Is Sixth Form Compulsory in the UK? Why You Should Consider A Sixth-Form College

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Sixth form is not compulsory in the UK, but it is a popular choice for students who want to continue their education after GCSEs. 

Sixth form colleges offer a wide range of courses, including A-levels, BTECs, and vocational qualifications.

This sounds vague, already, relax, we will explain better below. 

What is sixth form?

Sixth form is the final two years of secondary education in England, Northern Ireland, Wales, Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago and some other Commonwealth countries. 

Pupils prepare for A-level or similar examinations like the IB or Pre-U. 

In England, Wales, and Northern Ireland, the term Key Stage 5 has the same meaning. It only refers to academic education and not to vocational education.

How is Sixth form offered?

Sixth form can be offered in two different settings:

Sixth form colleges: These are independent colleges that specialize in sixth form education.

School sixth forms: These are sixth forms that are attached to secondary schools.

Both types of sixth form offer a wide range of courses, including A-levels, BTECs, and vocational qualifications. 

Sixth form students have the opportunity to participate in a variety of extracurricular activities, such as sports, clubs, and societies.

Is Sixth Form Compulsory in the UK?

Sixth form is not compulsory in the UK, but it is a popular choice for students who want to continue their education after GCSEs.

However,  it can help students to improve their grades, increase their job prospects, and earn higher earnings.

Students who are under the age of 18 are required to be in education or training, but this could involve attending a sixth form college, an apprenticeship, or another type of training.

How Does Sixth form in the UK work?

In the United Kingdom, “sixth form” refers to the educational stage that students typically enter at the age of 16, following the completion of their General Certificate of Secondary Education (GCSE) exams. 

The sixth form is a two-year period of education that is part of a secondary school or college and serves as a bridge between compulsory education (up to age 16) and higher education or employment.

During the sixth form, students usually study for two years to prepare for their A-level (Advanced Level) examinations, which are critical for university admissions. 

Alternatively, some students may pursue vocational qualifications or apprenticeships during this stage. Sixth forms offer a more specialized and focused curriculum, allowing students to delve deeper into subjects of their choice compared to the broader GCSE curriculum.

Sixth forms can be part of secondary schools or colleges, and they play a crucial role in helping students transition to higher education or the workforce by providing advanced academic or vocational training.

What are the Benefits of Attending Sixth Form? 

Here are some of the benefits of attending sixth form:

Improved academic achievement: Students who attend sixth form typically achieve higher grades than students who do not.

Increased job prospects: Students who have A-levels or BTECs are more likely to get a good job than students who do not.

Higher earnings: Students who have A-levels or BTECs typically earn more money than students who do not.

Greater access to university: Students who have A-levels are more likely to be accepted into university than students who do not.

Why should you consider a sixth-form college?

There are many reasons why you should consider a sixth-form college. Here are a few:

Wide range of courses: Sixth form colleges offer a wide range of courses, so you can find one that is right for you.

Specialist teaching: Sixth form colleges have specialist teachers who can help you to achieve your best.

Small class sizes: Sixth form colleges typically have smaller class sizes than schools, which means that you will get more attention from your teachers.

Independent learning: Sixth form colleges encourage independent learning, which will help you to prepare for university or the workplace.

Extracurricular activities: Sixth form colleges offer a wide range of extracurricular activities, so you can get involved in something that you are passionate about.

What happens if you don’t go to sixth form?

In the UK, it is compulsory to stay in education or training until you are 18 years old. This means that if you don’t go to sixth form, you will need to find another way to meet this requirement. 

There are a number of options available to you, including:


Apprenticeships are a great way to gain work experience and qualifications while earning a salary. 

You will typically spend one day a week at college and four days a week working for an employer. 

Apprenticeships are available in a wide range of industries, so there is something to suit everyone.


Traineeships are shorter than apprenticeships and are designed to give you the skills and experience you need to get a job. 

You will spend six weeks to one year working for an employer, and you will also receive some training.


There are a number of colleges that offer courses for students who have not achieved the grades required for sixth form. 

These courses can be a good way to improve your grades and prepare for university or a career.

Home education: 

If you are not happy with any of the other options available to you, you can choose to home educate yourself. This means that you will be responsible for your own education, and you will need to follow the national curriculum.

What do you do if you don’t want to go to sixth form?

You can choose any of these routes if you do not want to go to sixth form. 

A-Levels – It is a highly academic qualifications focussed on one subject, usually taken 3 at a time, or in conjunction with other types of qualification at a sixth form or college. Typically lead to university.

BTECs –These are  vocational qualifications that arms students with skills in a particular area of work, with the intent to enter that area later in life. They are typically taken at college.

T-Levels – They are mixed academic and vocational qualifications focussed on one area of work, with a specialism. Usually taken at a college, including a work placement of 40 days within the course.

Apprenticeships and Traineeships  

Are there Alternatives to Sixth Form? Is sixth form compulsory

If you decide that sixth form is not the right choice for you, there are several alternative paths to consider:

Vocational Training: Explore vocational training programs that provide practical skills and certifications in fields like healthcare, IT, or construction.

Apprenticeships: Consider apprenticeship programs that combine on-the-job training with classroom learning and lead to industry-specific qualifications.

College Courses: Enroll in a college program that aligns with your career goals and offers a more hands-on or vocational approach to education.

Gap Year: Take a gap year to gain work experience, travel, volunteer, or explore your interests before committing to further education.

FAQs on is sixth form compulsory

Can I go to university without attending sixth form?

Yes, you can go to university without attending sixth form. Alternative pathways, such as college courses or apprenticeships, can also lead to university qualifications.

What are the advantages of attending sixth form?

Attending sixth form can prepare you for university, offer vocational training and opportunities to grow. 


In the UK, sixth form is not compulsory, and students have a range of post-GCSE education options to choose from based on their interests and career aspirations. 

Whether you opt for sixth form, vocational training, apprenticeships, or other paths, the key is to make an informed decision that aligns with your goals.


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