Before deciding to embark on further education, the first step is to determine whether you would like to study full-time or combine work and study. Depending on your preferred learning style, there are a range of qualification options available.
If you are someone who enjoys academic, paper-based learning, then A-levels, the International Baccalaureate or the Welsh baccalaureate might be the best choice for you. Alternatively, if you prefer practical, hands-on learning combined with theory, the new diploma or BTec may be better suited for you and could even be combined with your A-level studies.
One should note that ministers have cautioned in April that certain qualifications such as City and Guilds, BTecs, and national vocational qualifications could be either cancelled or absorbed into the new diplomas. If you are certain of a specific job or career path, then an apprenticeship or an NVQ might be more favourable. This option leaves open the possibility of university study later on if you decide to pursue a degree.
The necessary entry requirements vary depending on the chosen qualification. For example, A-levels require a minimum of four GCSEs with grades ranging from A to C. Make sure to confirm expectations and requirements from the institution you plan to attend.
A-levels remain a popular option for those committed to paper-based learning, and are changing from September 2021. Instead of six modules, there will be four studied in more depth. Final marks are based on exam results at the end of each module, which can be retaken. Students will be required to write more extended essays and establish connections between various subjects. Expect more open-ended questions, and for those who excel, a new A* grade will be attainable (awarded from 2010 onwards).
Perhaps you would like to become an expert in a particular subject such as leisure and tourism. If this is the case, consider pursuing applied A-levels. However, note that the availability of these courses is slimming down and will only be an option until diplomas are available in all subjects across the country (anticipated date – 2011). In Scotland, students can take Scottish Highers and Advanced Highers – the Scottish equivalent of A-levels.
Those who have completed their first year of A-level studies and opt not to continue are awarded an AS-level. AS-levels are a way to test out a subject and obtain a qualification, even if you don’t go on to study it in greater depth. There are currently over 70 AS-levels available.
Some schools offer the Cambridge Pre-U Diploma, a challenging two-year course that is designed to help universities differentiate between students. For the Pre-U, you will select at least three principal subjects from a choice of 26. Rather than exams at the end of each module, you will take exams at the end of the two-year course. You will be required to write more essays and there will be no retakes allowed. Alongside your selected subjects, you will need to complete an independent research report and a "global perspectives portfolio." These portfolios consist of seminars based on themes such as Practical Ethics, Economics, Environment, Technology, and Politics & Culture. You will develop detailed research proposals and compile audio-visual and web-based presentations. You can complete your portfolio and research report separately from A-levels, however, this could make your application stand out when applying for university. The CPU has received Regulatory Approval from the Qualifications & Curriculum Authority; however, Ucas is yet to disclose its comparability to A-levels.
Finally, the International Baccalaureate is another option you could consider.
Achieving full marks in the International Baccalaureate (IB) is equivalent to obtaining more than seven A-grade A-levels. The Welsh Baccalaureate is a diploma available for 14 to 19-year-olds, which presents qualifications on three levels. However, at the post-16 advanced level, students undertake two or more A-levels, accompanied by an advanced core module. The level 3 core component of the programme is worth 120 Ucas points, which is similar to an A-level grade A.
Starting from September, five new diplomas will be offered, and by 2011, there will be 17 diplomas available. They include engineering, construction, information technology, creative and media, as well as society, health, and development. Diplomas involve learning in the classroom and practical experience and could lead to employment or entry into university.
There are three categories of diplomas- foundation (level 1), higher (level 2), and advanced (level 3). After passing GCSEs, students move to the advanced diploma category. It involves students completing an extended project, which allows them to research an area of interest connected to their subject and write about it. Additionally, they take A-levels or equivalent qualifications.
The British government has compiled a catalogue of prospective qualifications that can make up a diploma, which consists of three parts: principal learning, generic learning, and additional specialist learning. In principal learning, students have to obtain qualifications intended for their chosen subject area and, in turn, undertake a project within the same field. Generic learning involves the acquisition of function skills, for instance, in English, mathematics, and ICT, including additional communication skills, teamworking, and presentation skills. Students have to undertake ten days of work experience, ideally in a related field. Additional specialist learning enables students to specialize in the academic theory related to their subject and required to complete an extended project. They will also take A-levels or its equivalence in a relevant subject area before writing a dissertation. For instance, a student enrolled in the creative diploma program could take an art A-level.
BTECs are vocational qualifications that prepare individuals for higher education or employment. They are available in three versions: the BTec National Award, which considers the specifics of the chosen specialization, the BTec National Certificate, and the BTec National Diploma, which are specialized and allows for selecting a particular aspect of the chosen field. These three BTECs are equal to one, two, or three A-levels, respectively.
Apprenticeships follow a more hands-on approach, ideal for those who want practical knowledge and know their career paths and are keen on higher education. While working for a company, students can learn on the job and get days off for college studies. The employer and employee share the work/study split. Alternatively, students can enroll in a programme-led apprenticeship (PLA), attend college on full-time for a year or a bit longer, and then apply for an on-the-job training programme to obtain an NVQ qualification.
Individuals can approach employers directly to apply or contact the national Apprenticeships hotline on 08000 150 600, which links candidates to local employers and training centres. For more information on available options, visit the Connexions Direct website. City & Guilds also offer vocational qualifications, with over 400 subjects to choose from. NVQs are also available as a qualification option.
To learn more about the available choices for individuals aged between 14-19, kindly refer to this link.
List of Exam Boards:
– Edexcel: Reach them at 020 7190 5700
– Assessment and Qualifications Alliance (AQA): Contact them at 01483 506506
– Oxford, Cambridge, and RSA (OCR): Call them at 01223 553 998
– Welsh Joint Education Committee (WJEC): Ring them at 029 2026 5000.