Further Education

What is further education?

Further education (FE) includes any study after secondary education that’s not part of higher education, i.e. not a undergraduate degree or postgraduate course.

FE courses in the UK range from basic English and Maths to Higher National Diplomas (HNDs) and Certificates (HNCs).

It also includes 3 types of technical and applied qualifications for 16 to 19-year-olds:

Further education in the UK usually means to attain an intermediate, advanced or follow-up qualification necessary to progress into higher education, or to begin a specific career path outside of university education.

Further Education is provided to those aged over 16 at colleges of further education, through work-based learning, or adult and community learning institutions.

Further education options in the UK

In 2014, it became compulsory for all students to continue in some form of further education until they turn 18. If you're not keen on staying at school, then there are lots of alternatives, including sixth form college, an independent FE provider or other institution.

You could also consider an apprenticeship.

In the UK, the accepted forms of further education for those aged 16 or over are:

  • A levels - this is the most common form of further education in the UK and is the qualification you will normally take if you're staying on for sixth form at school.
  • Art Foundation Diploma Course - this is a level 3 and 4 BTEC vocational course that lasts for one year, is for school leavers who want to check whether they like studying art or for students who are certain that they want to go on to take a BA in fine art.
  • Baccalaureates - these are broad-based programmes that combine academic subjects with other components, with the aim of developing certain skills. The International Baccalaureate is a qualification that is available around the world, although Welsh and Scottish Baccalaureates are also available.
  • BTEC Nationals - or The Business and Technology Education Council qualifications, are provided by Pearson, and are aimed at students who want to finetune their practical skills and knowledge, while being continually assessed.
  • HNCs and HNDs - these are vocational courses that provide a quicker and more direct route to certain professions than university. As you'll be developing hands on skills, these qualifications are valuable to employers.
  • NVQs - National Vocational Qualfications are excellent courses for those looking for a more practical way of learning new skills, and are available in many different subjects.
  • Scottish Highers - this is the main qualification required for entry into higher education if you live in Scotland. There are over 60 subjects to choose from and you will normally study four or five of these. Each Higher is made up of units, and you're required to pass all units and the course assessment to achieve the qualification. 
  • TechBac - introduced in 2014, the TechBac are vocational, courses run by the City and Guilds aimed at 16-19-year-olds who want to gain both technical qualifications, soft skills and practical experience.
  • University Technical College - these are government-funded schools with a STEM focus, using specialist staff to provide students with skills that are highly valued by employers. They provide courses which are taught at local colleges, and are suitable for students looking for traditional academic learning combined with practical tasks.

What's the difference between further education and higher education?

Generally, higher education is the term used when talking about education at university. You usually have to be 18 or over to take a higher education course.

Further education is any course studied that isn't part of higher education. This might include A levels, BTECs, NVQs or HNDs.

How many GCSEs do I need to get into sixth form?

Entry requirements for school and college sixth forms vary – ranging from four to five C grades (so between a 4 and 5 under the new GCSE grading system), with perhaps a B (5 or 6) in the subjects you want to study, through to at least six GCSEs at grade A (7 or above) for the more competitive colleges.

What are A levels?

Advanced Levels or A-Levels are subject-based qualifications that UK students aged 16 or older must obtain if they plan to enter university or just want to gain better knowledge in a specific area or profession they're interested in pursuing.

A level courses are provided by school sixth forms and further education colleges.

Should I take A levels?

Taking A levels is absolutely essential if you plan on applying to university.

However, it's important to remember that employers won't just be looking at your exam grades when you start looking for a job later on.

Your character and people skills are also an important factor.

If you're not sure whether A levels are the right step for you, take a look at your other options to see if something else is better suited to you.

How many A levels can I take?

It's important you are realistic here - if you genuinely feel you can do four A levels without your grades or extracurricular commitments sliding, taking four A levels rather than three could give you a useful safety net.

If you don't do well in one A level, you'll still have three good ones to help you meet your university offer requirements.

What A levels should I choose?

This is a decision that needs careful consideration, as what A level subjects you pick now can impact on what you will be able to do later on, especially if you plan on applying to university.

However, even if you're not sure what you want to do in the future, you'll still need to make the right choices now to leave opportunities open in the future.

To make sure you choose the right A level subjects, think about:

1. If you're planning on applying to uni, do you need to have studied particular A levels as part of the entry requirements? For example, if you want to apply for Medicine, you must have done A levels in Biology and Chemistry as a minimum, with some universities also asking for a third science-related subject and/or Maths.

