Choices for 16 to 19 year olds

This guide will help you find out about the many learning opportunities available in Dorset for 16 to 19 year olds, or for 19 to 25 year olds if you have special educational needs or disability (SEND). 

You may have heard that the school leaving age has gone up. This isn't quite true: you're expected to stay in education or some recognised form of education or training until you're 18, but it doesn't have to be at school.

Find out what other young people decided to do at 16 in the my chosen route section. They could help you decide.

Read GOV.UK's What's your post exam plan? for information and advice.

Qualification levels

All these levels are available in Dorset:

  • Levels 1 to 3 are aimed at 16 to 18 year olds
  • Level 4 is usually for people aged over 18

Level 1

These are the qualifications at Level 1:

  • GCSE grades 3 to 1
  • NVQ level 1
  • traineeships
  • Functional Skills Level
  • ASDAN Level 1

Level 2

These are the qualifications at Level 2:

  • GCSE grades 9 to 4
  • diplomas at Level 2
  • intermediate apprenticeships
  • NVQ level 2
  • ASDAN Level 2

Level 3

These are the qualifications at Level 3:

  • A level
  • AS level
  • advanced apprenticeship
  • extended and other diplomas at Level 3
  • NVQ Level 3
  • foundation diplomas
  • International Baccalaureate (IB)

Level 4 or higher

These are the qualifications at Level 4 or higher:

  • doctorate
  • master's degree
  • degree
  • bachelor's degree and higher apprenticeships
  • foundation degree

Training providers

Training providers offer a range of different courses to all ability levels, including:

  • vocational courses
  • apprenticeships
  • traineeships
  • English and maths
  • employability skills

From those that don't need any GCSEs to professional qualifications and higher level apprenticeships.

Most offer work-based training and apprenticeships. Many specialise in training for certain careers. Some will also offer courses to develop young people's employability skills, including traineeships. 

Most are full-time courses, but part-time and shorter courses are also available. Talk to a training provider or check where you can find out more

Schools and academies

There are lots of different types of schools you can choose to study at in Dorset

Schools and academies cater for most students and offer a wide range of courses, including:

  • A levels; most will offer these
  • GCSEs; some will offer these
  • English and maths GCSEs (re-sits); most will offer these
  • vocational courses; some will offer these

There are lots of different types of schools you can choose to study at in Dorset.

University technical colleges

The university technical college curriculum is designed in partnership with a university and combines GCSEs and A levels with specialist technical qualifications in sectors that are growing and looking for skilled staff.

Employers take an active role, regularly mentoring students and providing opportunities for work experience and work on real-life projects. 

Days typically start at 8.30am and end at 5pm including time for homework. 

Studio schools

Studio schools work closely with local employers to offer a range of academic and vocational qualifications including GCSEs in English, maths and science. They also offer paid work placements linked directly to employment opportunities in the local area, often with a specialism.

Studio schools usually have year-round opening (with some holidays) and a 9am to 5pm working day, so they feel more like a workplace than a school. 

Free schools

Free schools are independent state-funded schools but they aren't run by the local authority. They have more control over how they do things; this can include curriculum design. 

Free schools are set up by groups of parents, teachers, charities, existing schools or other organisations to respond to a need for a new school in their community.

Find sixth forms and colleges in Dorset

Find links to sixth forms and colleges or search for a school in Dorset.

Further education (FE) colleges

Further education colleges offer a wide range of different courses. From courses that don't need any specific GCSE grades through to apprenticeships, degrees and professional qualifications. 

Although most full-time college courses are attended by 16 to 19 year olds, you'll find plenty of adults studying in a college on a range of short, part-time, professional or higher education courses. 

Some colleges specialise, others offer a wider curriculum. Colleges offer a wide range of courses including:

  • GCSE or A levels
  • vocational courses
  • apprenticeships and traineeships
  • courses that prepare people for higher education such as access courses or art foundation courses
  • vocational higher education courses, such as:
    • foundation degrees
    • Higher National Diplomas (HNDs)
    • Higher National Certificates (HNCs)
    • degrees
  • foundation courses to develop maths, English, study skills, confidence and employability. These courses can give students the chance to try out several different vocational areas

Starting a career


You must be 16 or over to start an apprenticeship. There are 3 levels you can study at:

  • apprenticeship (Level 2)
  • advanced apprenticeship (Level 3)
  • higher apprenticeship (Level 4 and above)

An apprenticeship is a great way to build your career. You learn on the job, building up knowledge and skills, gaining qualifications and earning money at the same time. 

