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Monday, 23 September, 2002, 13:53 GMT 14:53 UK
Further education
Further education is provided to people aged over 16: More than 90% of 16 year olds continue in some form of education or training after compulsory education.

All change

From September 2000 a new system has been implemented. The main changes are:

  • New AS (Advanced Subsidiary) levels, designed to encourage students to study five subjects to AS-level as well as three full A-levels.
  • A-level coursework restricted to 25-30% of the total marks. Students sitting modular A-level courses will be allowed a maximum of one re-sit per module.
  • Vocational A-levels replacing Advanced GNVQs.
  • a new Key Skills Qualification, testing students on their ability in communication - written and verbal, "application of number" and information technology.

New council

In June 1999 the government proposed a complete overhaul of the way post-16 education and training was organised by 2004.

It set up a national Learning and Skills Council to co-ordinate and fund post-16 education in further education colleges, sixth forms, work-based training and adult learning.

These functions will be administered sub-regionally by 47 local learning and skills councils.

The national body merges the functions of the Further Education Funding Council and the Training and Enterprise Councils, and has separate committees focusing on the needs of 16 to 19 year olds and adult learners.

Employers have the largest single input into the local councils, with trade unions, local government and the users of the service "fully represented".


Advanced levels are two-year academic courses which can be taken in a wide range of school subjects, including languages, science and the humanities. The traditional pattern has been for students to take three A-levels, although a choice of two or four is not uncommon.

Courses consist of a combination of internally-assessed coursework and externally-assessed examinations.

A-levels are academically demanding and are the main qualification needed by students who want to go to university or higher education college to take degree courses. The entry requirements are usually four or five GCSE passes at grade C or above.

The most obvious way to sit A-levels is to stay at school and enter the sixth form. However, in areas where schools are organised on an 11-16 basis, some sort of change is inevitable. The straightforward route is through the local sixth form college or further education college. Full-time courses are free to students aged 18 and under.


The Curriculum 2000 changes made A-levels a two-part process.

The AS-level, taken first, is both a qualification in its own right and the first half of a full A-level.

The second half, taken typically in the second year of study, is now known as an A2.

The exams are modular: each half is taken in three units. One of the A2s is what is called a "synoptic assessment" exam, to see how well people have understood the whole course.

Adding together the AS results for a subject and the A2 results gives the final A-level.

AS-level exams can in fact be taken in the first or second year of post-16 study. Most schools have opted to enter students for them in their first year.

Advanced Extension awards

AE-levels are intended to allow the top 10% of advanced level students to demonstrate their depth of understanding of a subject.

Following trials and pilots in 2000 and 2001, they are available in at least 13 subjects and are awarded at merit and distinction grades.


General National Vocational Qualifications develop work skills by covering the theory and practice of different vocational areas. Courses include art and design, business, health and social care, information technology, engineering, and media and communication. They can also lead to a Higher National Diploma (HND) course at university or college.

GNVQs are one or two-year courses designed to provide 16-18 year olds with a broad-based education leading to a wide range of jobs, training or further education. All GNVQs include key skills.

The courses are modular and qualifications can be built up unit by unit. There are three GNVQ levels: foundation, intermediate and advanced.
Broadly equal to four GCSEs at grades D to G. It normally takes one year and may not need any previous qualifications.
Broadly equal to four GCSEs at grades A* to C, and normally takes one year. The usual entry qualification is four GCSEs at grades D to G.

The government intends that from 2002, Vocational GCSEs will replace GNVQs in England (and Wales) as the non-academic alternative for pupils aged 14 to 16, or for older teenagers as a way of improving their employability.

Now renamed Vocational A-levels with more rigorous assessment.

They are available in three, six and 12 units. The three-unit version is available in business, engineering, health and social care, and information and communication technology (ICT) and is equivalent to the AS-level.

The six-unit Vocational A-level is available in 14 subjects and is equivalent to the A-level.

The 12-unit Vocational A-level ("double award") is equivalent to two A-levels and is available in 13 subjects.

GNVQs can be taken at some school sixth forms or sixth form colleges, as well as at tertiary colleges. Full-time courses are free to those aged18 or under.


National Vocational Qualifications are workplace-based occupational qualifications which were introduced into colleges and schools as a vocational alternative to academic qualifications. They are mainly for people already in work, although it is sometimes possible to work towards an NVQ alongside a GNVQ or GCSEs.

NVQs are extremely flexible qualifications; there are no time limits, age limits or special entry requirements. It is feasible to work towards an NVQ as part of a job or training, part-time or full-time.

There are no formal courses or exams - assessments are done in the workplace. NVQs are made up of units that can be completed at the student's own pace. There are five levels, from level 1, covering basic work activities, to level 5, for professional and managerial skills. Level 3 is equivalent to advanced level study.

Modern Apprenticeships

Modern Apprenticeships are designed to enable school leavers to learn the key skills of an industry and gain nationally recognised qualifications, as well as earning a wage.

They offer a chance to train in an industry as well as the educational qualifications of an NVQ to level three. There may also be a training agreement between the apprentice and the employer, offering the chance to move onto further qualifications.

More than 70 sectors of business and industry already offer Modern Apprenticeships, ranging from accountancy to sport. Each industry has its own guidance on entry requirements.

Other job-related qualifications

These are BTec (now awarded by the Edexcel foundation, which was formed by the merger of the Business and Technology Education Council and the London Examination Board), and the City and Guilds qualification. Subjects that can be studied are business and finance, leisure and tourism, engineering and catering.

In order to take a BTec National qualification, which takes two years to complete, students usually need four GCSEs at grades A*-C. For the BTec Higher Nationals, the requirement is usually a BTec National or one A-level.

Links to more Education stories are at the foot of the page.

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