Further education


Further Education

If you're thinking about taking a full-time course after Year 11 here's all the information you need. Find out more about the types and levels of qualifications and where they lead as well as about the different courses and qualifications offered at sixth forms, colleges and other providers.  We've also included some top tips for completing your application and dealing with any interviews. 

Qualifications fall into three main types:

  1. Academic - these are subject based, the most common being A levels, and are usually assessed by exams.  You'll study particular subjects in-depth which can then lead o1500 x 440 Feature panels - Qualificationsn to higher education (university), an apprenticeship, or employment.
  2. Applied general - these cover broad vocational areas and give you an introduction to an industry, such as travel and tourism, engineering, health and social care.  They combine academic study with practical learning and are usually assessed by a mixture of coursework and exams. They include BTEC and OCR qualifications and can lead on to higher education (university), an apprenticeship or employment.
  3. Vocational or technical - these are for those of you who have a clear idea of what you want to do.  They focus on a specific industry or occupation and are usually assessed by a mixture of coursework and practical, work-based tasks. They recognise the skills and knowledge you need to do the job.  They include the new T Levels, NVQs, some BTEC and OCR qualifications, as well as diplomas and certificates from other awarding bodies such as City & Guilds.  They will prepare you primarily for employment and may form part of an apprenticeship.

When making a choice you need to think about three things:

Which type of qualification fits your future plans?


How do you learn best?

  • Check which course fits in with your preferred learning style.  Do you learn best through the use of images, maps and graphs (visual), through listening and speaking (auditory), through words (reading and writing), or are you a hands-on learner (kinaesthetic).

Which level is best for you?

  • Qualifications are grouped together into levels of difficulty.  There are nine levels from entry level to level 8.  Each level has different entry requirements.  Most of you taking GCSEs will achieve results at either level 2 (9-4) and/or level 1 (3-1) giving you the entry requirements to progress on to qualifications at either level 3 or 2.  To see what qualifications are available at what level take a look at the section on qualifications in Decisions & Choices.  Speak to your tutor or subject teachers to find out what level you are currently working at.
  • For many apprenticeships and job-related courses you may need to take a qualification at either the same or a lower level rather than progressing to a higher level qualification as you need to learn the basics first.

Graphic images - ThinkstockPhotos-468209151What to study?

There are lots of different types of courses to choose from in further education ranging from general academic study, such as A levels, to technical courses such as T Levels and courses with a more work-related or vocational focus, such as BTECs and OCR Cambridge Technical qualifications. 

Some courses will even prepare you for a specific job but all courses will help you progress towards your career goals.  

Don't forget! There are courses available for everyone in further education regardless of how well you have done at school.

You may be able to take a combination of courses, for instance, study a general course alongside a vocational one.

AS and A levels (Level 3)

  • Some sixth forms and colleges offer both AS and A levels while others offer just A levels
  • You usually study between three and four A level subjects (check with the sixth form or college to confirm their offer)
  • You study AS levels for one year and A levels for two years
  • You may be able to combine AS and A levels with other qualifications, such as BTECs
  • As well as studying subjects you know in more detail, you can start new subjects such as economics, media studies or sociology
  • Include theory and written work and are mainly assessed by exams
  • A levels prepare you for higher education/university (HE) and employment.  You may need specific subjects and grades for some HE courses and careers so do check entry requirements
  • Find out more about A levels here.

Extended Project Qualification (Level 3)

  • Taken by some students and equivalent to half an A level
  • You have to choose a topic, plan, research and develop your idea and decide on your finished product
  • Your finished product can be a research based written report, a production (eg charity event) or an artefact (eg piece of art)
  • You record your project process in your production log

BTEC qualifications (Levels 1, 2 and 3)

  • Are related to particular fields of employment such as business, engineering and ICT
  • Some are in more specific job areas, such as floristry, electrical/electronic engineering or fish management
  • Can be studied on a full or part-time basis
  • BTEC Nationals (Level 3) can lead on to higher education/university courses
  • Find out more about BTECS here.

T Levels (Level 3)

  • These are 2-year technical courses equivalent to 3 A levels which started in September 2020
  • Developed with employers, they are designed to provide the skills and knowledge required to get into a technical career
  • T Levels will combine classroom learning with an industry placement (for approximately 45 days)
  • T Levels can lead to skilled employment, further study or a higher apprenticeship
  • Find out more about these new qualifications here.

OCR Cambridge Technical qualifications (Levels 2 and 3)

  • Are offered in some schools and further education colleges
  • They are work-related qualifications aimed at students aged 16+
  • Available in several work-related subjects including health and social care, media and sport
  • Assessment is through internal and external assessment including coursework assignments to build up a portfolio of evidence
  • OCR Level 3 Cambridge Technicals can lead on to higher education (degree) courses
  • Find out more about these qualifications here.