You'll be employed, spending most of your time in the workplace gaining job-specific skills. You're also supported by a training provider or further education (FE) college to build up your knowledge and qualifications. 

Apprenticeship training can take between one and 4 years to complete. The length of your apprenticeship will depend on the:

  • level
  • industry you're training in
  • skills you already have

All apprentices under the age of 19 (or in their first year of an apprenticeship) will be paid at least £3.90 per hour, or £144 a week. Many apprentices earn a lot more than this.


Traineeships are for 16 to 24 year olds who want to work but need extra help to gain an apprenticeship or job. You won't be paid but you'll develop the skills and experience needed to get an apprenticeship or job. Traineeships are short-term courses that last between 6 weeks and 6 months. 

Traineeships have 3 core elements:

  • high quality work placement to develop workplace skills and prove yourself to an employer
  • a focussed period of work preparation training that concentrates on:
    • CV writing
    • interview preparation
    • job search skills
  • English and maths - if you haven't already got a GCSE grade 9 to 4 (or A* to C)

Find information about:

Higher education

Higher education is third level education after you leave school that leads to a degree. There are lots of different types of higher education level courses available. Most people are 18 or over when they start higher education. 

Higher education courses only used to be delivered at universities. Now many further education (FE) colleges offer them, as well as some training providers in Dorset. 

You can explore higher education courses at the age of 18 or 19 if you have a Level 3 qualification such as:

  • A levels
  • advanced apprenticeships
  • BTEC National 

If you don't have these qualifications but are interested in studying at a higher education level there are other ways to get there; through access courses and through studying while you work. 

Talk to an FE college or training provider for more information.

Find more information about FE courses on GOV.UK.

Financial support while you study

If you're about to start any education beyond 16 and think you might struggle with the cost of full-time education or training, for example books or equipment, there are lots of different bursaries you can apply for to get financial support. 

Speak to your school, college or training provider about your circumstances. You'll need to apply for the bursaries. Each provider will have their own application forms and eligibility criteria. 

Transport when you're at college

There's no automatic entitlement for free home to school or college transport once a student is over 16. This is the case even if they've had free transport in the past. Find out more about post 16 transport support

If you attend a post-16 education placement you can apply for a seat through the Surplus Seat Transport Scheme (SSTS).

Colleges and some schools have funded the development of their own arrangements for transporting students to their school or college and helping students with the cost. Contact your school or college to find out more information.

Find out more about our home to school transport policy

Transport for students with SEND

You should go through your post 16 transport arrangements during year 11 if you have SEND. Even if you have an education, health and care (EHC) plan, you may not be entitled to travel assistance post 16.

SEND support (16 to 25 years)

If you're aged between 16 and 25 and you have an EHC plan there are lots of options to prepare you for adulthood. The aim is for young people to move into work.

Find out more about your education, training and work options if you have SEND.

Supported internships are aimed at young people aged 16 to 25 with an EHC plan who want to move into employment and need extra support to do this. The internship usually lasts a year and includes an unpaid work placement of at least 6 months. The placement may be with one employer, or several according to the young person's needs. 

Next steps

Remember: all young people are expected to stay in education or training until they're 18. This could be through any of the options above, even a job if it has accredited training. Accredited training will give you qualifications that will help you:

  • progress further in your career
  • earn more money
  • have better job security

Now I've read all the information, what do I do?

Here's what to do next:

  • talk to an accredited career advisor or family and friends about your next steps
  • find out more by researching all the options, starting with our useful links 
  • go to open evenings and taster days
  • aim to apply for more than one course at more than one provider. This way you'll keep your options open

Information on other websites:

Education and Early Help (SEND) Team

Name: Education and Early Help (SEND) Team near you
Full contact details