Find out about the different vocational and technical qualifications on offer when you leave school

An Introduction to Vocational and Technical Qualifications

If you’re starting to think about what comes next after your GCSEs, we’ve got you covered with our complete guide to Vocational and Technical Qualifications, Non-Traditional Career Routes and Alternative Provision.

Not sure what to do after GCSEs? For some young people, you’ll know exactly what you want to do – have a career goal mapped out and understand what’s required at each stage to meet your objective. For others it’s not that simple! You might be undecided, confused, ill-informed or uninspired. That’s not uncommon and there’s help on hand. Remember that there’s lots of different routes to achieving the same end career goal, so it’s a good idea to understand all your options so you can have a Plan A, Plan B and even a Plan C in place.

We’ve produced a range of information to help you – from our introductory video of students talking about BTECs, to our downloadable resources to help you map out different career paths or identify your key skills. All of the information below and throughout our careers hub is designed to help you make an informed choice about your future and the many different options available to you.

Get talking about your Options at School or at Home

Talking through your options is a great way to help you rule out what’s not right and narrow down what might be. Ask friends what their plans are and why, speak to relatives or parents/carers about what they did and how they rated it, chat online to careers advisors or experts, or book an appointment with student services to explore your options. 

Exploring Non-Traditional Career Routes

There are some very popular pathways for 16 year olds to take, and you are probably already aware of these from talking to friends, family, other students and your teachers/advisers. 

It’s probably safe to say that studying A-levels at college has been mentioned numerous times, and you might have thought that “what college”, and “what A-levels” are the only choices you need to make. If you have a career goal in mind which requires you to study A-levels and go on to university, then this could be the right option for you, but bear in mind that it isn’t necessarily the only route to a university degree in today’s education system.

You might also be under the impression that you can’t leave school at 16 and get a job anymore. Whilst this is a widely held opinion, it isn’t strictly true! You can leave school at the end of the school year in which you turn 16 (remember there are slight differences in the Education systems across the UK), but you are expected to continue to receive some training and education until you reach the age of 18. 

In short, there are lots of different routes to University or into employment. Don’t feel like your options are limited to the path your friends, older sibblings or parents/carers took. Or, that if you don’t get the results you need or the place you wanted, that your ultimate goal will become impossible. You just need to explore alternative options and take a look at some of the non-traditional career routes that could help you reach the same destination.

Here’s some of the vocational and technical qualifications routes you could take:

Level 2 Qualifications (equivalent to GCSEs)

  • GCSE resits
  • Traineeship
  • Intermediate Apprenticeship
  • ESOL
  • Functional or Essential Skills
  • National Certificate or Diploma
  • NVQ

Level 3 Qualifications (equivalent to A-Levels)

  • AS-Levels
  • Access to Higher Education Diploma
  • Advanced Apprenticeship
  • International Baccalaureate Diploma
  • NVQ
  • BTEC
  • National Diploma

Other Types of Training:

  • Entry Level
  • Skills for Life
  • Pre-Employment Training
  • Short Vocational Training Courses

Here’s a few things to think about…

The Future – where do you want to be in five years, think about your career goals, your qualification goals and your personal goals.

Use our Career Roadmap planning tool to enter your end goal and then work backwards. Think about the different milestones you’ll need to achieve to gain the skills, qualifications and experience you need along the way. Set timescales to work towards, as well as adding alternative routes in case your plan derails!

The Now – where are you right now, how do you feel about your goal, are you feeling confident about achieving it? Start to identify the things you will need:

  • Qualifications: Look the job role up on the National Careers Service, through advertisements for vacancies, on the internet. Are there specific qualifications you need to apply for now? Are you going to need to re-sit some of your GCSEs or do a Level 2 access course to get there
  • Skills/Experience: Do you need to develop certain skills, or look for work experience in a specific sector? Check out the work experience sector on Stockport Jobs Match and watch Module 5 to get more details on work experience.
  • Behaviours/Personal Development: Do you need to develop your confidence and communication skills? Do you need to learn some more personal independence skills such as travel, telling the time, managing your money?

The How – This website aims to put as many of “the hows” in front of you as possible.

You will find resources and guides for all different study and training options at 16+ and 18+ across our website, as well as being able to research different sectors with our Career Guides and watch our selection of Day-in-the-Life Employer videos. Find out about entry requirements and how others have achieved their career goals. Explore how to get a work experience placement and get prepared with our career planning tools.

Alternative Provision

If you need to explore your post-16 options based on your own individual needs – maybe you have an EHC Plan, SEN Certificate or similar – we can help.

EHC Plans

An EHC plan is a legally-binding document which outlines the additional support you require and the provision that needs to be put in place. It can last until you leave education, or until you turn 25 but it doesn’t apply to university education. At a minimum your EHCP should be reviewed annually, and if you move to a different local authority you can transfer your EHCP. At the review, your EHCP might be left unchanged, updated based on your circumstances or ended.

Having an EHC plan doesn’t mean your options are limited, it does not prevent you or hinder you from applying for any of the options we have talked about so far if they are the right choice for you, but it does ensure that providers are aware of the environment and support you need in order to achieve your goals.

For some young people with more complex needs the options we have talked about so far might not be what you are looking for. A supported internship is a programme designed to support you into employment if you have an EHC plan, but if employment is not your immediate goal and you want to progress to college then there are providers who offer specialist education including personalised support, tailored programmes and life skills.


Use our Free Resources to help you make the right choice

Not sure which pathway after secondary school is the right choice for you? Deciding what comes next starts with knowing yourself – what you’re good at, what you enjoy doing, how you like to learn, whether you prefer structure or flexibility, whether you are organised or need support, whether you have an end career goal in mind or you’re completely undecided. 

Our Next Step Planning tools start with the basics. Our Skills Builder helps you understand your strengths, our Career Roadmap helps you understand different routes to achieving your goals, and our Pathway Evaluation tools help you compare one study option against another.

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