Long story short, the education system is changing and from the outside it looks like a bit of a minefield. Yet these changes are not intended to spread panic and are by no means a bad thing for students. The Department for Education has reshaped GCSEs, A Levels and vocational qualifications to make them more focused on your future. In other words they have listened to employers and are now aiming to ensure you have the skills you need to get you into the job, university course or apprenticeship you have dreamed of. With new programmes and qualifications, understanding your options is more important than ever, whether you starting your GCSEs, trying to pick your A Level subjects or have left school. Luckily, here at Hotcourses we are here to help and have done our best to explain your new options in this handy guide!
What does all this mean for me?
I’m 14 and I’m about to start my GCSEs
If you want to be a plumber, work in retail or catering, or excel in the media industry, it makes sense that you get qualified in these alongside your more academic GCSEs. In the new system, there are a wide range of vocational, work related qualifications available to students. These will give you a practical introduction into your desired worlds of work, as well as the skills employers will want to see on your CV.
Whether you are at school or college, you will be starting on a study programme that will be adapted to suit you. This could be one or more vocational (job focused) qualification mixed with academic qualifications to help you into your chosen career path. Whether you want to be a plumber or a politician, maths and English are essential, so despite the new changes, it will still be compulsory that you get a grade C or above in these core subjects. You will also still have the opportunity to take part in work experience placements, tutorials, theatre and art trips, sport and organisation visits to further your studies.
I’m about to start my A Levels
In the current system, many students find certain A Levels are weighted differently when it comes to applying for university. With the new A Levels standards have been raised for both academic and vocational qualifications, meaning these can be combined to help you obtain the job or university place you have your heart set on.
A Levels are a traditional way of opening the door to university or higher education. With the new system A Levels can be taken alone, or alongside vocational qualifications to obtain your place on your dream course. There are lots of good examples of A Level combinations that lend themselves to university study, such as mathematics with engineering, English with performing arts or geography with planning.
Wait, what are vocational qualifications?
In the past, students have been faced with a staggering 3,721 options to pick from, with little certainty offered regarding the job prospects following each choice. To change this, the education system has created an approved list of vocational qualifications to help you make the right choice. All these high quality qualifications are recognised by employers and universities.
There are two kinds of vocational qualifications available for students aged 16-19; ‘Tech Levels’ and ‘Applied General’ qualifications. Both are equivalent to an A Level but have different purposes:
Tech Levels – Far less scary than they sound, in simple terms these are qualifications recognised by employers. If you have a clear idea about the career path you want to take, or an industry you want to break into, a Tech Level qualification will give you specialist knowledge you need for a specific career, such as hospitality or computing. There are over 200 Tech Levels to choose from in the new scheme.
Applied General qualifications – Many students do not know what they want to do until after they graduate, so an Applied General qualification allows you to keep your options open. You will learn about a broader area, for example applied science or sport, allowing you to specialise at a later date. If going to university before finding a job is your plan, these qualifications are recognised by universities for entry to higher education, so will work well alongside your A Levels.
What else could I do?
If you are 16-24 an apprenticeship is a great option for you to earn while you learn and gain skills whilst working for an employer. Apprenticeships are designed by leading employers and are usually at least 12 months long. You will receive on the job training and work towards a nationally recognised qualification to kick-start your career. There are over 400 employers across 37 sectors that have been helping to design the new apprenticeship scheme, so they meet the needs of young apprentices. For more information and answers to the most common questions, take a look at our apprenticeship guide.
Apprenticeships are relevant at all stages of study. There are three levels of apprenticeship, starting at Intermediate or Level 2, equivalent to five GCSE passes at A*-C; Advanced or Level 3, equivalent to two A Level passes and Higher, Level 4-7 which is equivalent to a Higher Education Certificate, a Foundation Degree, a Bachelor’s Degree and a Master’s Degree. Want to know more? Our apprenticeship homepage is a good place to start your search for your perfect course.
What if I don’t have the qualifications for an apprenticeship?
As you will see when you begin your search, most apprenticeships have some sort of entry requirement you will need to meet before getting accepted. If you find you are not yet ready to start an apprenticeship scheme, there might be a traineeship for you. These are shorter schemes (usually around six months) and prepare you for work alongside providing maths and English training, putting you in a better position for getting an apprenticeship or job.
If all this still seems a little overwhelming (it took us a few times to get our heads around it too), you can find further career advice at the National Careers Service. Whatever path you take the new system means you can be confident you are working towards qualifications that employers will look for on your CV. Your future is in your hands, so make sure you get the skills and experience to make your dreams come true!
Jane McGuire received her BA (English) from the University of Loughborough. A yoga enthusiast with a sweet tooth, in her spare time you will probably find Jane in the gym or online shopping.