Choices after Year 11

If you’re in Year 11, it’s time to start thinking about what you want to do after you leave school. Let’s have a look at some of the things you can do next.

What you can do after Year 11 depends on things like where you live, what kind of grades you’re likely to get, what you’re interested in and what kind of environment you want to learn in. Often, the choice is between sixth form (at your current school or somewhere new), college, an apprenticeship, a training provider or a bespoke package.

Sixth forms

Sixth forms are often attached to a school. There are advantages and disadvantages to this. If it’s the school you’ve already been at for a few years, you’ll feel comfortable and know your way around. Some people can find attending a completely new school a bit scary because lots of people there will already know each other. Sometimes sixth forms are completely separate from any other schools, and teach students from lots of different places.


Colleges are separate from schools, so everyone turns up on their first day as a new student. Colleges tend to offer A levels, NVQs, Diplomas and Foundation Learning. Sometimes colleges specialise; for example you might have an agricultural college that does farming and animal care related courses, or a catering college that specialises in cookery courses.


With an apprenticeship, you would be working for an employer, earning a wage (at least £2.73 per hour in summer 2015), and studying for a qualification (often an NVQ) at the same time. You would be linked with a college or training provider to make sure you get all of your work done for your qualification.

Bespoke packages

Bespoke packages are education programmes for people who have difficulties accessing mainstream courses, sometimes because of their special educational needs or health issues. Special funding has to be found for these courses.

Which course should you do?

First things first, your options will depend on your grades. Sometimes teachers don’t want to give you target or predicted grades too early in the year (because it’s too soon to tell how well you might do) and some teachers will want you to stay motivated and to aim for higher grades. The trouble is, the colleges, sixth forms or jobs you apply to will definitely want to know what level you are working at.

What grades do you need?

The table below shows the different qualification levels. Often, to get onto a course at a particular level, you will need to have already achieved the level below the one you’re applying for. For example, to get onto a Level 2 National Diploma you will often be asked to have some GCSEs at grades D-F. This is why teachers and parents nag you to work hard and get the highest grades you can! The higher the GCSE grades, the higher the level of course you can start on.

There are some courses where, even if you get A*s, you will still need to start on Level 1 or Level 2. This is often the case for courses teaching practical skills that you don’t learn in your GCSE lessons, like hairdressing, construction, catering and animal care.

Qualification level

Examples of qualifications/programmes

4 and above

HNCs, Foundation Degrees, Degrees, Masters, Doctorates


A levels, Level 3 Diplomas/NVQs, Advanced Apprenticeships


Level 2 Diplomas/NVQs, GCSEs grades A*-C


Level 1 Diplomas/NVQs, GCSEs grades D-F

Entry Level

Grades below F at GCSE, Entry Level 1, 2 and 3

Aim to get the best grades you can, but remember there’s always a Plan B, C and D! If you don’t get onto the course you want, you can often start on a lower level for a year and then do your chosen course later on.

What type of course do you want to do?

A levels

A levels tend to be similar to traditional lessons at school. Often you will do some coursework in the year, with exams at the end of the year. A levels are more ‘academic’ than GCSEs, which means they normally involve a fair bit of written work and research. You normally have to take at least three subjects, sometimes four.


Diplomas are often more practical, and tend to use coursework and assessments throughout the year, instead of exams at the end of the course. Diplomas can take one year or two years, depending on the level (Level 1 and Level 2 diplomas tend to be one year, Level 3 tends to be two).


NVQs are also often quite practical, and can be assessed in lots of different ways such as observed assessments, discussions and written work. Many apprenticeships involve working in a paid job while also studying a relevant NVQ subject.

Making the decision

When it comes down to it, you have to make your own decisions about what you want to do after you leave school. It’s good to listen to advice from parents, teachers, careers advisers and friends, but it’s even more important that whatever choice you make is one you’re happy with. And don’t forget – you can apply to several different places if you want to, and wait until you get your results to make your final decision. Good luck!