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Article: Further Education Options


'Further Education Options' looks at the types of courses available to you if you are 16 and have just completed GCSEs or equivalent qualifications, or are older and are thinking about going back to education.

The article includes both academic and vocational courses.


Further education describes any kind of course taken by someone over school-leaving age that leads to a qualification below degree, foundation degree or higher national diploma level.

What types of course are there?

Very broadly, there are academic and vocational subjects. You could take an academic A level in a range of subjects. There are also a number of A levels in applied subjects, which have a work-related focus.

Adults can take Access courses that help them enter higher education courses such as degrees, foundation degrees and higher national qualifications.

Vocational courses

'Vocational' means to do with work. Vocational courses can help you to understand an area of work. Many enable you to gain skills and knowledge that you can use in a particular job or area of work.

Vocational areas include:

  • administrative and secretarial work
  • agriculture, horticulture and forestry
  • beauty therapy
  • business and management studies
  • construction
  • engineering
  • hairdressing
  • hospitality and catering
  • information technology
  • leisure and tourism
  • media studies
  • social care

Some vocational courses include work experience, for example, for one day a week or several weeks. Courses usually last for one or two years, depending on the subject area and depth of study.


A number of GCSEs have been designed to 'apply' their subject very closely to the world of work and to show how it has a practical, everyday use.

These GCSEs are available in:

  • applied business
  • health and social care
  • engineering
  • leisure and tourism
  • manufacturing

AS and A levels in applied subjects

AS and A levels in applied subjects give you a broad introduction to an area of work. They help you to understand these areas by using real, work-related examples.

The qualifications can be available at both AS and A level The following subjects are available:

  • applied art and design
  • applied business
  • applied ICT
  • applied science
  • engineering
  • health and social care
  • leisure studies
  • media: communication and production
  • performing arts
  • travel and tourism

Other vocational qualifications

Further education colleges offer a wide range of other vocational qualifications. These include:

  • BTEC level 2 and level 3 qualifications
  • City & Guilds qualifications
  • Cambridge Nationals and Technicals

Academic courses

It is possible to take or re-take GCSE subjects, or to enrol on A level and AS level courses. You can choose a combination of subjects to suit your interests and abilities.

Note that some A levels are in 'applied' (vocational) subjects.

Access courses

If you don't have the usual academic entry requirements to get onto a higher education course, you may be able to take an Access course ('Access to Higher Education Diploma') in a relevant area. These are available at further education colleges throughout the country.

Access courses are designed to provide the skills and knowledge you need to succeed on a degree or other type of higher education course.

There are no set entry requirements, although you should check these with individual colleges.

Some Access courses are directly linked to a degree course, so you can enter the degree course automatically if you are successful.

Access courses are usually one year full-time and two years (or more) part-time. They might also be available through distance learning.

You should check with the provider of the course you want to do, to make sure they accept people who have completed Access courses.

Where are further education courses available?

You can find further education courses in a number of places, such as

  • some schools
  • general further education colleges, which may be known as colleges of further education, colleges of technology or colleges of arts and technology
  • specialist colleges such as colleges of agriculture or colleges of art and design
  • some sixth form colleges
  • tertiary colleges, which are a combination of sixth form and further education college

Methods of study

The following methods may be possible:

  • full-time
  • part-time - day or evening classes
  • part-time day-release (from employment)
  • part-time block-release (from employment)
  • distance learning

Remember that you might not be able to study a course by all the above methods - check prospectuses carefully.

Time Off for Study or Training (TfST)

This is an employment right for 16 and 17-year-olds who already have jobs, but who left school with few qualifications, or none at all.

If you have not reached a certain 'level of achievement', you have the right to reasonable time off to study or train for approved qualifications. Also, 18-year-olds have the right to complete the study or training begun before reaching that age.

The standard of achievement is level 2, for example:

  • five GCSEs at grades A*-C or 9-4
  • BTEC level 2 qualifications

At the moment, you might be happy to have left school, be earning money and have more independence. However, you could face serious disadvantages in the future, for example, if you lose your job or want to move to a better position in another company.

TfST gives you the chance to get the skills and qualifications you need to be more secure now and to improve your job prospects in the future.

The qualification you choose must be likely to improve your employment prospects but does not have to be directly relevant to the job you're doing now.

You have the right to TfST no matter how long you've been in your job or how small the company is. You also have this right if your company sub-contracts you to another employer.

However, the right does not extend to independent contractors, members of the armed forces or people who work outside the UK as part of their contract, for example, on an offshore oil rig.

You have the right to 'reasonable' time off. The definition of this will vary depending on your training needs and the impact your time off will have on the company you work for.

Time off does not have to mean time spent away from the workplace. It could include training on-the-job, somewhere else within the company, with another employer or through distance learning, as well as with an approved training provider or at college.

You may be able to study on a day-release basis or, if your company has a less busy time of the year, on block-release.

Training that is provided by your employer but that does not lead to a nationally-recognised certificate or qualification does not count.

The qualification that you work towards must be external, which means it has to be awarded by a specified national examining or awarding body, and help you to reach level 2.

You can work towards this level by taking a number of steps, so the first qualification you take may get you to level 1 or below, with your aim being to do more study or training to achieve level 2.

You could benefit from an Intermediate Level Apprenticeship. These give you a structured training programme, based on a written agreement between you and the employer.

Further Information

Further Education Courses - Guide

UK government services and information


Access to Higher Education

Address: The Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education, Southgate House, Southgate Street, Gloucester GL1 1UB

Tel: 01452 557000



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