Job-related qualifications (Levels 1, 2 and 3)

  • These are vocational or technical qualifications that will train you for a specific job
  • You can take them full or part-time usually at a further education college but many are also taken as part of an apprenticeship
  • Usually include a work placement so you can develop and learn the skills required for the job
  • Assessment is on your practical skills and on your ability to do the job

Foundation Learning (Level 1)

  • Designed to help you move on to other courses, an apprenticeship or work
  • Gives you the chance to move up to gaining qualifications that are equivalent to GCSEs at grades 3-1.
  • Made up of a package of qualifications that include vocational subjects (eg bricklaying, childcare, retail) and personal and social development and include maths, English and IT qualifications
  • They will have different titles depending on the provider

600 x 300 photos  - Education 5In Norfolk you can study full time:

  • In your own school's sixth form or sixth form centre (if it has one)
  • In a sixth form at another school
  • At a sixth form college
  • At a further education college
  • With another provider, sometimes known as a training provider

Don't forget you can find details of Norfolk's post-16 education providers and their courses here on Help You Choose in the Opportunities section.

Ask yourself...

  • Do I want to stay on at my own school (if it has a sixth form) or go somewhere new?
  • If I want to go to college, would I feel happier in a large college or a small one?
  • Will I need to travel to do the course I'm interested in?

All post-16 course providers have open events and evenings giving you the chance to have a look around and speak to teachers, tutors and current students.  Don't forget to ask questions to help you make the right decision.

Which is right for me?

School sixth forms/centres

 Mainly offer academic courses like A levels, and possibly some vocational courses. If your school has a sixth form:

  • stay somewhere you know with teachers you know and other friends who stay on
  • some have arrangements with other local schools and colleges so they can offer a wider range of choices
  • some offer subject specialisms such as science and maths or engineering
  • Norfolk has approximately 30 sixth forms/centres

If your school doesn't have its own sixth form or if you wish to change schools, then you can apply to go to a sixth form in another school.


Sixth form colleges

 Offer an extensive range of A Levels and vocational courses such as BTECs, OCR Cambridge technicals and nationals. Some may offer GCSEs and personalised programmes.  Sixth form colleges: 

  • are bigger than sixth forms so usually offer a larger choice of subjects and courses
  • provide a young adult environment for 16-19 year olds with no younger or older students
  • attract students from a number of schools in the area giving you the opportunity to start somewhere new and make new friends
  • Norfolk has one sixth form college: East Norfolk Sixth Form College

Further education colleges

 Offer a wide range of courses including academic, vocational and specialist occupational courses. They:

  • give you a fresh start with new teachers and new friends from different schools
  • are usually very large with students of different ages including adults, doing full and part-time courses
  • have the widest range of subjects, courses and facilities
  • Norfolk has four further education colleges: City College Norwich, College of West Anglia, Easton College and East Coast College
  • further education colleges often have more than one centre, for instance:-
    • Paston College and Easton College are part of City College Norwich
    • the College of West Anglia has campuses at King's Lynn, Wisbech and Cambridge
    • East Coast College has campuses at Great Yarmouth and Lowestoft

Other Norfolk providers

There are several providers in Norfolk who offer full-time Level 2 and Level 3 courses in specialist areas such as art and design, music, musical theatre, media, creative IT and computing.  Others offer study programmes for young people who haven't achieved 9-4 grades at GCSE which give you the chance to try out various vocational options including engineering, childcare, performing arts and many more.


Colleges outside of Norfolk

Outside Norfolk, there are some specialist colleges, such as dance and drama schools, or colleges offering courses for students with a disability or learning difficulty. If you want to find out more about specialist colleges speak to your school's careers leader or adviser.


All providers of post-16 education provide help and support for their students, but you are expected to take on more responsibility for your own learning.

Sixth forms or colleges in Norfolk require different qualifications and/or qualities to access them.

Level 3

If you want to do a Level 3 course, you'll usually need at least four GCSEs at grade 4 or better. Level 3 courses include A and AS Levels, BTEC Nationals and OCR Cambridge technicals and from September 2020, a brand new qualification called T Levels was launched.  Many sixth forms and colleges may ask for certain grades in certain subjects in order to continue with them at a higher level.


Level 2

If you are looking at Level 2 courses, you might be asked for some grade 4s or 3s at GCSE. Sometimes an interest in the subject is as important as your GCSE grades. Level 2 courses include GCSEs, BTEC Firsts, NVQ2 or OCR Cambridge technicals and nationals.


Level 1

Level 1 courses have names like Entry, Foundation or Introductory. Some lower grades at GCSE might be required or a good report from your school or college. Really wanting to do the course is just as important.


