Helping Your Child Decide What’s Next After Year 11.


Around 80% of young people stay in education after completing their GCSE/ National 5s. The main options to consider are:

Vocational Qualifications

These tend to have a more practical approach, equipping with both the hands-on skills and practical knowledge to undertake the job. They range from those with a ‘Tech’ orientation (generally common in fields such as engineering, IT and Science) to those with an ‘Applied’ orientation (generally common in broader fields such as business, social science or sport).

The most popular further education progression option after GCSE/ National 5s is taking a Level 3 qualification. These include Level 3 NVQs (National Vocational Qualifications) or SVQs (Scottish Vocational Qualifications) BTEC Nationals, Advanced and Progression Diplomas, BTEC, OCR Level 3 Cambridge Technicals, T Levels and CACHE Level 3 Diplomas. Completing this level will give you entry into University, Degree Apprenticeships, some Training Schemes and a range of technical or supervisory roles

Apprenticeships (and Traineeships)

This option is common with those who are fed up with full-time classroom education but want to practically learn a new trade, profession or set of skills. An apprenticeship is typically a full-time paid job with integrated on-the-job and college training built in. Apprenticeships that are ideal for school leavers tend to be Levels 1, 2, and 3 and their duration usually ranges from one and three years.

Traineeships tend to be unpaid training and work experience opportunities to help prepare you for an apprenticeship or work. They tend to be short – could be a few weeks or could last up to six months. They are popular for those who didn’t get a good grade in Maths and English as they often integrate Maths and English training to boost your chances of employability or of joining an apprenticeship.

A-levels, Scottish Highers and Advanced Highers

Generally, these typically major on a more academic study approach with a course structure focussing more on written work and exams. A Levels/ Scottish Higher and Advanced Higher are considered the main (but not the only) route into university/ higher education.

Most people usually study three subjects over a 2-year period with main exams sat at the end of the course.

Tips for choosing the right subjects at A-level

  • Choose subjects you are strong at.

You are more likely to be motivated to study a subject that you have a natural ability for than one you are poor at. A good rule of thumb is to pick a subject you have sufficient ability to get at least a Grade 6 (B) in your GCSE/ National 5s. Choosing subjects that you are predicted to get strong GCSE grades increases your chances of great A Levels and better prospects and wider degree/employment options.

  • Choose subjects you are familiar with and enjoy.

Again, you will most probably be more motivated and engaged studying a subject you ‘to some extent’ enjoy. Take time to familiarise with the range of subjects available at A Levels including some that are new to you – you never know if it’s something that could excite you.

It is a good idea to consider a subject you have a connection with:

– Someone who loves researching, developing an argument, and logical presenting ideas should

consider subjects like history, sociology or law.

– Someone who loves the outdoors, nature and environment-related issues may consider subjects like Geography, Biology or Environmental Science.

  • Align the subjects to your career aspirations.

Most universities and employers give you guidelines of what subjects are prerequisites for each degree or apprenticeship. For instance:

– Pharmacy generally require Chemistry, plus at least one from Biology, Maths and Physics

– Medicine generally require Chemistry, plus at least one from Biology, Maths and Physics

– English generally require English Literature and/or English Language

– Engineering generally require Maths and one related subject such as Physics, Chemistry, Geography, Science, Computing, Design

  • Avoid combining overlapping or ‘too similar’ subjects.

Examples of combinations that could be classified as too similar, overlapping or too narrow and might give you issues:

– Biology and Human Biology

– Business and Economics

– Business and Accounting

– Drama and Media Studies

  • Minimise ‘non-preferred’, new and non-traditional subjects.

Try have a maximum of one of these less popular subjects. Examples of subjects that fall under this list include: – PE – Music – Media Studies – Drama – Textiles – Dance – Accounting – Home Economics

  • Prioritise ‘facilitating’ subjects.

Facilitating subjects are commonly preferred A-level subjects. If possible, include at least one or two of these in your combination. Examples of subjects that fall under this list include: – Mathematics – English – Geography – Biology – Chemistry – Physics – History – Classical / Modern languages

  • Should you take three or four subjects?

Our recommendation is to concentrate on the minimum required 3 subjects as much as possible, unless you feel you really need a wider choice, want to impress in your Oxbridge application or are very convinced the increased workload is not going to be any issue to you.

  • Research.

Read the syllabuses and consult teachers and Careers Advisors

  • Lastly decide whether you prefer FE College, Sixth Form College or Sixth Form.

Sixth Forms tend to focus more on the academic subjects, typically A Levels.

Most colleges tend to provide a much wider range of courses at different levels including vocational qualifications and in most cases A Levels as well.

The learning environment at college tends to be more relaxed, with a less congested timetable, a more casual dress code (freedom to wear what you want) and a more diverse age range.

  • Before Making A Choice
    – Consult with consult teachers and Careers Advisors and any relative/friends who have progressed to Sixth Form/Sixth Form College/FE College.
    – Visit the different institutions and have a first-hand experience of what it’s like to be at a Sixth Form/Sixth Form College/FE College.
    – Consider your career aspirations and research where the majority of people in your preferred profession/trade have been to.


Useful Websites for More Information.

Student Underground  is an alternative UK Education blog. uses the power of personal stories to inform young people’s career choices.

UCAS helps to inspire and empower people to make aspirational choices about higher education and learning.

The Uni Guide delivers the high-quality, expert advice and guidance, independently and free of bias.

Informed Choices is written by admissions directors from the 24 Russell Group universities and provides information on why subject choice matters.

GOV.UK – Apprenticeships provides practical dvice on what an apprenticeship is an dhow to find one.

National Careers Service provides information, advice and guidance to on learning, training and work. is the essential springboard into the job market for school and college leavers.

Not Going To Uni showcases the alternatives to the standard university route to school and college leavers.