A Parent/Carer’s Guide to Post-16 Options

18th September 2020

Your young person is now in Year 11 and preparing for their GCSEs. Although these are changing times, now is the time to prepare for post 16 choices if you have not started already.

We hope that this brief guide will help you and your young person.

Note: your situation may vary slightly, depending on the school your child attends.



Current Year 11 students will be applying for courses in schools and colleges across Kent either using an application portal called Kentchoices (from the end of October – see links below) or via direct application to their school, college or training provider of choice.

If applying outside of Kent, students will need to either apply with a direct application to their chosen provider or using that county’s or borough’s online application portal (if available).

A few schools have internal application processes which allow students to apply to their current school on a paper application form.

  • In many schools, Year 11 students will have made their initial applications for schools and/or colleges by December.

Each school and college have their own deadlines for applications, so be sure to find out when these are by speaking to each school and college your son or daughter is interested in applying to at open days.

Open Days

From early October, many schools and colleges usually hold open days aimed at Year 11 students, to show what courses they have available and to allow students and parents/carers a chance to look around.

  • Covid-19: due to the current circumstances open days will look a little different with some being “virtual”. Others will be a mixture of face-to-face opportunities to provide a chance to speak with tutors and staff, alongside additional online resources.
  • Open day details can be found in the above links and on the websites of schools and colleges.

Social Media

It is advisable to explore the social media content of schools and colleges on popular platforms such as YouTube, Facebook, Instagram and Twitter to see what additional information schools and colleges are providing, as well as reviews by former students.

Some colleges already have virtual tours available on YouTube, with 360-degree visuals on their websites and embedded in their course pages (here are some examples below):

Aim to attend as many open days as possible at the schools/colleges you are interested in.

Remember some schools and colleges also provide residential or boarding opportunities which may incur additional costs. However, these costs can sometime be covered by scholarship and/or financial packages of support (contact each school for details).


It is important to do your research; there are a few important questions you can ask:

  • Check the facilities and ask what equipment you may need to purchase (if looking to take a specialist course such as mechanics or catering) and whether the college or school can help with the cost of these.
  • It is advisable to ask what the progression rate is to what you wish to do. E.g. “If studying carpentry how many students go on to become carpenters afterwards?”
  • You can also ask how many students “drop-out” or leave once starting their studies, as well as how much support is available and how far you may have to travel.
  • You may find these links useful for your research: Find and compare schools in England – GOV.UK and Career Research Strategies –  CXK YouTube
  • If you can, speak to students who already attend the school or college and talk to the teachers, as well as support staff at the school or college, to find out what each place is like.
  • Ensure you find out what their school policies are on dress code, attendance and behaviour as well as how they assess progress.
  • Lastly, listen to your heart and gut instincts as they may be telling you something that your head has missed!


Schools and colleges start interviewing students from January onwards, with some running a first-come, first-served process. When they are full, some start a ‘waiting list’. It is for this reason that an early application is vital once your young person knows what they wish to study.

  • Note: there are not always enough places on every course for every student to always have their first choice. An early application reduces the chance of disappointment!

Some courses are more popular than others, so getting in early can be vital!

The level of course they can apply for will vary depending on the grades they are predicted by their teachers.

Courses at post 16 vary significantly in depth and breadth, with options available for students with complex SEND requirements, for those with no qualifications (or very few) all the way through to courses for students who are predicted to gain grades 4 or higher at GCSE.

Some courses are very practical and others more exam based; there really is something for everyone!

  • Make sure you take a pathway which suits your needs and how you like to learn, whether exams, coursework, vocational or creative.

Kent County Council (KCC)

KCC has a statutory duty to track the destinations of all young people at ages 16 and 17 during the two academic years of Year 12 and Year 13. This data is used to target resources and provide additional coordinated support to the most vulnerable young people, through the Early Help and Preventative Services, Virtual School Kent and the Care Leavers Service.

You may have heard of this referred to as the September Guarantee. For this reason, you may receive literature or be contacted during the school year with regards this. Part of this is to make sure young people are engaged in education, employment or training to meet the Raising Participation Age and to make sure your son or daughter is OK next year.

How many places can we apply to?

Young people can apply to as many places as they like (whilst they are figuring out what they wish to do) and can keep all of their offers of places open until the day they enrol in September (they do not have to specify their final choice until they have received their GCSE results).

If they are worried or confused

If they are worried, stuck or confused about the future, it may be helpful for them to attend a careers guidance interview.

  • Schools in England have a statutory duty to provide access to independent, impartial information, advice and guidance (IAG), from a fully qualified, level 6 careers adviser. Ask at your son or daughter’s school how you can access these services.

CXK have a team of dedicated and highly trained independent careers advisers who deliver these services at many schools across Kent. Our advisers are qualified to level 6 (the same as teachers). As well as providing support to schools we also provide a private service to parents, carers and their children which you can find here: CXK Services: Careers Information, Advice and Guidance for your Young Person.

If you are unable to access independent IAG, some colleges provide free access to their own careers advisers and information services (although not all are level 6 qualified).

Alternatively, the National Careers Service for teenagers can also be accessed for free on social media and by telephone: Careers helpline for teenagers – GOV.UK.

Art Subjects

If you son or daughter is looking to study art, design, photography, media or illustration you may find they will need to put together a portfolio of work (including sketchbooks for some courses). The depth and breadth each school or college looks for varies but often they look to see a combination of work which has been completed at school and home which evidences their enthusiasm and initial ability.

If looking to apply for performing arts, music, dance or acting, an audition piece may need to be prepared. If applying for private study elsewhere this website may be useful: Dance and Drama Awards: funding for students – GOV.UK.

