What to study
The first decision you need to make is what to study.
There are lots of different subjects and courses to choose from.
Options include general qualifications and vocational qualifications.
General qualifications include GCSEs and A levels. These qualifications prepare you for a range of different careers, rather than focusing on a specific job.
In contrast, vocational qualifications are work-related and can give you the skills needed for a broad area of work or train you for a specific job. Courses are usually practical and involve hands-on projects. Examples of vocational courses include engineering, childcare, hair & beauty, motor vehicle, health & social care and business (plus there are lots more!).
Some schools and colleges allow students to mix general qualifications with vocational ones. For example, 2 A levels with a BTEC level 3 course that is equivalent to one A level (making 3 subjects in total).
Students that stay at Waverley School can study A-level courses as well as vocational level 3 courses.
For more information about general and vocational qualifications, check out the sections Choosing A levels and BTECs. The section Entry requirements also explains what grades are needed for different levels of courses.
Where to study
The second decision you need to make is where to study. For example, at Waverley School, another school that has a sixth form, college or a specialist college.
You may want to stay at Waverley School as you know the teachers and are happy here. Alternatively, you may want to study a course not available at Waverley or you may want a change of scenery and decide that another school or college would be better for you.
Full details of the sixth form subjects available at Waverley are also on the school website. )
It will also depend on what you want to study. For example, if you want to do A levels you’ll need to find a school or college that offers all the ones that interest you. Please note, not all colleges offer A levels (for example, Solihull College) and some colleges may offer A levels at a particular campus (for example, BMET only offers A levels at their campus in Sutton Coldfield).
If you wish to do a practical vocational course, such as motor vehicle studies, you will find that these courses are usually offered by colleges that specialise in vocational courses, such as Solihull College and South & City College (and not, for example, at sixth form colleges such as Joseph Chamberlain College, Cadbury College and Solihull 6th Form College).
It’s therefore really important that you first decide what course or courses you want to do and then find out which schools and colleges offer them. Then check the school or college out. Start with their website but make sure you go to an open day/evening to make sure you like the school/college and to check course entry requirements, what you will study on the course, how it is taught, how the course is assessed, the results students achieve, what students do after the course and what facilities are available (such as a library and access to computers).
You should also consider travel arrangements. How far are you willing to travel and how would you get there?
There are also newer specialist colleges to consider, such as Aston University Engineering Academy that specialises in engineering and science courses and Birmingham Ormiston Academy that specialises in creative, digital and performing arts courses.
The website addresses for local colleges are:
- Access Creative College – Birmingham
- Aston University Engineering Academy
- Birmingham Metropolitan College
- Birmingham Ormiston Academy
- Cadbury College
- Joseph Chamberlain College
- Solihull Sixth Form College
- Solihull College
- South & City College
- University College Birmingham
When to apply
Once you have done all your research you should aim to apply by Christmas (especially for popular schools and colleges).
Many places have online applications; check their website for details.
If you are planning to apply to grammar schools or another school, check their website for application deadlines.
These will vary depending on the level of course you are applying for:
Level 3 courses:
These last for 2 years. Apply for this level if you are predicted to get 4-5 GCSEs at grades 4-9 (including maths and English). Some schools and colleges may require a grade 6 (or higher) to study some A level subjects (such as maths and science A levels).
Students are able to choose from an academic pathway (such as A levels), a vocational pathway (such as BTECs) or a mixture of both.
Examples of level 3 options include:
- Studying 3 A levels.
- Studying 3 subjects that include both A levels and BTEC equivalent subjects.
- Studying the BTEC extended diploma, which is equivalent to 3 A levels (but you usually only study one subject).
A new level 3 qualification is T levels and more schools and colleges will be offering this in the coming years. You will study one vocational subject and it will be equivalent to 3 A levels. It will last for 2 years and will include a significant work placement to put learning into practice. With a T Level you spend about 20% of your time in the workplace and 80% in college (see section about T levels for more information).
Level 2 and level 1 courses:
These usually last for one year.
Apply for level 2 courses if your GCSE grades are predicted to be mainly grade 3s.
Level 2 options include the following:
- Vocational courses at colleges, such as engineering, science, health & social care and lots more!. You can choose one vocational subject and retake maths and English GCSEs.
