Ask Priestley

Choosing your options + what’s next after GCSEs

At the end of year 9 you will have some exciting decisions to make about your future when you choose your options. These subjects could impact on your options for future study and employment. Don’t worry, there’s lots of support and advice out there to help you make the right choices. Here’s some advice on how to get started.

In general once you have completed your GCSEs (or any level two qualifications) you have some important decisions to take about what you do next. There are lots of ways of beginning to think about them, but they all boil down to whether or not you want to remain in full-time education or whether you want to move into employment and training.

For some people this is a simple decision, they know what area of work they ultimately want to be in, have researched it thoroughly and know therefore that for them a full-time course at a college then on to university is the required route. For others an apprenticeship combining work with part-time study will get them the career they want.

For most people, however, this is something they need to spend some time thinking about, the best time to do this is during year 10 and the early part of year 11. If you leave it any later you will risk rushing things and may find yourself making the wrong decisions.

This is what those who left year 11 in the summer of 2013 from Warrington schools did..

In general there are three sorts of place you could study full-time after your GCSEs, and while every individual institution is different there are similarities between those of the same type;

Sixth Form College

Offering a wide range of academic and vocational programmes, with specialist teaching and support aimed specifically at 16 to 19-year-old students. They offer greater independence than a school, but continue to provide structured individual support for students. Students’ timetables are individual and you will have time during the day to spend on individual study or to undertake part-time work and voluntary work.

Sixth Form attached to a school

As part of a school you will already know your teachers and they will know you, you will be surrounded by pupils from age 11 onwards. The day will most likely be punctuated by bells and set breaks, you could have to remain in site for the whole of the school day, and you may still have to wear a uniform.

College of Further Education

Usually large institutions offering mainly vocational courses. Whilst they have many 16 to 19-year-old students, most are significantly older, many of whom will be studying part-time rather than full-time on adult and community learning courses.

What you do will depend on your interests and the qualifications you get in Year 11. The main split is between;

Academic courses – In these your study is based upon individual subject(s) and could include;

Advanced Subsidiary (AS) leading to A Levels

Vocational courses – in these your study is linked to a broad area of work and could include;

BTEC Level 2 Diploma

BTEC National Award

It is usually possible to add one or two subjects to your main programme, often key subjects like English or Mathematics if you just missed getting a grade ‘C’ at school.

It is also possible to mix and match what you do by taking some subjects you might have studied previously at GCSE with completely new ones, but be sure to check the course content in detail so that you know what you are letting yourself in for.

As has been said before, the assumption here is that the ultimate aim of everyone who is considering work is doing so, at least in part, in order to enable themselves to become independent, not relying upon others be that parents, partners or the state for their financial security.

But what if you are unable to find a job, apprenticeship or a place to continue your studies full-time and what if you lose a job or college place? What happens to you and how do you live when you are part of the NEET (not in education employment or training)?

There are lots of myths and stories about what if anything you can claim if you do not have a job, apprenticeship or a place to continue your studies.

The aim of the government is to ensure that 16 and 17-year-olds can secure a suitable offer of education or training in a school, college or work-based training. This process is known as the ‘September Guarantee’(1). Because of this 16 and 17-year-olds are not expected be able to make a claim for either of the two main benefits Jobseeker’s Allowance and Income Support. However, depending on your individual circumstances you may be able to claim.

Jobseeker’s Allowance

Jobseeker’s Allowance (JSA) is a benefit open to most people over the age of 18 who are unemployed, not in education and looking for work.

If you are 16 or 17, you will only be able to receive Jobseeker’s Allowance in exceptional circumstances. For example if you are unable to live at home with your family, this is what they call ‘estrangement’.

Income Support

If you are over 16 and unable to work because you are a lone parent, a parent who has to stay home and look after your children, registered as a disabled person, or you are responsible for the care of a relative who is disabled you may be eligible for Income Support.

