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Post Compulsory Education Choices

By: Hamida Pall - Updated: 5 Jan 2013 | comments*Discuss
Post Compulsory Education Further

Pupils are required to stay in school until they reach 16 years of age. On completion of GCSEs, pupils have a choice of whether to continue with further education at school or college or to undertake employment. Post-compulsory education (16+) refers to further education and vocational training in the UK.

This type of education is distinct from degree level (university) education. Further education colleges or “Sixth Form” colleges offer a wide range of opportunities both full time and part time to over four million students.

When your child reaches sixteen they will have a big decision to make. They will need to decide whether to find employment or to carry on with their education. If they decide they want to further their education there are two paths that they can take. They can choose to pursue further academic qualifications or they can follow a more vocational route.

Further Education

Most UK schools have a “Sixth Form” where students who have completed their GCSEs attend. If your child’s school does not have a “Sixth Form” then there are many other Sixth Form colleges that offer similar courses. In general, students will go on to study A Levels in their Sixth Form college, which will give them an academic qualification that will enable them to pursue a degree program in higher education.

A Levels are a 2-year program and there are 2 sections – full A-levels, which are made up of 6 modules, and half AS-levels, which are 3 modules.

Students usually take 2 to 3 A-levels but it is possible to take more depending on ability. In independent schools students often take anything up to 5 A-Levels, as these schools are more academically driven than state schools.


There is also the option to study for the International Baccalaureate diploma. It is a different option to A Levels and is being offered by a growing number of schools and colleges throughout the UK. The International Baccalaureate is an internationally recognised qualification open to 16 – 19 year olds and is based on the detailed study of a wide number of subjects. It leads to a single qualification but if you don’t achieve the full diploma a certificate will be given for individual subjects. There is some continuous assessment but most of the assessment is done through exams. Most students who take the IB Diploma go on to further education as results count towards the UCAS tariff.

Vocational Courses

If your child is not as academically minded, but still wishes to further their education, they can pursue a vocational course. This will provide them with more hands on experience.

Some vocational programs include:

  • BTEC Awards - vocational qualifications that provide a more practical, real-world approach to learning and skills development alongside a theoretical background.

  • National Vocational Qualification (NVQ) - vocational awards in England & Wales that are achieved through assessment and training. They are practical qualifications based on being able to do a job, with 5 levels of study available, ranging from basic work training up to senior management.

  • City and Guilds Qualification - This is a UK examination and accreditation body for the study vocational training, as well as managerial and engineering training. City and Guilds offers more than 500 qualifications in around 30 industry areas ranging from entry level to the what is the equivalent of a postgraduate degree.

    Covering a diverse range of subjects from engineering, hairdressing, health and social care and catering to more non-traditional areas such as DJing and flower arranging, city and guilds are a good option.

  • Apprenticeships – a system of training on the job while working for an employer who helps the apprentice learn their trade.
It’s important to be equipped with the necessary information to help your child decide which course to take after their GCSE’s. Decisions taken with regard to Post Compulsory Education can help your child along the path to Higher Education. The best time to start discussing your child’s Post Compulsory Education choices with them is the year before the GCSE’s. Then when the time comes, your child should have a fair idea what sort of path they would like to take.

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