What qualifications can you study in sixth form?

You can study many qualifications at sixth form:

  • More Level 2 courses (GCSE and Level 2 BTECs) if you don’t pass enough of your exams in Year 11 to progress to Level 3 courses.
  • A Levels
  • Single, double or extended Level 3 CTECs/BTECs
  • Cambridge Pre-U
  • International Baccalaureate (IB)
  • T Levels


Framework for Higher Education Qualifications

Level 8

Doctorate PhD

Level 7

Masters Degrees: MA, MSc, MPhil

Postgraduate Certificates & Diplomas: e.g. PG Cert in Education

Chartered Professional Qualifications

Degree Apprenticeships


Level 6

Bachelor Degrees: BA, BSc,  LLB
Graduate Certificates and Diplomas


Level 5

Foundation Degree
HND and Dip HE

Professional Technical Quals

Higher Apprenticeships

Level 4

Certificate in HE & HNC
NVQ Level 4

Level 3

AS/A Level
International Baccalaureate (IB)

Access to HE/Art Foundation

BTEC National/CTEC Nationals
OCR National

C&G Advanced

T Levels


Level 2

GCSEs 9-4

BTEC First & NVQ 2


Level 1

GCSE 3-1

Intro Cert

C&G Foundation



Entry Level Qualifications
Certificate in Life Skills




Apprenticeships (Work based)


Level 2 courses

It is sometimes a good idea to take another year to increase your Level 2 qualifications in order to prepare yourself really well for Level 3 courses, which are the next step.  You are required by law to keep studying English and maths GCSE if you get a 3 or below.  If you look like you are going to achieve less than four GCSEs or equivalent, including English and maths, you should carry on studying at Level 2.  You can study GCSE or BTECs at Level 2.  You may be advised to apply to study at Harris Professional Skills or at a sixth form college which specialises in Level 2 qualifications and also offers some level 3 CTECs/BTECs.  A careers adviser can help advise you on this.  Your tutor will help you to make an appointment to see them. 

Level 3 courses

A Levels

These are Level 3 academic qualifications.  Students are now doing linear A Levels only.  Linear A Levels are where the final marks will be awarded with exams (and occasionally coursework) at the end of Year 13.   You will choose three (or occasionally four) single subjects at the beginning of Year 12. 

At Harris sixth forms, you will be formally examined with internal exams in all of your subjects at the end of Year 12 in order to help everybody understand the level at which you are working.

A Levels are good for the following people:

  • Those who love the subjects that they have chosen and are willing to study these subjects independently, outside of class as well as in lesson time.
  • Those who are expecting to achieve at least a grade 6 in the related subject.
  • Those who are expecting to gain a minimum of seven 9-4 grades at GCSE including English and maths. 
  • Those who are thinking about going to university to study academic rather than vocational or practical subjects.
  • Those who are happy to be examined in their subject and don’t mind the pressure of revision and coursework deadlines.

Level 3 CTECs/BTECs

These are Level 3 vocational qualifications.  You can enter university with these qualifications and most universities are very happy to accept them.  They are ideal preparation for practical degree courses, for example: sports science, business management, IT Systems or nursing.  Russell Group universities usually prefer A Levels.

It is always a good idea to do research and talk to a careers adviser before making final subject choices.

CTECs/BTECs are good for the following people:

  • Those who have already passed at least four Level 2/GCSE courses at grades 9-4 or above, including English and maths.
  • Those who love their subject and enjoy applying their knowledge in practical ways.
  • Those who enjoy working on coursework rather than doing exams.
  • Those who are expecting to achieve at least a grade 4 or equivalent in the related subject.
  • Those who are thinking about going to university to study vocational or practical subjects, such as business or health and social care.

The course lasts for two years and there is an exam component.  You need to remain at school throughout the course or you may leave with no qualifications.  You cannot leave after one year and still get a qualification.  You must pass the exam component to pass the whole qualification.

You can choose:

  • a single CTEC/BTEC known as the extended certificate (equivalent to one A level after two years)
  • a double CTEC/BTEC  known as the diploma (equivalent to two A levels after two years)
  • a triple CTEC/BTEC known as the extended diploma (equivalent to three A levels after two years)

Studying a diploma and an extended certificate together is the most popular and valuable option unless you are able to study an extended diploma (these are only offered at specialist schools).

Example 1:

Business studies diploma ( 2 x business studies)

Health and social care extended certificate (1 x health and social care)

Block A Block B Block C
Business studies  CTEC extended certificate Business studies  CTEC diploma Health and social care CTEC extended certicate

Example 2:

Health and social care diploma (2 x health and social care)

Media studies extended certificate (1 x media studies)

Block A Block B Block C
Health and social care CTEC extended certificate Health and social care CTEC diploma Media studies CTEC extended certicate

Levels and CTECs/BTECs combined

Many students choose to study a combination of CTECs/BTECs and A Levels and this works really well for most students.  Most universities are happy to accept students studying a combination.  The exception to this can Russell Group universities and some high level courses at other top universities, where three full A Levels will sometimes be required. 

This combination is good for the following people:

  • Those who do not have the minimum academic requirements to take up 3 A levels.
  • Those who do not want to be examined in every subject.
  • Those who would like the security of doing a vocational subject where you can be more confident of ending up with a qualification at the end of the two years.

What is the difference between A Levels and Vocationals?

The main difference between A Levels and CTECs/BTECs is the way that they are taught and assessed at the end of the course. They are both difficult in different ways and there are no easy options at level 3.

A Level

  • A Levels are academic. 
  • You will need to read a lot of material in your study periods and at home to prepare for class.
  • You will often have to write many essays (particularly for writing-based subjects) and complete other assessments.
  • You will be tested every half term with a mock exam.
  • You will have to do coursework for some subjects you will mostly be examined in May/June at the end of Year 13 in the same way you were examined for GCSE exams.
  • You will end up with a grade A*-E (unless you fail and get a U grade).
  • Russell Group universities like A Levels.


  • These are more practical.
  • You will study units of work which you have to pass in order to continue to Year 13.
  • The course comprises mostly coursework although there is now an examined component which you have to pass to receive the overall qualification.
  • You are only allowed one attempt at the final assignment for each unit so these courses are very challenging.
  • You will end up with a grade Distinction*-Pass.
  • Universities like  CTECs/BTECs but not for strongly competitive academic courses such as English and maths.
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