Advice and help

If you think you may be eligible to make a claim for one of these benefits you need to call your local Jobcentre Plus office. Staff there will be able to help you find out what you are entitled to and guide you through filling in a claim form.

For many people, asking about and filling in forms for benefits can seem a little daunting so if you are 16 or 17 the best place to start is to call in to talk to one of the advisers from the Warrington Borough Council Young People’s Careers Service in the Youth Café on Mondays to Fridays from 12.30pm to 5pm.

As well as giving advice about what, if any, benefits you may be able to claim, the advisers will help you to find a job, apprenticeship or a place to continue your studies full-time.

Studying at Priestley

Your course will depend on your GCSE results. Most students on AS/A2 programmes take four AS courses in their first year, whilst some of the most able students may study five. In the second year most students will go on to take three A-Levels with the option of taking an additional one year course if they wish. At your enrolment interview you will discuss the full programme you can take depending on your qualifications and career aim. We think it is important that you enrol on a programme which you will suceed on, but which will challenge you to do well.

To study an A-Level programme at Priestley you must have an average GCSE grade of 4 (C) or above. You should have a GCSE grade of 4 (C) or above in English Language or English Literature.

To study a vocational course you need an average GCSE grade of 3.75. Some courses require an average of 4.5

and/or a higher grades in a particular GCSE subject.

When calculating your average score use only your best eight GCSE results. When working out your score you can replace GCSE grades with up to two vocational qualifications.

To work out your average score add up your total number of points based on the numbers below and divide by the number of courses taken.


GCSE                     Old GCSE             Vocational

9 = 9                       A* = 8                     Distinction Star = 8

8 = 8                       A = 7                      Distinction = 8

7 = 7                       B = 5                      Merit = 5

6 = 6                       C = 4                      Pass = 2

5 = 5                       E = 3

4 = 4                       F = 1

3 = 3                       G = 1

2 = 2

1 = 1


Other qualifications are taken into account when assessing your suitability for a course, but do not contribute to your average GCSE points score and our minimum requirement still stands.


If you join Priestley with an average GCSE points score of 7 or above you will be able to take a five AS/A-Level programme if you wish. If you join us with an average GCSE points score of 6 or above you will be encouraged to start with four AS/A-Levels. If you have passed vocational Level 2 programmes pre-16 you will normally need to have also passed at least three GCSEs at grade 4 (C) or above.

If you have passed a vocational Level 2 programme pre-16 you will normally need to have also passed at least 3 GCSEs at grade A* to C.

If you obtain five GCSEs at 4 (C) or above not including GCSE English or GCSE Maths, you will be required to work to improve your English or Maths at Priestley. This will mean you take a limited Level 3 programme of either two AS/A-Levels or a 60-unit Diploma, Subsidiary Diploma and one AS in Year 1.

We encourage those students who are capable of studying an AS-Level alongside a vocational course to do so (this will not be possible with some Health and Education courses).

Some students do not achieve what they expect at GCSE and so cannot progress to an Advanced Level course. However, Priestley offers a range of one-year Level 2 courses. In most cases your programme will include a mix of Vocational and GCSE courses. Staff will help you choose the programme that best meets your needs. Remember many students complete an Intermediate-Level course and then successfully progress to Advanced Level the following year.

You should be able to cope with a limited amount of part-time work whilst at College. However, you will be a full-time student, so your priority must be your college work. You must expect to be in college between 8.45am – 4pm every day. Part-time work commitments cannot intrude into the college day, since apart from anything else, timetables may change throughout the year. We recommend that you do no more than 15 hours per week during term time. Your personal tutor will provide guidance on this issue and you should consult them if you have any major financial concerns as there may be some help available through the Access Fund.

Courses are free for students aged between 16-18. Textbooks will be provided by your course departments on a loan basis, however you are responsible for the purchase of your own consumables such as pens and paper etc.

For all the latest details on bursaries please read our Bursaries leaflet.

