Breaking down your options after Year 11

If you’re 16, taking your GCSEs soon and contemplating what to do after year 11, you have lots of choices in terms of your next steps - you can continue studying full time, take vocational qualifications, an apprenticeship, or work or volunteer and study part-time.

This is an exciting time albeit a bit daunting for some, but there are loads of great options for you to consider and lots of friendly advice and information to help you. It’s time to make decisions about your future learning.

When can I leave school?

In England you can leave school at the end of June as long as you are 16 by the end of the summer holidays, however, you must do one of the following:

  • Stay in full-time education at school, FE college or 6th form college.
  • Start an apprenticeship or traineeship.
  • Spend 20 hours or more a week working or volunteering, while in part-time education or training.

What routes are available after Year 11?

Sixth Form:

Sixth Forms offer a range of level 3 qualifications usually A-Levels and BTEC qualifications. You will have the choice (grades permitting) of remaining in your current school or moving to a different school for sixth form. You may choose to move because you might like to have a fresh start at a new sixth form elsewhere. Some sixth forms only offer academic qualifications, but many now offer a range of both academic and vocational courses.

You can progress to university, higher or degree level apprenticeships after sixth form. As part of a school, sixth form, although more relaxed than year 11, is still quite structured. Remember, that you will have free study periods and will be expected to make the best use of these.

Further Education College:

Further Education Colleges offer a range of courses starting at entry-level and in many cases up to degree level. Traditionally offering vocational courses, many colleges now include A-Level courses in their offer as well as the new T-Levels. You can apply to the college of your choice; some specialise in specific vocations and can vary between colleges. As with sixth forms, you will not have a full daily timetable, there may be days when you are not required to be in college or out on placement. You’re expected to take responsibility for your learning and complete any work set.


If you would like a more hands-on approach to your career, an apprenticeship may be for you. You will gain a qualification in a job area that you would like to pursue a career in. Whilst earning a wage and getting practical on the job experience you could improve your English and Maths. Apprenticeships are offered at various levels according to your academic ability starting at level 2 and they are offered in a broad range of vocational areas.

Apprenticeships can be competitive; you will need to apply to a vacancy through an employer. The application process will usually mean that you will need a CV and if successful at the application stage, you will be called for an interview.

If you need help building your CV or confidence in your interview skills, get in touch with one of our expert Careers advisers for free 1:1 support. Or check out our blogs on Apprenticeships can offer you!

Apprenticeship Toolkit

Earn while you learn in an Apprenticeship

Supported Internship

Available for students with learning difficulties or learning disabilities who want to get a job and need extra support, supported internships last for at least six months and are unpaid. You get work experience, and an employer trains you to do a job. You also get to study for qualifications or other courses to help you get ready to take up a job.

Work or volunteer while studying part-time

You can combine training or studying for a qualification and work at the same time. Once you’re 18 you can get a full-time job.

  • It doesn’t have to be a paid job; you can volunteer on a project or with a charity or get a work-experience placement in a career or job area that interests you.
  • Colleges and training providers offer a wide range of part-time training courses, including A levels and work-related qualifications like BTECs or NVQs.

The Qualifications


A-Levels are Level 3 qualifications you can take after your GCSEs. Students usually take three or four subjects at A-Level, although some students are doing a blended approach more recently. Combining A-Levels with a Level 3 vocational qualification. A-Levels tend to be more academic subjects and your choice of subjects can be purely career-based.

For example, if you wanted to be a pharmacist, you should be studying chemistry or they can be broader, leaving your options open, as you have not yet decided on a definite career path. A-Levels are assessed through final exams. Progression routes include university, higher/degree apprenticeships, or employment.

Check your local sixth form website for what subjects they offer!

Vocational Qualifications

These are work-related qualifications and are available in a wide range of subject and career-related areas. You cannot do a vocational qualification in an academic subject like Geography or Biology. They are designed to enable the learner to acquire knowledge and skills that meet recognised standards necessary to perform a particular job. They are available at various levels to support your progression. So, depending on your GCSE grades you may start at either level 2 or 3.

They are generally assessed through assessments, coursework, and portfolios and especially in the case of apprenticeships through practical work experience. Progression will depend on the level you have studied but after successful completion of a level 3 qualification, you can progress to university, an advanced/higher/degree apprenticeship or employment.


T-Levels are equivalent to 3 A levels. These 2-year courses have been developed in collaboration with employers and businesses so that the content meets the needs of the industry and prepares students for work, further training, or study.

They offer students a mixture of classroom learning and on-the-job experience during an industry placement of at least 315 hours (approximately 45 days). The subject areas are currently being rolled out but include amongst others digital business services, human resources, design, surveying and planning for construction, education and childcare, healthcare, science engineering, manufacturing, and processing.

If you need help deciding which option is best for you after Year 11, get in touch with one of our expert career advisers on what your next steps should be or check out the blogs linked below!

The Importance of Maths and English

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