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What are the alternatives to A-levels?

PUBLISHED: 06:00 17 January 2019 | UPDATED: 10:27 17 January 2019

An apprentice spends 20% of his or her time learning and training in a way that is formally documented   Picture: Countrypixel - stock.adobe.com

An apprentice spends 20% of his or her time learning and training in a way that is formally documented Picture: Countrypixel - stock.adobe.com

©Countrypixel - stock.adobe.com

Time seems to move fast after Christmas and New Year. If you’re taking GCSEs next summer, or you’re the parent or guardian of a student in secondary education, it pays to start thinking about what happens afterwards.

Easton & Otley College offers an extensive range of courses and training, including equestrian studies   Picture: COURTESY EASTON & OTLEY COLLEGEEaston & Otley College offers an extensive range of courses and training, including equestrian studies Picture: COURTESY EASTON & OTLEY COLLEGE

If they get the GCSE grades required, many high school students stay on for A-levels, or switch to a sixth-form centre to continue their education. There are, however, other options for students.

A college can offer other choices, such as new skills to learn –animal studies and arboriculture, for example, and countryside management and horticulture. Practical and vocational training makes education feel “real”.

There are apprenticeships, too. Apprentices earn a salary and learn job-specific skills. Successful apprentices gain a nationally-recognised qualification.

Practical education is key to vocational training  Picture: Countrypixel - stock.adobe.comPractical education is key to vocational training Picture: Countrypixel - stock.adobe.com

Training… qualifications… apprenticeships… Where to start?

Do your research. That includes thinking about A-levels in the traditional high school setting but also investigating alternatives. Talk to careers advisers, and research education and training possibilities that might not seem obvious.

“There are so many options and opportunities after GCSEs which students and parents are unaware of. Our aim is to ensure they are informed and able to make the best decision for themselves,” says Sara Rushworth, from Easton & Otley College.

Advice to secondary school pupils: Talk to careers advisers, and research education and training possibilities that might not seem obvious   Picture: goodluz - stock.adobe.comAdvice to secondary school pupils: Talk to careers advisers, and research education and training possibilities that might not seem obvious Picture: goodluz - stock.adobe.com

Why go to college?

Easton & Otley College has two campuses: near Ipswich and Norwich. It offers an extensive range of college courses and training: From veterinary nursing, agricultural work and construction to motor-vehicle engineering, gamekeeping, equestrian studies and more.

Practical education is key to vocational training. “It is a more hands-on approach. Although students study in the classroom, they also study outside in their chosen areas – if they’re in agriculture, for example, they’ll work on a farm. It’s more career-led.

“Equally, the diplomas we do here carry UCAS points, so if students want to go on to university, they can. It offers a different option to heavily-academic classroom-based A-levels.”

A college can offer new skills to learn – arboriculture, for example   Picture: Halfpoint - stock.adobe.comA college can offer new skills to learn – arboriculture, for example Picture: Halfpoint - stock.adobe.com

Course finder: Which college course is right for me?

Speak to college staff, visit college campuses, and view classrooms and facilities.

Easton & Otley College runs Course Advice Days. (The next are February 2 and March 9. Details on eastonotley.ac.uk)

“If you talk to experienced tutors, they will be able to help identify which route would be best for a prospective student - apprenticeship, college course, or something else,” says Sara.

College can prove a refreshing change to the high school regime. College students might have to attend on only three days a week – a fourth devoted to work experience. The focus is on thorough vocational training for later job opportunities and occupations.

Campus life is one of variety, with students of many ages and from different backgrounds mixing. Easton & Otley College construction student Joshua Murton says: “You are treated more like an adult.”

Does it work? What to do after college…

Easton & Otley College says 88% of students go on to further education, apprenticeships or employment in their chosen area of study.

How do apprenticeships work?

Can apprenticeships lead to a job? “It is a good way to get into a business and maximise your chances of getting full-time permanent work later,” says Sara.

Prospective apprentices need an employer who will take them. The college will give support, but you can do a lot yourself. So: knock on doors, send emails, make phone calls.

What apprenticeships are available in the UK?

Find out by searching websites that list vacancies, such as gov.uk/apply-apprenticeship.

Easton and Otley College is a registered apprenticeship training provider and advertises vacancies on its website.

Apprentices learning with the college have an individual learning plan. At its heart is work-based training. An apprentice spends 20% of his or her time learning and training in a way that is formally documented.

Each apprentice also has a training co-ordinator who visits and offers support.

Craig Thompson, winner of Suffolk Agricultural Apprentice of the Year Award, says: “I didn’t want to be stuck in a classroom. It’s a great alternative route I believe others should seriously consider.”


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