You can also phone to speak in confidence to a member of our Student Services Team on 01925 633591.

Yes, but your aim should be to make the best choice at enrolment. During the induction period, and up until the end of September, you can change a course after discussion with your Personal Tutor. It is not advisable to change courses after the induction period since you are likely to be too far behind to join a new course.

Priestley College is committed to giving young parents support during their continued education. The Head of Student Services is able to help you complete the Care to Learn form, and to advise on other financial matters. We can also advise and guide a young person about the most appropriate childcare facilities in their local community. Just give college a ring and you will be put through to Head of Student Services who will be happy to help you.

Careers advice

Priestley College employs two full time professionally qualified Careers Advisers, who are based in Student Services. Students can book to see them at any time (outside their lesson times) and should they want to, parents can accompany students to their appointment.

Students will also have input from the college Careers Advisers as part of their tutorial and or vocational courses.

Priestley College ensures our students have first-hand information, expert advice and guidance relating to the HE progression process.  Beginning in January of the students first year at College they will begin researching into degree courses and Universities as an option, with intentions to join over 400 Priestley students at one of the largest UCAS conventions in the country, held at Manchester Central Convention Centre (in March of year 1). This is the start if an intense progression programme that is run across college through the students’ tutorial programme to prepare them for the actual UCAS online application process.  Students are then guided through the following stages of the HE process:


  • Research into universities and course
  • Open days and events
  • University visits into college by admissions staff
  • Student Finance England to inform students of key details and National deadlines
  • Online application process
  • Personal statement writing
  • Reviews and predicted grades


Throughout the academic year a rolling programme of over 40 external University Liaison staff attend Priestley to deliver focused sessions on HE progression.  Every tutor group will experience these sessions and every student will have access to University staff to answer any HE related questions impartially.

All Year 1 Level 3 students participate in ‘Choices/Progression Week’ that normally takes place in June of year 1.  This event held at Priestley is delivered through the students’ tutorial and curriculum sessions.  A wide and varied range of post 18 progression providers including Universities, apprenticeship providers, employers, ex-students, and industry specialists, deliver over 120 individual sessions across the week to ensure students gain an in-depth overview of each route from these external professionals.

Students are guided by their Personal/ Progress Tutor, whilst completing the HE process, then each individual application is quality checked by senior staff before sending to UCAS for distribution to the student’s choice of Universities.

Following the submission of the UCAS application, students are supported further to track the university decisions and responses to prepare for any additional requirements such as interviews, admissions test, auditions or applicant days.  Student’s awareness of UCAS Extra and Clearing are also covered to ensure they are fully prepared for the second and third phase of applications if needed following either a withdrawn, rejected or unsuccessful application.

Priestley College offer an evening session run by expert staff to support and inform parents and carers on the UCAS/ College HE application process and Student Finance England application.

Additional HE opportunities offered to students include Realising Opportunities,  Higher Horizons, Timeline events, HE+, Pembroke North, Oxford and Cambridge Hub, Theology and Philosophy programmes, Science and maths, Masterclasses.  These schemes and programmes target a wide variety of student categories ranging from priority students to stretch and challenge.

Any students wishing to apply as an early applicant follow the same support process as above, but receive additional guidance through our Graduate Programme from specialist staff that focus on Oxbridge, Medicine, Veterinary Science and Dentistry courses.

Priestley College students and staff use Unifrog software to complement the research and application process, together with apprenticeship applications.  Unifrog is integrated into the tutorial programme and used as a diary for all of the student’s experiences both academic and related to the super curriculum to ensure they have personal evidence to use when applying for post 18 progression options.

Throughout the process all students can access the two college Careers Advisers, based in Student Services, in order to discuss their ideas and gain an additional perspective on their university application.

There are two main ways to train as a primary teacher in the UK.


Undergraduate (degree) Course

Here you will need to study for a university degree and gain Qualified Teacher Status (QTS) at the same time by doing one of the following courses:

BA (Hons) degree or BSc (Hons) degree with QTS

Bachelor of Education (BEd) degree course.

These are usually full-time courses combining university-based study with periods of ‘Teaching Practice’ in schools. These courses take three to four years depending upon the university.


Postgraduate Course

If you have a degree in a subject area relevant to the primary national curriculum, you can gain QTS by doing a Postgraduate Certificate in Education (PGCE) course. Courses are one year, full-time or two years, part-time.


For both routes the National Minimum requirements are currently;

  • GCSEs (A-C) or equivalent in English, Mathematics and a Science subject.
  • Passes in numeracy and literacy skills tests.
  • Enhanced Disclosure checks through the Criminal Records Bureau (CRB).

In addition to this..

For the Undergraduate (degree) route you would normally need at least 120 UCAS points from some combination of level three qualifications such as;

  • A-Levels
  • BTEC National Extended / National Diploma
  • OCR National L3
  • Cambridge Technical L3

For the post graduate (PGCE) route most universities are looking for at least a 2:2 in your first degree.

However, as entry qualifications are decided by each individual university it is important check the qualifications they will accept. Most universities are currently asking for significantly more, both in terms of GCSEs and level 3 qualifications where specific subjects and grades are often required, as is relevant classroom experience.

Finally for both undergraduate and postgraduate courses you will also need to be successful at an admissions interview with the university.

It is also possible to train as a primary school teacher through a number of work-based programmes, however this requires several years experience of working within a school for example as a classroom assistant, so is not a realistic option for someone directly after advanced level study.

Throughout your timer at Priestley you will have access to a programme of visiting speakers via the tutorial programme, from a wide range of occupational areas. A key focus of which is ‘Choices Week’ during the summer term of your first year, when you will also be encouraged to register on the National Apprenticeship website.
At any time during your studies you can book to see one of our Careers Advisers in Student Services in order to discuss your individual situation. They will be able to help you clarify your longer term career aims, and support you in your applications for apprenticeships and employment ready for when you complete your studies.

This one to one work is supported by the information on two online platforms;
1. The ‘Careers’ page of moodle (the college vle) which coverers all aspects of career decision making, labour market information and practical advice on applications. It also includes a ‘Vacancies’ section on which apprenticeship and employment opportunities starting at the end of the college year are advertised.
2. The ‘Apprenticeships’ section of Unifrog, which allows you to search and shortlist current vacancies that you may want to apply for.

Because of our links with a wide range of local and national employers, you will have the opportunity to apply for a range of work experience opportunities which they offer to our students each year. These are advertised via moodle, the college plasma screens and the weekly tutorial bulletin. Such placements provide invaluable experience when making apprenticeships and employment applications.

As your applications progress, we will process any requests for a reference about you by potential employers. Please ask any potential employer requiring a reference to contact Student Services, as requests that go directly to tutors may be delayed particularly during the college holidays.

An apprenticeship is a job in which you receive both ‘on the job’ and formal training and are paid by the company. It is the company who decide how many apprentices they need to recruit, in what areas of work and when to recruit them.

Apprenticeships typically take between one and four years, although there is no set time to complete as Apprenticeships vary widely in content and size.

The length of time taken will depend on the ability of the individual apprentice and the employer’s requirements.

Apprentices work towards an appropriate nationally recognised work-based qualification (usually an NVQ). As an employee the apprentice will be in the workplace for the majority of their time, as most training takes place on the job. The rest usually takes place at a local college or a specialist training organisation. Apprentices can complete this off-the-job training on day release or over a number of days in a block.

It is the employer who sets the rate of pay for their apprentices; however this can not be lower than the National Apprenticeship Rate which was increased in April 2017 to £3:50 per hour. It is interesting to note that in the Warrington area most employers pay more than this national minimum.

