Post GCSE Options

What happens after you take your GCSEs? Do you stay on at school, get a job or go to your local college? This is a vital decision and there are lots of different options. 

In 2013, the government introduced a new policy called ‘Raising the Participation Age’. This means that you have to stay in education or training until you are aged 18, unlike your older brother or sister who may have left education at 16, after their GCSE’s.  

This is great news as it means you can gain qualifications and training to support your career options for free up to the age of 18, rather than finishing at 16 and returning to study later on as an adult and having to pay for your education.

Studying and learning until you’re aged 18 does not mean you just have to stay on at school as there are many choices available. It’s about choosing the one you think you’ll be happiest with that will help you kick start your career. 

1. Full-time education

After GCSEs, many students opt for further education to deepen their knowledge in specific subjects or prepare for higher education. Further education options include:

  • A Levels: A traditional route for many students, A Levels offer in-depth study in specific subjects, providing a pathway to university or higher-level apprenticeships.
  • BTECs: These vocational qualifications offer practical learning and are recognized by employers and universities alike. BTECs cover a wide range of subjects and provide hands-on experience in various industries.
  • International Baccalaureate (IB): The IB Diploma Programme is an internationally recognized qualification that focuses on holistic learning, including academic subjects, creativity, and community service.
  • Access to Higher Education Courses: Designed for mature learners, these courses provide a pathway to higher education for those who lack traditional qualifications.

Think about your strengths and weaknesses when deciding which of these options might be best for you, and take a look at our more in-depth informaton to discover more about what's involved. For example, BTECs might be a better option if you prefer more practical-based learning, or the IB if you prefer the idea of a more holistic approach to your learning.

2. Part-time education

If you’re working, in self-employment or volunteering for more than 20 hours a week you can also study part-time as well to support you in further improving your work skills. For example day release at a local college to study motor vehicles if you’re working in a garage. 

If you’re volunteering, many organisations e.g. Home Start will offer you an opportunity to gain a formal qualification while you volunteer. Visit to search a national database of volunteering opportunities across the whole country and check which ones offer training as part of the package. 

Don’t forget the newly launched National Citizen Service for all 16 to 17 year olds as well. 

3. Apprenticeships

These are now a very popular option, with the government offering employers incentives to take on young apprentices. 

With an apprenticeship, if you’re aged 16 to 18 you work for an employer for no more than 40 hours a week, receive a wage and on-the-job training, plus you’ll study at college for a nationally recognised qualification.

This college study has to be within your 40 hours working week and your employer will pay you a wage to cover your working hours, including the time you’re at college studying. It’s a win-win.

Search apprenticeship vacancies at the government website, which lists all apprenticeship jobs across the UK. 

4. Vocational Training

Vocational training programs provide specialized skills and knowledge for specific careers. These options are ideal for students who prefer hands-on learning and want to enter the workforce quickly. Key vocational training options include:

  • T-Levels: T-Levels are technical qualifications that combine classroom learning with industry placements, providing students with the skills and knowledge needed for specific occupations.
  • City & Guilds Certificates: City & Guilds offer a range of vocational qualifications across various industries, including construction, hospitality, healthcare, and automotive engineering.
  • NVQs, BTECs, and Cambridge Technicals: these are great qualifications for those looking to learn technical skills with a more hands-on approach.

Again, not all of these may be suitable for you depending on your strengths and what you're looking for in a course, so make sure you research each one thoroughly before taking any further steps.

Will my GCSE grades affect my choices?

Many A levels and other level 3 courses in sixth forms and at college require you to have at least 5 GCSE’s or more at grades A* to C, or 9 - 4 in the new GCSE equivalent.

If you have grades at  D - G/3 - 1, or less than 5 GCSE passes, there are still many options for you to choose from. 

You could study level 2 courses at college for a year to gain the necessary equivalent qualifications to GCSEs to allow you to progress to level 3 courses, you could re-sit your GCSEs or you could begin an Apprenticeship at level 2.

A final option (not for everyone) could be the armed forces as they offer different levels of skills training to suit your needs.

Careers advice and guidance  

Whether you know exactly what you want to do for your career or you don’t know where to start or what subjects you want to study, it is absolutely crucial that you seek out careers advice and guidance.

It’s a great idea to chat with your school teachers, a dedicated careers advisor in school (if you have one) , or other adults you trust (family, community leaders etc.).

You need to research colleges, sixth forms and all course options by not only crawling over their websites in minute detail but also visiting their open days (they all offer them) and asking for prospectuses and course guides. 

If you’re thinking about an Apprenticeship see if you can visit local employers who already employ apprentices to talk with the apprentices and see what it’s really like in the workplace. 

Post-GCSE options are diverse and offer something for every student, regardless of their interests, abilities, or career aspirations.

Whether you choose further education, apprenticeships, vocational training, higher education, or alternative pathways, it's essential to research your options carefully, as outlined above, and make informed decisions about your future. By exploring the various paths available and considering your strengths, interests, and goals, you can embark on a rewarding journey towards a fulfilling and successful career.

Further information

For more tips and advice on GCSEs, please see: