School leaving age

Your school leaving age depends on where you live.

England You can leave school on the last Friday in June if you’ll be 16 by the end of the summer holidays. You must then do one of the following until you’re 18:

  • stay in full-time education, for example at a college
  • start an apprenticeship or traineeship
  • spend 20 hours or more a week working or volunteering, while in part-time education or training

Scotland If you turn 16 between 1 March and 30 September you can leave school after 31 May of that year. If you turn 16 between 1 October and the end of February you can leave at the start of the Christmas holidays in that school year.
Wales You can leave school on the last Friday in June, as long as you’ll be 16 by the end of that school year’s summer holidays.
Northern Ireland If you turn 16 during the school year (between 1 September and 1 July) you can leave school after 30 June. If you turn 16 between 2 July and 31 August you can’t leave school until 30 June the following year.

Get financial help with education costs

In England, you can apply for a 16 to 19 Bursary Fund to help with education costs. In Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland you can apply for Education Maintenance Allowance (EMA) to help with your studying costs. Crown Copyright


Sixth Form Colleges

A sixth form college is an educational institution in England, Wales and Northern Ireland where students aged 16 to 19 typically study for advanced school-level qualifications, such as A-levels, BTEC and the International Baccalaureate Diploma, or school-level qualifications such as GCSEs. In the English state educational system, pupils may either stay at a secondary school with an attached sixth form, transfer to a local sixth form college, or go to a more vocational further education college, although, depending on geographical location, there may be little choice as to which of these options can be taken. In the independent sector, sixth forms are an integral part of secondary schools (public schools), and there are also a number of smaller-scale independent sixth form colleges. In Wales, education is only compulsory until the end of year 11. Students at sixth form college typically study for two years (known as Years 12 and 13, Years 13 and 14 in Northern Ireland and/or lower sixth and upper sixth). Some students sit AS examinations at the end of the first year, and A-level examinations at the end of the second.  In addition, in recent years a variety of vocational courses have been added to the curriculum. There are currently over 90 sixth form colleges in operation in England and Wales. Most perform extremely well in national examination league tables. In addition, they offer a broader range of courses at a lower cost per student than most school sixth forms. In a few areas, authorities run sixth form schools which function like sixth form colleges but are completely under the control of the local education authorities. 

The Post-16 Skills Plan sets out the government's plan to support young people and adults to secure skilled employment and meet the needs of the economy. The report is the report of an independent panel set up to advise ministers on improving the quality of technical education.Post-16 Skills Plan

Regulated Qualifications Framework The RQF was officially launched on 1 October 2015). The framework should help people understand all the qualifications we regulate, general and vocational in England, and vocational in Northern Ireland, and how they relate to each other. Its intention is to improve consistency around how awarding organisations describe the size and challenge, or demand, of the qualifications they offer.

The Business and Technology Education Council (BTEC) is a provider (existing as part of Pearson Education Ltd) of secondary school leaving qualifications and Further education qualifications in England, Wales and Northern Ireland.  BTEC qualifications, especially Level 3, are accepted by many universities (excluding Cambridge and Oxford unless combined with more qualifications) when assessing the suitability of applicants for admission, and many such universities base their conditional admissions offers on a student's predicted BTEC grades. BTEC qualifications are in theory equivalent to other qualifications, such as the General Certificate of Secondary Education (GCSE) (levels 1 to 2), A Level (level 3) and university degrees (levels 6 to 7). BTECs are undertaken in vocational subjects ranging from business studies to engineering.


The National Apprenticeship Service, part of the Skills Funding Agency, is the government agency that coordinates apprenticeships in England, enabling young people to enter the skilled trades.

• Apprentices are employees within a company and are paid a wage
• All apprentices receive training for a specific job and gain recognised qualifications
• Apprenticeships are open to all age groups above 16 years old from school leavers to those who have been working for years or are seeking to start a new career
• Apprentices must be living in England and not taking part in full-time education
• Employment will be for at least 30 hours per week. In cases where the learner cannot complete the full 30 hours, employment must be for more than 16 hours per week.

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