Retail work – including management training programmes.
Engineering – including in particular the electrical, mechanical and chemical branches.
Construction – including the traditional ‘craft’ trades as well as ‘technician’ level work such as drafting and design work.
Care work – including work with the elderly and qualified practitioner work with children.
Catering – including traditional restaurant work, fast food and industrial catering.

Students leaving Priestley go into a wide range of jobs / apprenticeships.

For most, their first job is the beginning of a long term career, and gives them the opportunity to gain work specific qualifications often building upon on their studies at college.

For other students leaving Priestley, because their longer term career ideas have restrictions of age or experience (for example Police or Paramedic) , their first job may be something they plan to do for only a few years until they are able to apply for employment and training in the area they intend to make their career.

In the past five years, many students leaving Priestley to go straight into work have gone into areas such as;

Office work – including finance, legal, IT and call centre work.

Retail work – including management training programmes.

Engineering – including in particular the electrical, mechanical and chemical branches.

Construction – including the traditional ‘craft’ trades as well as ‘technician’ level work such as drafting and design work.

Care work – including work with the elderly and qualified practitioner work with children.

Catering – including traditional restaurant work, fast food and industrial catering.

Whilst there are more than 50,000 higher education courses on offer in the UK – and more at universities overseas – some areas of study prove particularly popular with Priestley students each year.

In recent years the most popular subjects with Priestley leavers have been;

Art including fashion and graphics

Business including finance and tourism

Computing and information technology


English including creative writing and journalism



Psychology and criminology

Science including medicine and veterinary

Sport including sports science and development

Teaching and childhood studies.

Although some university courses are very prescriptive about the subjects applicants must have to apply, in many cases it has always been possible at universities to apply with a wide range of subjects – in the same way as it is to apply for Advanced Level subjects you have not taken at GCSE.

Universities look for evidence that you have developed the required skills from those A Level subjects as well as having achieved the grades and or UCAS points required.

This is an intensive one-year course for students who have completed level 3 qualifications and are keen to develop their creative abilities. The aim is to educate students to make informed decisions which will allow them to progress, primarily but not exclusively to appropriate university courses in all areas of art and design. Currently more than 60% of university art and design students come from an Art Foundation course background.

The course builds on students’ previous experience (A Level or BTEC Extended / National Diploma), linking skills already acquired, with ideas and challenges which will extend their critical independence, and provide them with a full understanding of the career opportunities in the creative industries.

As a result of the course students are able to identify and apply to the courses at university to which they are best suited, build a strong, mature and varied portfolio for the university admissions process and work toward a level 4 ‘Final Exhibition’ which is equivalent to first year degree work.

Currently applicants will only be able to qualify as a nurse by studying for a degree in nursing. There are at this time five ‘branches’ of nursing;

  • Adult
  • Children
  • Learning disability
  • Mental health
  • Midwifery

In order to make a realistic application, you need decide on which of the five branches you are interested in, and the ‘Personal Statement’ of your university application needs to reflect this through you having undertaken relevant experience during your level three study.

Whilst entry requirements for nursing courses are decided by each individual university, in general they all look for a minimum of five GCSE grade C or better (including English, Mathematics and a Science).

Then at level three somewhere in the region of 112 to 120 UCAS points which can be from A Levels, BTEC National Diplomas, and the Cambridge Technical L3

For the very popular branches of nursing such as midwifery some universities are currently requiring at least some of your UCAS points to come from an A Level in Biology.

UCAS has a tariff system which allows level three qualification grades to be converted into points, these points can then be added together to give a total that are used by universities as a requirement to get onto a course.

Whilst many universities express their requirements in this way, some universities choose to express their requirements in terms of grades. For example ‘AAB’ for A Level students, or ‘Distinction, Distinction, Merit’ for students taking BTEC National qualifications.