2. There some subjects that are blacklisted by universities such as UCL and LSE, and won't accept them as part of the entry requirements, e.g. General Studies, Critical Thinking, Business Studies and Art & Design.

3. Choose a range of different subjects if you're not sure what you want to do once you leave sixth form.

4. Check the course content for each A level subject you're thinking about taking, particularly if it's something you've never studied before.. You may have heard things about certain subjects from siblings, cousins or older peers, but it's best to try and forge a realistic picture yourself of what studying a certain A level will be like.

5. Don't choose A levels just because you think they are going to be easy, e.g. Media Studies or Home Economics, or base your decisions on what your friends are taking so you can be in the same classes. These are not good reasons for choosing your A level subjects, and you need to remember to put yourself and your future first.

Remember that many universities will consider you whatever A levels you choose, and if this path doesn't appeal, there will be lots of other options available to you aside from a degree.

For more detailed  information and advice, please see our Choosing A Levels guide.

How many UCAS points is an A level worth?

Each level you take will be worth the following points, depending on the grade you've achieved:

A-level Grade UCAS Points
A* 56
A 48
B 40
C 32
D 24
E 16

For more information, please see our dedicated UCAS Tariff guide.

What's the difference between AS and A levels?

An AS level is the first full year of an A Level.

This means it only takes one academic year to complete, while a full A level will take two years.

Completing a whole A level is more time consuming and will require twice the amount of work, but they are also worth double the UCAS points in comparison to AS Levels.

As mentioned, A levels are worth up to 56 UCAS points, whereas AS Levels are worth up to 20 UCAS points.

Can I get into university without A levels?

It's possible to go to university without A-levels by studying an Access to Higher Education Diploma.

This course is accepted by many universities and can help you to meet the entry requirements for a number of different courses.

When is A level results day?

In 2022, A level results day is on Thursday 18 August.

If you're studying in Scotland, SQA results are out on Tuesday 9 August.

Check with your school or college for what time they will be opening for students to collect their results, and read more about what do on the day with our in-depth A level results guide.

What's the difference between sixth form and college?

Colleges are usually more informal settings than a sixth form at a school, and tend to be bigger and offer a wider range of study options.

Sixth forms are smaller, and provide a more structured setting. You may also find the quality of education is higher at sixth forms than at FE colleges.

What is a school leaver programme?

School leaver programmes are an option for students who don't want to do more full time study.

They are designed and offered by individual companies to train and develop students who do not want to go to university after finishing school or college.

They are full time paid programmes which involve working for the company while also benefiting from training and development.

What are vocational qualifications?

Vocational qualifications are practical qualifications that relate to a specific job or career sector.

Unlike more academic courses like A-levels, they combine a mix of theory and practical learning and you’ll probably do some work experience too.

There’s a huge range of different courses that you can do, such as BTEC, NVQ, and HNCs, and many types of qualifications you can get, from entry level to advanced.

The length of the course depends on what level you study at.

What are traineeships?

A traineeship is an education and training programme that involves work experience, preparing candidates for their careers by helping them to become ready for the workplace.

Employers are not required to pay trainees for the work placement and traineeships are currently exempt from the minimum wage.

Further information

Sixth Form or College?

Can't decide between college and sixth form? We give you the lowdown on both options.

Find out more

A Levels

Taking A levels? Read our guide to choosing the right subjects, and what happens on results day.

Find out more

Applying To University

Advice about applying to uni, including how to write your personal statement.

Find out more

BTEC vs A Levels

We help you choose between BTECs or A levels with our blog post.

Find out more

International Baccalaureate

Find out what you will study in the IB, how it’s assessed, and more.

Find out more

Post 18 Options

What are your options after finishing school, college or an apprenticeship?

Find out more

SQA Results Day Guide

If you’re getting your SQA results this summer, read our guide to find out what to do on the day.

Find out more

School Leaver Programmes

This growing alternative to university can lead to a professional qualification and a job.

Find out more

Vocational Qualifications

Don't feel A levels are the right step for you? Consider a vocational course at an FE college.

Find out more


Get a quality work placement that can lead to a job or an apprenticeship.

Find out more

University Isn't For Everyone

Not sure about going to uni? We explore why it's not always the right option for everyone and the alternatives you can consider.

Find out more

Access to Higher Education Diploma

Discover more about the Access to Higher Education Diploma and how it can help you get into university.

Find out more