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School leaving age: Can you leave school at 16 and what are your options?

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School leaving age

It is compulsory for young people to be in education or training until the age of 18, but that doesn’t mean you have to stay in school if it isn’t right for you.

There are plenty of different routes to go down when you turn 16, whether that’s going to college to do A Levels or a vocational course like a T Level, or starting to earn while learning as an apprentice.

Here we talk you through your post-16 options, from school and college, to apprenticeships and supported internships.

How old do you need to be to leave school?

Legally, you can leave school on the last Friday in June if you’ll be 16 by the end of the summer holidays. However, by September, you will need to be in official education or training.

These are your options:

  • stay in full-time education, e.g. at a college, doing A Levels, T Levels or other academic qualifications,
  • start an apprenticeship,
  • work or volunteer for 20 hours or more a week while in part-time education or training.

Why is education and training compulsory for 16 to 18-year-olds?

We believe that being in education or training allows young people to develop the skills they need later in life, opening doors to future employment and helping them make the most of their potential.

This also reduces the chance of unemployment, boosts earning potential, and allows young people to develop new skills in different educational environments.

Whatever route you take, we’re also considering ways to make sure everyone is getting some form of maths education that is suited to their needs, until the age of 18. This will make sure all young people have the skills necessary to thrive in their chosen career. It doesn't mean that you have to take A Level maths though. You can read more about it here.

Can I work full-time after leaving school?

You can go to work, undertake voluntary work, become an intern or even set up your own business when you leave school.

However, you’ll still need to be doing part-time training or study at the same time that leads to a regulated qualification, like a Vocational Technical Qualification (VTQ). This means that as well as gaining valuable experience, you’ll also gain a recognised accreditation that supports your future career.

Part-time education or training alongside full-time work must be of at least 280 guided learning hours (GLH) per year. This means the equivalent of about one day a week spent being taught by a lecturer, supervisor or tutor. These hours can be taken flexibly around working hours, as distance learning, or in blocks.

What is an apprenticeship?

Apprenticeships are a great option for young people from the age of 16 to begin their careers across a range of exciting industries. You’ll work and get paid, while doing off-the-job training at the same time.

There are thousands of apprenticeship vacancies on offer, with more than 640 high-quality apprenticeships approved for use by employers, and can help to kickstart a career in anything from space engineering to advertising.

If you’re keen to get a degree but don’t think university is the right choice for you, you can also do a degree apprenticeship, which allows you to earn a full undergraduate or masters degree while you work.

What are T Levels?

T Levels are the gold standard vocational course, and a high-quality alternative to A levels. One T Level is worth the same UCAS points as three A Levels.

They are two-year programmes with 80% of that time spent in the classroom, and 20% on a minimum nine-week industry placement with an employer.

There are 16 T Levels already available to study in a range of exciting subject areas including digital, education, health, science, construction finance and accounting. More courses will be available from September 2023 including legal services and agriculture.

What is a supported internship?

Supported internships are a work-based study programme for young people aged 16 to 24 who have an EHC plan. The aim is for interns to gain the skills and confidence to achieve their long-term career goals.

They usually last for one year and include work placements that last at least six months. Interns are also helped by a qualified job coach who is trained to offer personalised support. Find out more here.

Getting advice on what to do after school

We know that working out what to do after school can seem overwhelming. To help pupils figure out their options, all state-funded secondary schools must provide independent careers guidance, including appointing a Careers Leader who oversees the careers programme. Ask your school about what careers guidance they can offer.

The National Careers Service also provides free and impartial careers advice for anyone over the age of 13. If you’d like personalised advice from a qualified adviser, including on what to do when you leave school, there are lots of ways to get in touch including by phone, webchat or in person.

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