Entry requirements vary between sixth forms and colleges

You might be completely confused about it all at this point but don't worry, Help You Choose can point you in the right direction.

It's really important to check with each sixth form/college that you are interested in going to for up-to-date information on their entry requirements, You can find out the entry requirements for a specific course by searching for it on Help You Choose, then clicking the View button next to it.


Application tips600 x 300 photos  - university accommodation

Whether you are applying to college or sixth form (or both) you will be asked to complete an application form.  This may be the first time you have been faced with this task so below you will find some help and advice on completing some of the more difficult sections. Do make sure you follow any instructions that you might find at the top of the application form or at the beginning of each section that you have to complete. Do a rough copy first in a word document or similar first. You can then usually copy and paste it into the actual application form when you have corrected all your mistakes, used spellchecker etc. 

Personal Statement

Whether you complete an online or paper application form you will usually be faced with a section where you have to write something about yourself - usually called a personal statement.

It can be a bit daunting to have to 'sell' yourself but basically the college/sixth form include this section to give you the opportunity to tell them a bit about yourself including why you would make a good student at their college/sixth form.

It's useful to structure your personal statement to include the following:-

- your reasons for why you want to attend that particular college/sixth form (is it because of their facilities, their courses, their reputation for certain subjects, or something else?)

- your career plans if you have any.  You may want to say how the course or courses you are applying for will help you with your future plans.  If you don't have any clear career ideas you could describe what it is that interests you about the course(s) you are applying for.

- anything you do outside of normal school lessons such as playing for a sports team, learning a musical instrument or being part of a drama club.  If you can link your hobby to a skill that you have developed this is a good thing to mention to any potential sixth form or college.  Playing a sport can help you work well in a team; drama is great for building confidence and learning a musical instrument shows a dedication to developing new skills.

The Student Room has a useful article on completing personal statements.


Work experience

If you have had a part-time job, completed school work experience or been involved in any volunteering, this section is a really good place to display what skills you have gained.  List the key skills you learned from the work place, such as working in a team, communication and customer service skills.  Try and give as much information as possible about the activities you carried out such as “I was responsible for taking all telephone bookings and updating the database, to ensure the salon was organised.”


Spelling, grammar & punctuation

It’s easy to think that you don’t have to be formal when completing an application form, however sixth forms and colleges will be looking at your spelling, grammar and punctuation.  Your application may be the first impression they have of you, so taking the time to check your application before you send it is really important. Get someone else to read it through to make sure it all makes sense and that there are no spelling or grammar mistakes.  If you complete your application online on Help You Choose you can check to see what it will look like before you send it.


This may be the first formal interview that you have ever had so here are some top tips to help you prepare for a successful college or sixth form interview:

Top TipsParents - Parent Thumbnail 2

  • Arrive early – Make sure you know how long your journey will take and allow extra time for traffic if you are travelling by car or public transport.
  • Take any documents you have been asked to provide with you eg certificates etc
  • Take a copy of your application form so you can read it through beforehand. You may also wish to refer to it in your interview.
  • It's natural to be feeling nervous – try to relax and be yourself, listen carefully to the questions and ask if you don't understand.
  • Be enthusiastic – colleges and sixth forms want to know you are keen and motivated to do well if you get a place on their course.
  • Be honest - for example, don’t lie about your potential grades. If you don’t get the required grades to meet the course the college or sixth form may be able to offer you an alternative course.

Questions you may be asked at interview

Why do you want to study with us?

Let the interviewer know your reasons for applying.  Did you like the tutors at the open event, the facilities on offer etc.


Why are you interested in the course?

Say what it is that you like about the subject of the course.


What are you hoping to gain from the course?

Tell the interviewer what your plans are when you have finished, whether it’s going onto university, an apprenticeship or going into the work place and how completing the course can help you move onto your next step.


What are your future career plans?

Let the interviewer know what your career plans are and how the course will help you to achieve these.  If you currently don’t have any firm career plans, be honest and explain how the course is the next step you want to take and how it may help you decide on your future direction.


Do you have any questions you would like to ask?

It’s always good to have at least a couple of questions that you would like to ask to show that you are really interested. You might want to know about your tutors, the course or the facilities etc.  You can write your questions down before the interview and refer to your notes when you're asked.


You may also like to look at these interview tips from UCAS

The section below has everything you need to help you prepare for subjects and learning in Year 12. Take a look at the guides and have a go at some of the activities during Year 11 or over the summer holidays. You can explore different subjects and view guides and videos from local colleges and sixth forms. This section gives you the chance to try out subjects to see if you might like them before committing to them. You might see activities at a college or sixth form you are planning to go to but even if it isn't listed, have a go at some of the activities at other sixth forms and colleges.