In the previous article I talked about the perils of marketing hype in relation to career decisions.  Much of the “information” that is put before young people is actually advertising in support of a particular post-school option.

This may not be that obvious on a superficial glance and it is important that our kids develop an awareness of the extent to which “careers information” is seeking to steer them towards a particular choice (staying on in the Sixth Form or applying to local FE colleges, for example) rather than setting out all the options in a fair and balanced way.

If your dear son or daughter has looked into the pros and cons of the apprenticeships route (or indeed simply applying for straightforward jobs) but decided against this, they are choosing full time study over the “learning while earning” route.  This may not be the end of the decision making process as it may be that their chosen course is on offer from more than one provider of further education.

What are the possibilities? This depends mainly on where you live but, for many, the choice will be between:

  • Staying on at their present school
  • Applying to join the Sixth Form of another school
  • Applying to an FE college
  • Applying to a Sixth Form College

Things to Consider

There are pros and cons to all of these options.  These are some of the things to think about.

Advantages of staying at your existing school

If your school has a sixth form and you are considering staying on you will be in a familiar environment, surrounded by teachers and students you already know.

Sixth forms are smaller and tend to provide more structure and support than colleges. In some cases the standard of teaching in academic subjects will be higher in a sixth form or sixth form college than at an FE college.

Also, a disabled student will already know how their school accommodates disabled pupils. This can vary widely from one school or college to another, and you shouldn’t underestimate the value of studying in a familiar environment.

Sixth Form versus College

Some FE colleges are very large and a bit impersonal – like attending a university. This can be fun but the students do need to have the maturity and self-discipline to stick at their studies and manage their own time and deadlines in the absence of teachers watching over them.

Sixth form colleges are a half-way house between sixth form and FE college in this respect.  It could be argued that this more informal environment will give your child the opportunity to learn new skills which will come in handy at university or in the workplace.

School sixth forms also tend to have a more relaxed style but, as they are still part of the school, they may have a more formal and structured timetable than if you went to a sixth form college or an FE college.

Sixth forms can range from between 100 and 400 students so the range of courses and subjects you can study will depend on the size of the sixth form.  Some schools will have arrangements with other local schools or colleges so they are able to offer more options.

If you stay on at a school sixth form you will have the option to take AS subjects in your first year and then choose the subjects you want to take at A level (or A2) in your second year.

Update: big changes to the way AS and A levels work will start being introduced from September 2015 ~ read more

Many schools now offer a range of other more work related courses such as BTEC Nationals and NVQs so your child should find out what’s on offer at the sixth form they are thinking about going to.

Because they are usually bigger, colleges can offer a wider range of study options. This could mean a wider choice of A level subjects and a big choice of vocational courses.

Students moving to a college also get to meet lots of new people and make new friends as colleges take students from different schools.

FE Colleges

Further education colleges are usually larger than sixth form colleges, although what they provide varies depending on what else is on offer locally.

If most local schools have sixth forms, or there are local sixth form colleges, the FE college may specialise in subjects which closely link to the needs of commerce or industry. These could include subjects such as art, agriculture or technology, many of which can lead to university entry.

In areas where the FE college is the only, or the main option after 16, they will offer everything you could get in a school sixth form or sixth form college.

Some FE colleges will have more than one site and some will have separate ‘sixth form centres’. Although most students at FE colleges are over 16 all colleges will have part-time and adult students.

If you are a young person with a disability and have difficulties getting around, studying at an FE college can be an excellent option. This is because many will let you combine your college learning with learning at home.

You’ll also find that all FE colleges have a Learning Support Advisor who you can talk to about the courses and support that is available to you.

Best of both worlds

Whatever your circumstances, if you’re unsure whether to stay on at school or go to a sixth form college, some schools run link courses at further education colleges to let you see what college life is like by attending one or two days a week.

Find Out More

All colleges publish a free prospectus which includes information about their facilities and the courses on offer. They also have open days so that you can go along and see what is on offer and discuss any issues you have with the college. These are great opportunities to see what a college is like, find out information, meet tutors and other students, have a look around and ask lots of questions!

You can find out more about all the courses available locally by searching on the UCAS Progress site.

How to get careers advice online
Post 16 Options
Qualifications for School Leavers
Find an Apprenticeship