- GCSE resits. For this you will usually need several GCSEs at grade 3, including maths and English. A small number of colleges offer this option, such as Joseph Chamberlain College and the Longbridge campus of South & City College.
Apply for level 1 courses if your GCSE grades are predicted to be mainly grades 2 and 1. These are offered at further education colleges and involve studying one vocational subject and retaking maths and English GCSEs.
Also, for some courses, you may have to start at level 1 or level 2 as you have to learn the basics first (for example, motor vehicle courses).
Choosing A levels
Reasons for choosing A levels include being good at a subject, enjoying a subject and needing it for a future option/career.
To make an informed choice you need to do your research. Check what you will be studying (especially important if it’s a subject you have not studied before) and make sure your A level subjects keep open any career or university course ideas you have.
Advice about choosing A levels from the Russell Group Universities (they represent 24 UK universities) is that some university courses may require you to have studied a specific subject or subjects prior to entry. This means the subjects you study at sixth form or college will influence the degrees which are open to you at university and potentially your future career. Different universities can have different requirements so you should always check the specific subject requirements for degrees you are interested in.
However, there are also a number of degrees that don't usually have subject choice requirements.
Use the Russell Groups Informed Choices website to explore how A level choices link to future degree options, particularly at Russell Group universities.
BTECs are general work-related qualifications which can lead to further study at college or university, apprenticeships or employment. They combine practical work with academic learning.
They do not train you for a specific job, but they focus you on a particular vocational area, so you need to have decided on the general area of work you would like to do.
A wide range of subjects are available, such as art and design, engineering, business studies, travel & tourism, public services and health & social care.
BTECs can be taken on their own or with GCSEs and A Levels. Level 3 BTECs are equivalent to A levels and can lead to university. You will need 4/5 GCSEs at grade 4 or above to do a level 3 BTEC.
BTEC levels available:
There are 3 levels:
BTEC Level 3
BTEC Level 3 National Extended Diploma
3 A levels
BTEC Level 3 National Diploma
2 A levels
BTEC Level 3 National Extended Certificate
1 A level
BTEC Level 2
BTEC Level 2 Diploma
4 GCSEs A* to C (9-4)
BTEC Level 2 Extended Certificate
2 GCSEs A* to C (9-4)
BTEC Level 2 Certificate
1 GCSE A* to C (9-4)
BTEC Level 1
BTEC Level 1 Certificates, Awards and Diplomas
Entry level BTEC Certificates, Awards and Diplomas are also available
A new level 3 qualification is T levels and more schools and colleges will be offering this in the coming years.
You will study one vocational subject and it will be equivalent to 3 A levels.
Between now and 2023 the number of subjects available will increase. Examples on offer will include accounting, construction, engineering, childcare, healthcare science, finance and science.
These 2-year courses have been developed in collaboration with employers and businesses so that the content meets the needs of industry and prepares students for work. They include a significant work placement to put learning into practice. With a T Level you spend about 20% of your time in the workplace and 80% in college.
Students who complete their T Level will receive an overall grade of pass, merit, distinction or distinction*. T Levels will provide several progression options to students. These include employment, an apprenticeship and higher education.
More information is on the government website.
Examples of local colleges that will be offering T Levels:
- UCB: Education and childcare and also Health.
- Solihull College: Digital Production, Design and Development.
To check what other local colleges and schools will be offering, go to https://www.tlevels.gov.uk/students/find (enter your postcode and it will list colleges and schools and which T Levels they will be offering).
The 16 to 19 Bursary Fund is aimed at students who need financial help so that they can stay in learning. The Bursary Fund can help pay for costs like equipment you might need for your course and transport.
It can be worth £1,200 a year if at least one of the following applies:
- In or recently left local authority care.
- Getting Income Support or Universal Credit because you are financially supporting yourself.
- Getting Disability Living Allowance (DLA) in your name and either Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) or Universal Credit.
- Getting Personal Independence Payment (PIP) in your name and either ESA or Universal Credit.
If you’re not in one of the above groups you may still get a bursary depending on your personal circumstances. You need to check with your school, college or training provider to see if you are eligible.
More information is also on the government website.