Not sure about staying at school for sixth form? A school sixth form is often the natural choice for students who want to continue their education beyond the age of 16, but it’s not necessarily the right choice for everyone. Here are some common reasons why students look at alternatives:
- You want a practical, hands-on programme of study that relates to a specific career you want to pursue
- The college offers a subject(s) you want to study which isn’t available in your school sixth form
- You are worried that you won’t achieve the grades required for entry to sixth form
If one of these reasons applies to you, why not find out what your local further education (FE) college has to offer?
1. Colleges offer a range of full-time and part-time courses
FE colleges in the UK offer courses for both young people and adults; something for everyone!
- entry level (requiring no specific qualifications)
- GCSEs and A levels; Nationals, Highers & Advanced Highers in Scotland
- Apprenticeships which involves paid work with an employer plus part time attendance at college
- Courses in job-related subjects such as business, health & social care, IT
- Practical courses in vocational areas like plumbing and hairdressing
- Access courses that provide a route to higher education for 19+ year olds without traditional qualifications
- Higher education courses in vocational subject areas
- Courses for overseas students, such as English language courses
- Leisure and community courses aimed at adults who want to develop a hobby or skill
Most 16-19 year olds at an FE college follow a full time programme of study which includes several strands. For example, a vocational course, work experience, skills development and, if required, a retake of GCSE Maths or English. However, the difference between school and college is that a full time college course may only involve three timetabled days a week in college! You will be expected, however, to study independently at home or in the college learning resource centre when you are not attending classes.
While most FE colleges offer a broad range of courses some have a specialist focus; such as land-based colleges which specialise in agriculture and animal courses. So be prepared to look for a college further afield for the type of course that interests you if appropriate.
2. There’s a college course for anyone
Whatever qualifications you have (or have not) achieved so far there will be a course at a level to suit you. Don’t let the lack of qualifications hold you back; an interest in a subject area can be just as important as your qualifications. For example, a passion for caring for animals, with evidence which clearly shows your passion, could unlock the door to starting an animal care course. The good news is that if you do well on a lower level course, it’s possible in most subject areas to progress to a course at the next level and work your way up.
3. Colleges offer practical learning
Many college courses include a practical element where you can develop important employability skills, such as communication, teamwork and time management. These skills will look great on your CV and help you get a job when you finish your college course. A course may offer practical experience through classroom learning or a block placement or one day a week in the workplace. Alternatively, you might be trained in a realistic work environment such as a college engineering workshop, a training restaurant, theatre or hair and beauty salon. This could give you useful experience of equipment and technology used in industry. Don’t assume that college is just about practical experience; you will still have written assignments to complete as part of your course in addition to the assessment of your practical skills.
4. Colleges offer help and support to students
Colleges tend to have a diverse student body and actively promote diversity and inclusivity. This makes for an interesting and stimulating environment to learn in. However, making the transition to a new learning environment can be challenging so colleges have lots of people who can provide students with help and support:
- Your course tutor who will get to know you and help you keep on track with work assignments
- The learning support team is there to help if you have a learning need or disability
- Financial support is available for students on a low income
- Some colleges have staff who can offer confidential support in the form of counselling/mentoring
- The careers advice team will help you make the transition to work or a higher education after your course
5. Colleges offer other activities
College isn’t all about study; there are lots of activities students can take part in beyond their course from sports teams and interest clubs to volunteering opportunities. You could even start your own club or society if one doesn’t exist in your area of interest, which would look great on your CV or university application!
How to find out more
To find out more about FE courses look at college websites to view what courses they offer. Note: if you have your own Morrisby account go to My Choices > Qualifications > Options at 16 to check out the ‘Alternative routes’ list of subjects and use the ‘Find local colleges’ search box to identify colleges in your local area.