Whenever a new school year comes around a new cohort of students who have finished their GCSEs start their time at sixth form college. It is the most commonly taken path after school has finished for students to gain further qualifications. This path often helps them on to university. But this may lead many to wonder, when it comes to post school education are there other options and what actually happens if you don’t attend a sixth form college?
You don’t have to attend sixth form college. Sixth form colleges are not the only option for further education. There are plenty of other options you can take after you finish GCSEs. It is imperative to know that in England you need to be in education until you’re 18 by law. In Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales it is 16.
I recommend you keep reading to find out more details about what exactly sixth form colleges are, as well as the other options you have available after school finishes.
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Do you have to go to sixth form college?
You don’t have to go to sixth form college. It is however the law to be in education until you are 18 years old. Sixth form colleges are not the only option you have to stay in education after GCSEs. Many schools have extended to have their own sixth forms, so you could stay at your school sixth form to complete your further education.
If you want to be slightly more hands on and practical you can take a variety of qualifications, such as BTECs or NVQs. These combine study with practical experience in a certain area of study and work. Read more about whether universities excepts BTECs in this article here.
If study isn’t for you, you could look to do an apprenticeship. This is where you work for an employer and train for a job which you could then be offered after turning 18. These can be done for over 1,500 different jobs and there are 180 different types of apprenticeships. Read this Think Student article to find out more about apprenticeships.
You can also study part time while actually having a job to fill the rest of the hours. Certain jobs will offer things like BTECs along with the job to make this easier. It can be a paid job but could also be volunteering or work experience.
There are many different things you can do to ensure you stay in education until you are 18. You don’t need to panic if more full-time study doesn’t seem right for you. There are a huge number of options out there, so do your research and see what’s right for you.
What age do you have to be in education until?
It is now legally compulsory to be in some form of education until you are 18 years old. It is worth mentioning that you do not need to be in full time education after 16 years old, just part time education. The above is true for England, but for other parts of the UK you can leave education at 16. Click here to find out more.
You can leave school on the last Friday in June if you’ll be 16 by the end of the summer holidays. If this is true for you, once you have left school the gov website says you have to do one of the following until you are 18.
- Stay in full-time education, for example at a college
- Start an apprenticeship or traineeship
- Spend 20 hours or more a week working or volunteering, while in part-time education or training
The aim of this law was to allow young people to gain greater skills and reduce the risk of young unemployment. As well as increasing the earning potential of younger people.
This is why sixth form colleges have become far more prominent over the last few years. Since people have to be in education for the extra two years, sixth form colleges offer them a good way to do this. Students can gain some extra qualifications on top of their GCSEs.
What happens if you do not stay in education until 18 years old?
It is not too uncommon for students to leave education before they turn 18, regardless of the law. Believe it or not if you leave education after the age of 16 you will not be fined. Although it is effectively breaking the law the government does not want to punish young people for not wanting to pursue further education.
Despite this seemingly relaxed situation, the government highly encourages parents and students to abide by this law. Choosing to stay in education instead of dropping out early can be very beneficial to your future career and society.
It’s extremely important that you consider all of your educational options before you decide to leave education early. The benefits of staying are huge and so it is important that you make an informed choice, considering the wide range of options that are available to you. You may want to read this article on what happens if you don’t stay in education until you’re 18.
What is sixth form college?
So, what exactly is sixth form college? Well, after you finish your GCSEs, the next step is not as obvious as the ones before. Up until now you’ve been in school and worked your way up through a rigid and fixed system, this all changes here. In the UK you have to stay in education until you are 18. There are a number of ways to do this, and one of them is sixth form college.
Sixth form is essentially the umbrella term for the last 2 years of school, Years 12 and 13. However, many people don’t do them at the school they did years 7-11 at (some do, more on that later). Sixth form colleges are separate institutions aiming to provide 16–18-year-olds with a further education for 2 years. They do this on a range of academic, technical and professional courses. There are 62 across the UK. Sixth forms aim to get you certain qualifications, such as A-Levels and BTECs.
Around 170,000 students in the UK are enrolled every year and it’s one of the most common post GCSE choices. If you are just leaving school after GCSEs and unsure of where to even begin looking for your next step, take a look into sixth form colleges. They aren’t right for everyone, but they are for a lot of people. They are certainly a very solid option for something to do after GCSEs.
Benefits of sixth form college
As established, sixth form college is a viable option for many people when considering what to do after GCSEs, but why exactly is this, and what benefits does sixth form college have?
Well, one of them is the great amount of choice that students will have when it comes to study. As you may know students will typically take around 3 or 4 A-Levels if they are indeed taking A-Levels. However, they will have around 40 topics to choose from at most colleges, this means that you can really specialise and choose what interests you. This, combined with the specialised level of teaching, which is generally higher at sixth form colleges are a couple of reasons why sixth form colleges could be for you.
Another reason applies to those who intend to go to university. In my opinion there is no better preparation for university than sixth form college. Students are given more independence over their own work. There are treated like adults rather than children for the first time in a formal setting. This extra responsibility mirrors the level of responsibility you get at university and it’s very hard to find another formal setting that does it to this extent. If you are looking to go to university and want to not only gain some qualifications, but also gain some experience of that individuality, sixth form college is a great option.
Drawbacks of sixth form colleges
As mentioned above, there are many kinds of study post GCSEs and while some things are right for some people, they will be completely wrong for other people.
The extra independence you get at sixth form college will be great for some people, but for others it will be a nightmare. The pressure of having to motivate yourself to do the work and knowing what work to do is a lot of stress for some people.
For those who haven’t enjoyed school and don’t intend to go to university sixth form college is probably not the way to go for you. There are other more practical options out there that you should look into. To learn more about your other options click here.
I highly recommend you do your own research into specific colleges and figure out what’s right for you.
What are the differences between sixth form college and school sixth forms?
As I mentioned above a lot of schools have begun to offer their own sixth forms. Meaning a lot of students simply stay on at school for another two years after GCSEs to take A-Levels or another qualification. This is different to going to college, which is a separate institution and not a continuation of your school.
The first thing to be said is that sixth form colleges are only for sixth formers. This can give them a more adult feel. Whereby the students are given slightly more independence, such as being allowed to wear what they want and having a generally greater choice of courses. This is countered by the fact a school will normally have slightly more support on offer due to the increased number of teachers and resources. There is also slightly more formality to school which can help some people.
It really all depends on what kind of person you are and what you prefer. If you work better when you’re in more control over your own timings and feel better with more independence, then a college may be the right option for you. If you feel better in familiar surroundings and with slightly more structure around you, or even if you just can’t stand the idea of leaving all your friends, then staying at school may be the better option.
Of course, there is the fact that not all schools have a sixth form, but this does not mean you can’t go to a school sixth form. Most schools accept some sixth form students from other schools. Just because your school doesn’t have a sixth form don’t rule out the idea of staying in school altogether. Do your research and assess your options.