What is further education?

  • Emma Finamore
  • Last updated 01 Jun 2017

We look at further education and the courses school leavers could take. 


Further education – or abbreviated to FE – includes any study after secondary education that’s not part of higher education (that is, not taken as part of an undergraduate or graduate degree).

FE – further education – colleges offer a much wider range of courses than at sixth form colleges or schools , ranging from basic English and maths to Higher National Diplomas (HNDs). Most do offer A-levels, the same as sixth form colleges and schools, but also have a huge number of other qualifications available in different subjects and at different levels.

Level 1 qualifications are fairly basic, building confidence and providing an introduction to a subject, industry or area of work. They include, for example, NVQ Level 1, BTEC Introductory Certificates and OCR Nationals which are roughly equivalent to GCSEs gained at grades D to G. You would need qualifications at this level before progressing to level 2.

Level 2 qualifications (eg. NVQ level 2 and BTEC First) give a deeper understanding of a subject or area of work and are roughly equivalent to GCSEs at grades A* to C. Many employers like young people to have a Level 2 qualification as a minimum.

Level 3 qualifications include A and AS-levels, NVQ Level 3, BTEC Nationals, Advanced and Progression Diplomas. This level is almost always required for entry to university and many employers will be looking for Level 3 in applicants for more technical or supervisory roles.

Levels 4 to 8 may also be available in your local college but are classed as 'higher' rather than 'further' education. They include Foundation degrees, HND/HNC courses, Honours degrees and postgraduate or professional qualifications at a high level.

Not all colleges, however, will offer the same variety of subjects and courses, so it’s very important to check carefully what is available locally.

FE / further education funding

Many courses in reading, writing and basic maths are free, and you may not have to pay for tuition if you’re under 24 and studying for your first qualification equivalent to GCSE or A-level.

FE / further education students may be able to get help with the costs of:

·       Their course

·       Their day-to-day living costs

·       Childcare for any dependents

Depending on your circumstances and the subject you’re studying, you may qualify for:

·       Discretionary Learner Support

·       Residential Support Scheme

·       Care to Learn

·       Dance and Drama Awards

·       Professional and Career Development Loans

·       16 to 19 Bursary Fund

·       A loan to help with the costs of a college or training course if you’re 24 or older - called a 24+ Advanced Learning Loan



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