniform and wear what you want!

What will it be like studying at college?

As further education colleges gain new students each year, you’ll meet lots of distinct people from a wide range of backgrounds, interests and who are different ages, providing a very different learning environment. There will be new teaching staff, and most students will be allocated their own personal tutor that they can go to if they have any problems, need help or advice or to seek guidance about their academic studies. The majority of further education colleges allow their students to dress without a uniform, which can be extremely liberating after wearing the same outfit every day for 11 years!

How will I know if I should stay at my sixth form school for my A Levels?

The decision ultimately lies with the individual – you – only! You can talk to your friends, family and school staff to see if your sixth form offers you the right academic guidance and opportunities to achieve your goal, whether that be going to university or seeking employment. However, other factors may affect your decision, such as, where your closest further education college is, and whether it may be easier for you to stay at your school.

How will I know if I should attend a further education college?

Students who are looking to venture out should also talk with their teachers, career advisers, family and friends to find out if they should attend a different institution to where they studied their GCSEs. A lot of students like the idea of a fresh start for their A-Levels or BTEC qualifications and to meet new people. Furthermore, most students who attend school may not have attended a sixth form school and need to find their local college regardless to continue with their studies. Students will also need to pass their first year – or their AS Level – exams to continue onto the next level to complete a full A Level. Further education colleges work differently to that of a school, where most pupils automatically progress to the following academic year. At a college, students will have to work hard and pass their exams, and complete coursework to continue onto the course.

Planning your future steps

Students may already be thinking about university, and for some, it may not even cross their minds, both situations are perfectly fine at this point. It is never a bad idea to do some research into some universities, whether it be the highest rankings universities or particular areas that they fall into, shown in our interactive UK university map. Simple and easy researching into these areas can be both interesting and beneficial; you can never be over-prepared.