The Further Education system in the UK

The UK Further Education system is often misunderstood. It provides a range of opportunities for students of all ages to participate in a range of educational (academic) or vocational (professional) courses, many of which are closely linked to the needs and requirements of industry and commerce.

Many courses are designed to enable the students to develop a range of skills to enhance their individual opportunities in the ‘job market’ or can be used as ‘currency’ to access Higher Education programmes.

Further Education courses are available in the college sector, which may be either state sector or independent sector. The independent sector only provides for approximately 5% of the total and is often restrictive in its provision.

Centres of Further Education can be known by a number of different titles and no two colleges are alike, although many offer very similar courses.

There are Colleges of Further Education, Colleges of Technology, Technical Colleges, Colleges of Arts and Technology, Tertiary Colleges, and, for immediate post 16 education, Sixth Form Colleges.

The range of study programmes available in the Further Education sector is very large, at one end of the scale. It provides opportunities for students to learn English, develop study skills and improve communication skills.

At the other end of the scale many colleges offer either full 1st degree programmes or substantial elements of 1st degree programmes, through their links with the Higher Education and University sector.

International students continuing their studies in the UK have reached their levels of academic attainment using different pathways and models of education.

The differences in their educational experience and understanding of courses available in the UK means that for many, some form of Further Education programme is both necessary and appropriate.

Many international students cannot, for example, satisfy the entry requirements of universities because they lack the necessary study skills, qualifications, levels of English proficiency, or the knowledge required for specialist courses.

Further education colleges are well placed to service the above needs of students in a number of different ways. They provide the following:

Courses in English
Courses in English are available to students at all levels, from general English courses through to specialised professional programmes for overseas teachers of English.

GCSE and ‘A’ level programmes
There is a wide portfolio of GCSE courses which aim to add to, or improve, qualifications gained at school. ‘A’ levels are the most popular form of entry to Higher Education.

They give a wide range of choice and are acceptable at all levels of HE by UK institutions and others worldwide. The ‘A’ level programme is demanding and often found to be difficult for students for whom English is not their first language. These programmes run over one, one and a half, or two years.

Foundation and Access programmes to Higher Education programmes
These satisfy the university entry criteria in the following areas of study: science, engineering, humanities and medicine. Usually lasting one year, they combine study skills, communication and language application with the main areas of study.

Many Further Education and Sixth Form colleges provide Foundation and Access courses affiliated to specific UK universities and degree courses, making entry to an undergraduate programme easier.

Many universities have their own Foundation programme, designed specifically for a range of degree programmes at their own particular university and will have a special emphasis.

GNVQ Foundation, Intermediate and Advanced programmes
General National Vocational Qualifications (GNVQs) provide an alternative to academic (‘A’ level) qualifications for students, who can then go to a university, or go directly into a specific job area.

Popular areas include:

  • Art and Design
  • Business
  • Health and Social Care
  • Leisure and Tourism
  • Manufacturing
  • Built Environment
  • Hospitality and Catering
  • Science
  • Engineering
  • Information Technology

GNVQs offer a broad-based vocational education at three levels:

  • Foundation (equivalent to four GCSEs grades D-E or NVQ level 1)
  • Intermediate (equivalent to four GCSEs grades A-C or BTEC First of NVQ level 2)
  • Advanced (equivalent to two ‘A’ levels, BTEC National or NVQ level 3)

All levels prepare you for a range of jobs and further study. Advanced level can lead to Higher Education and can be studied alongside ‘A’ levels and ‘AS’ levels (academic qualifications).

NVQ Programmes at all levels
NVQs are awarded by UK professional bodies in the same way as GNVQs. They are not as broad-based as GNVQs, but as specifically work-related. Students are assessed by their performance in the work place.

Most colleges offer NVQs if competence can be assessed in a simulated work environment on site in the college, such as for office-related subjects, hairdressing and beauty therapy, catering and hotel operations, and engineering.

National Diploma Programmes
These are for students who are committed to a particular discipline, eg Electronics, Information Technology. These courses are designed to develop a range of skills as well as providing the underpinning knowledge in the specific area.

Higher National Diploma Programmes
These are more vocationally based courses and offer more gradual progress into Higher Education.

Students on this progression of study can continue accessing the educational support facilities/mechanisms which were available during the Foundation programme.

Successful students at this level can gain enhanced or guaranteed entry onto an undergraduate programme.

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