UK Further Education System

Further education in UK is the stage of education between compulsory education and higher education or university education. As we described here, at the UK education system students enter this stage at 16 years of age and finish it up when 18 years old.

In UK, once you complete the secondary school and get the GCSE results you’re free to decide whether you want to seek an education at higher stages or land the job market right away. As such, further education in the UK marks a vital time in one’s life since it indicates his further life’s track.

That said, a scholar has the following options after finishing secondary school:

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  • Work
  • Prepare for University
  • Vocational education


The education system in UK is very flexible regarding the fact that it offers numerous options for students in terms of career pathways they can get.

If you have no aspiration to attend education at higher stages, but you would rather like to find a good job and live independently then there are countless options to you at this point. Once you step out of your high school and take your GCSEs you can land the job market. Companies around are eager to recruit young and motivated individuals who are looking forward to starting their adventure in the job market. They value your motivation and therefore take care of your transition into the market comes with ease.

In line with this commitment, colleges in cooperation with many employers establish certain recruiting schemes offering short-courses to prepare candidates with the required skills for the job you’re willing to work.

Also, there are many apprenticeships you can get while under a constant professional provision. These short courses are mainly common for jobs in the industry that require a set of technical skills before start working. Surely this is much common for jobs which may require a bit preparation before start doing it. And also the opportunities to seek better job options afterwards are higher than if you have just landed a job which doesn’t require any level of expertise at all.

Further Education Qualifications

Further education qualifications rely on two purposes: to prepare you for seeking a job or to prepare you to get admitted into the university.

Qualifications that can be attained at this stage of education are divided into four sections

  • Academic qualifications
  • Applied learning-qualifications
  • Technical qualifications
  • Functional skills qualifications

Academic qualifications

On the other side of the coin, there are students who want to pursue higher stages of education. For these students, further education stage in UK represents a great opportunity to make their academic profile more appealing.

Furthermore, students who haven’t taken their GCSE exams at the age of 16 can still seek to make it through this stage of education. This is a much-desired option since UK universities are highly selective and getting a FE qualification will indicate a higher probability to take a university seat. Fortunately, in UK there’s a wide range of these courses covering particular subjects that lead to certain qualifications.

If you decide to get a university degree in a subject you’re interested than academic qualifications are a suitable option for you. These programs last for up to two years and aim to prepare you in a particular number of subjects required at the degree course you’re planning to apply at the university.

Your GCSE scores at particular subjects like English, Math and Sciences play a major role in your admission, while additional higher grades at particular subjects are required. For example, if you’re willing to apply for an Engineering course you may be required to have higher GCSE in English, Math and Physics.

Usually, further education courses cover 5 up to 5 subjects but are mainly focused on only 3 subjects because that’s how much universities expect from incoming applicants.

The following are academic qualifications  you can attain in UK further education

A-Levels – are subject-based qualifications conferred about several subjects. Most students concentrate on three particular subjects because this is what most universities require to get admitted. Over two years, students gain a grounding in subjects they’ve chosen to study and their knowledge attainment is assessed through several examinations

Cambridge Pre-Us – the course leading to this qualification lasts for two years and students can choose up to four subjects from among 26 subjects available.

Scottish Highers and Advanced Highers – are the qualifications required to enroll a Scottish university. Students can choose to focus their course in four subjects among 60 available subjects. Scottish Highers and Advanced Highers are the equivalents of the A-Levels and AS-Levels.

Baccalaureates – are qualifications that combine several academic subjects and particular skills related to them.

Extended Project Qualification (EPQ) and Interdisciplinary Project – these qualifications can be taken aside from A-levels or Scottish Highers and you can run an independent study on your favorite subjects.

GCSEs – GCSEs are qualifications that students take when they get over their secondary school, but if one doesn’t score high at particular subjects, particularly in mandatory subjects (English, Maths and Science) he is obliged to undertake these exams during the stage of FE.

If you’re interested in a particular industry and would like to gain the professional skills required to find a job in that industry then vocational courses are are highly recommended to you. These courses are divided into Technical and Functional skills qualifications.

The followings are Technical vocational qualifications awarded as part of the further education in UK .

NVQs and SVQs – qualify you to do a specific job and can be taken if you have a full-time job a course that involves a work placement

Technical levels – several qualifications that grant you a set of practical skills to perform a particular group of tasks in the job environment.

Technical certificates – are designed to equip with a set of skills and knowledge for a particular job where employers hire applicants with level 2 qualifications.

TechBac – is a new programme which is a blending of Technical level qualification, the Extended Project qualification and some elements like teamwork

Functional skills qualifications

Aim to prepare you with a set of skills in core subjects of English, maths and ICT to be able to enter higher education or the job market. You can seek to get this qualification as part of an apprenticeship, traineeship or study programme.

Where can I attend a further education course?

Further education courses in UK are offered at so-called sixth form colleges. These are schools that run recognized courses and grant advanced qualifications like A-Levels required to apply at a UK university. Also, they offer similar courses to prepare you to sit in GCSE examination if you haven’t done it by the time you finished secondary school. Note that you can switch places if your school doesn’t offer further education courses.

What is the difference between Further education and Higher education?

For many foreign students when landing a new, unknown educational system which has its original terms and vocabulary, it’s hard to comprehend how it is structured and how it works out.

Many are confounded about the difference between further education and higher education. The reason has to do mainly with the uniqueness and contrast of UK education system to other traditional educational systems applied in other countries of the world.

In UK you cannot head directly to the university once you have completed secondary school, which is the case in most countries of the world. Here the final stage of compulsory education (the secondary school) terminates at 16 years of age in contrast to most countries where the high school is completed when a scholar turns 18.

Further education in UK is the stage at which students decide which path they’re going to take it in the forthcoming stages of their life. Those who have academic goals may choose a course that leads to a specific qualification required to succeed in university application afterwards, others may choose a short course that prepares them for a specific job place and some may drop further education to enter straight into the job market.

But, do universities in UK admit students aged under 18?

Rarely, they do. But there are certain rules applied in such scenario. Commonly a set of conditions and terms must be signed by your parents under an agreement presented by the University of your choice. That said during the further education in UK you either will be seeking to get advanced qualifications to enter university or you will start working full-time.

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