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Students at an FE college during lunch

Further Education (FE) refers to all post-16 courses and qualifications that are lower than a degree. Everyone in England has to study FE until they are 18 but if staying on at school does not appeal, fear not - there are plenty of alternatives ranging from sixth form colleges to independent FE providers. You could also consider an apprenticeship.

Examples of widely available Further Education courses include:

A Levels (Advanced Level Qualification)

By far the most common form of further education, A (Advanced) levels are level 3 qualifications offered by nearly all schools with sixth forms, as well as sixth form colleges. They are subject specific qualifications; the equivalent in Scotland is the Higher. Most A levels are based on academic capabilities and examinations although there are exceptions such as DT, music, art and languages. Most students sit three A levels, some pick four. If you’re considering university, research which A levels the different degree courses require – and if you are thinking about Russell Group universities, check their list of ‘facilitating’ A levels.

International Baccalaureate Diploma

This is generally seen as an alternative to A levels in the UK and there are a number of well-regarded, highly-academic schools which choose to offer the IB instead of the more traditional A levels. The IB involves the studying of six different subjects - three higher level, three standard level. Assessment comes in the form of examinations and an extended essay. The diploma course also requires students to take part in a range of non-academic activities, such as sport, creative arts and service to the community, for 150 hours. Read our detailed article on the International Baccalaureate.

BTECs (Business and Technology Education Council)

Alongside A levels, BTECs  are the most widely-recognised level 3 qualification for admission to Higher Education. Providing specialist, work-related learning across a range of sectors, BTECs are best suited to students who want to hone practical skills and theory simultaneously while being tested, largely, by continuous assessment. In other words, there is not just an exam – as with most A levels. Some schools, and many colleges, offer BTECs.

NVQs (National Vocational Qualification)

NVQs are hands-on qualifications available in more than 1,000 subjects ranging from plumbing to hairdressing. Best suited to people who know what job they want to do, they can be taken in a college, school or workplace. There are five NVQ levels, so you can start at a level to suit you and work your way up. It is a flexible route to becoming qualified in the workplace with no examinations and while there’s no time limit to taking them, level 1, 2 or 3 usually takes about a year to complete. 

T levels (Technical Level Qualification)

T levels are new two-year further education courses available at selected schools and colleges across England, with each one equivalent to three A levels. T-levels involve 80 per cent classroom learning and 20 per cent industry placement. The ‘T’ stands for technical and the subjects are wide ranging, including agriculture, catering, engineering and science. Students study for an average of 1,800 hours over two years, including a work placement, with the content based on the same standards as apprenticeships. Ideal for those who have a good idea of what they want to do and are keen to get started in the workplace. T levels are assessed via coursework, exams, and other similar methods, depending on the exact course taken.

Foundation diploma in art and design

Offered at levels 3 and 4, this one-year further education vocational course is aimed at either school leavers who want to test the water to see if they like studying art or students who know they want to study art at university (all students wanting to study an art degree will need an art foundation diploma). Assessment or examinations are held internally by the course provider. Each unit needs to be passed to qualify for the final diploma which will be graded pass, merit or distinction.

UCAS Points Tariff - compare different qualifications

The table below shows the most common Further Education qualifications and the UCAS points they are worth.

AS level A level EPQ IB Higher Level IB Standard Level IB Extended Essay IB Theory of Knowledge BTEC Dip T Levels Foundation Dip Art & Design UCAS points
- - - - - - - - D* - 168
- - - - - - - - D* - 144
- - - - - - - - M - 120
- - - - - - - D*D* - D 112
- - - - - - - D*D - - 104
- - - - - - - DD P (C or above on the core)  M 96
- - - - - - - - - - 84
- - - - - - - DM - P 80
- - - - - - - - - - 78
- - - - - - - - P (D or E on the core) - 72
- - - - - - - MM - - 64
- A* - H7 - - - - - - 56
- A - H6 - - - MP - - 48
- B - - - - - - - - 40
- C - H5 - - - PP - - 32
- - A* - S7 - - - - - 28
- D A H4 S6 - - - - - 24
A - B - - - - - - - 20
B E C - S5 - - - - - 16
C - D - S4 A A - - - 12
D - - - - B B - - - 10
- - E - - C C - - - 8
E - - - - D D - - - 6
- - - - - E E - - - 4

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