The points awarded currently for the main level three qualifications under the UCAS tariff are as follows;


UCAS POINTS Extended Diploma Diploma Subsidiary Diploma A Level Extended Diploma A/S Level
168 D*D*D*
160 D*D*D
152 D*DD
144 DDD
128 DDM
112 DMM D*D*
104 D*D
56 D* A*
40 B
32 PP M C
28 A*
24 D A
20 B A
16 P E C B
12 D C
10 D
8 E
6 E

The overwhelming majority of level two leavers continue on to level three courses at Priestley, a small number of students will move on to other colleges for specialist courses such as those in animal care, construction or catering.

Level three leavers have two main destinations after Priestley. The largest number of students continue their education by going on to study at university.

A second large group of students choose to go into a wide range of employment and training opportunities (including apprenticeships). In addition each year there is a smaller group of students who take a ‘gap year’ before going on to university the following year.

Your personal tutor and subject teachers can all help. As specialists in their subject areas they have a wide range of experience and knowledge that you can draw upon.

If you are looking for more detailed guidance you should see one of our two college Careers Advisers who are based in Student Services.

They can help with;

  • Mapping out career options
  • Deciding on career aims
  • Choosing university courses
  • Looking at sources of finance,
  • Making job and apprenticeship applications
  • Accessing voluntary and work experience placements
  • Deciding on ‘Gap Year’ opportunities

As a starting point for your thinking you can begin to work through the careers information and research exercises on ‘Moodle’ the college virtual learning environment that all Priestley students have access to.

Beyond Priestley

As a college we make every effort to support our former students with any university application made in the years immediately after completing your studies. This support can take one of two forms;

  1. Individual advice and guidance from one of our qualified and experienced Careers Advisers covering issues such as choosing courses, writing your ‘Personal Statement’ and filling in your UCAS form.
  2. Providing a reference to support your UCAS application.

Because of the pressures of time and the demands of our current students, we ask any former students who want individual advice and guidance regarding their UCAS application to contact Student Services between 1st September and 30th December.

If you are clear about the decisions you have to make and confident about filling in your UCAS form, so simply require a reference to support your UCAS application. Please contact Student Services before 7th December at the latest. Please do not contact your former personal tutor directly, as all reference requests are dealt with in Student Services and doing so may delay your application reaching UCAS.

The college deadline for former students is 15th December.

Whilst we will make every attempt to process reference requests made after 15th December from former students, we can not guarantee that your application will reach UCAS before the January 15th closing date.

As a former student of Priestley we will support you with your apprenticeship / employment applications in a number of ways;

  1. If once you leave college you are experiencing problems finding an apprenticeship / employment, you can contact Student Services on 01925 633591 to talk to one of our Careers Advisers about your situation. If necessary we can book you in for a one to one interview to help you with your job search.
  2. Our Careers Advisers will send via email each week during the summer break, the latest apprenticeship / employment vacancies we are notified of, to all our leavers who have not made a university application.
  3. As your applications progress, we will process any requests for a reference about you by potential employers. Please ask any potential employer requiring a reference to contact Student Services, as requests that go directly to former tutors may be delayed particularly during the summer break.

Examination Results

A/S, A2 & Level 3 vocational course results will be available for collection on the 3rd  Thursday in August
GCSE and Level 2 vocational course results will be available for collection on the 4th Thursday in August

Examination Certificates
Examination certificates become available at different times depending upon the exam board, in general;

Level 2 Vocational Certificates will be available for collection from mid-December.
Level 3 Vocational Certificates will be available for collection from mid-December.
A/S, A2 and GCSE Certificates will be available for collection from the January following the end of your studies

It is always best to ring in advance to ensure your certificates have arrived in college from the exam board before you call in to collect them.

Once they are available, all examination certificates can be collected from reception in the Crescent building between 9:00am and 4:00pm each day.
In order to collect your certificates you will need to bring with you some form of identification, if you want another family member to collect your certificates on your behalf you will need to write them a letter of authority giving them permission to collect them on your behalf, and they will need to provide their own form of identification.

Please note it is not possible to send out any examination certificates in the post.