Schools and Colleges aren’t looking for “finished artists, designers or actors”, they are looking for potential, so keep this in mind when applying.

If you are interested in the arts but haven’t studied these at GCSE you can still apply for a lower level course and work your way up.


It is advisable that students apply to more than one place for several reasons. If they don’t achieve the grades they need for their first choice, it is useful for them to have a second option with lower entry criteria.

If they are also unsure of their final choice and wish to keep their options open until results day, a variety of applications can be very desirable (so as not to put all their eggs in one basket).

  • Note: some schools and colleges will accept students on a level 2 programme of study and will have a level 1 programme they can offer in September if students don’t achieve the grades they need on results day. In this case, your son or daughter would only need to apply for the level 2.
  • However, if the school or college don’t have a lower level course, they may need to apply for a level 1 course at another college or training centre as a back-up, just in case.

Be mindful that courses can sometimes change at the last minute in schools or colleges, so as a rule of thumb have at least two applications made where possible, unless there are circumstances which affect doing this – for example, if your son or daughter has a special education needs or disabilities (SEND) requirement and needs to focus on making a supported transition to just one school or college.


If you son or daughter has SEND requirements (with or without an EHCP) it is advisable to discuss supported transitions with your SENCO and the school or college you are applying to. Some have the capacity to offer support whereas others have less.

Speak to your school about the support you can access this autumn as getting support in place can take longer than expected in some cases.

In addition, you can access support from the SEND team at KCC:

There are also supported apprenticeships available for students with SEND, called Supported Employment. The team at:  Specialist Employment – The Education People can help you explore this as an option.

Financial Help

A variety of help is available:

If circumstances provide you with greater worries, it is important that you speak to the school or college you are applying to, as some have hardship funds you can access through them as well as staff trained in financial support.

Apprenticeships, Traineeships and Study Programmes

School or college is not the only option for young people. Some young people may wish to consider a traineeship, apprenticeship or study programme, these are alternatives to the traditional school or college options.

  • A study programme is a course of study from six weeks to a year which may include maths, English and often work experience and employability skills. Aimed mainly at students of a lower ability or those who find mainstream education a challenge, they form pathways into apprenticeships and/or further education. Students may find they take several study programmes over the course of a year, with each varying in length.
  • Traineeships can follow college, school or study programmes. Encompassing up to six months of unpaid work experience, they are a stepping-stone to an apprenticeship. Some providers put together a programme of support that starts with a study programme and then builds to a traineeship, followed by an apprenticeship.
  • Apprenticeships come in all shapes and sizes, with varying entry criteria (the more technical ones require 4s and above in English and maths GCSE). Most involve one day a week at a college or a training centre, with the rest of the time (four days a week) at work. Students receive a training wage[iv].

Apprenticeships must now include a guarantee of work when they are completed.

Applications for each of these differ to the school or college process as follows:

  • Study programmes and traineeships for Kent can be found at: Ready to Work.

There is a wide range so search carefully. Applications can be made through this website and it is possible to arrange to visit each provider before starting. Although many will not have set open days, most are happy for students, parents and carers to visit. Due to their nature, some have very limited places (only taking about twelve to fourteen young people on a programme).

With regards to apprenticeships there are many helpful and useful websites, with some being sector specific. Speak to your careers adviser in school to access the sites you need for the occupational area(s) which interest you. Websites for applications include:

Apprenticeship vacancy listings will be open all year round, but for Year 11 students the applications with a September often start from around March onwards. Places are hard to find and competitive, so if taking this route make sure you also have a backup in place!

Many apprenticeships are found through networks (as opposed to just the vacancy sites above). It is important for young people and their families to develop their networks and relationships with local employers, as this increases the chances of them finding an apprenticeship. This can be via work experience with local employers or even speaking to friends and family.

  • For example, if you were interested in working in a hairdresser, finding either a Saturday job or work experience could convince an employer to take you on.

If help is needed in developing a strategy to do this (such as how to write a CV or approach employers), students should speak to their independent careers adviser in school who will be able to support them with this.

Sometimes, students decide to undertake Post 16 study at school, college or a study programme/traineeship first, as this can help build their confidence, before applying for an apprenticeship when they are older.

If you are considering applying for an apprenticeship, study programme or looking for work experience you can find further help via our handouts.

Results Day

Results day in August 2021 will come round very quickly! It is important that your son or daughter accesses as much help as they can beforehand. Some schools will start extra revision lessons in January 2020 and have teachers available to help; speak to your school to find out what opportunities for extra study are available as soon as you can.

Results day can be a mixture of emotions, depending on what has happened. If all has gone well, there will be no drama and just an enjoyable day.

If It Goes Wrong

If your son or daughter starts a course at school or college, many offer a two to six week window at the start of term where they can change their mind about what they are studying (if they are having second thoughts) and switch to a different course (subject to places being available). Speak to your school or college about this at the time, if needed.

If you find that your son or daughter hasn’t received the grades they need for their course (and haven’t got a back-up in place) the first thing to do is to speak to the school or college they applied to and see if they can help.

If not, you will need to start contacting local schools and colleges to see what is available with the grades they have. Choices at this stage can be very limited, but some colleges and schools lay on support services to help at this time, as does CXK.

  • Sometimes schools and colleges will have to cut courses at the last minute if they do not get enough students applying or if staff leave over the summer. So, even if your grades look certain and you are offered a place at your first choice of school or college, there is still no guarantee your course will run.

Keep this in mind and consider having back-ups in place!

  • If your son or daughter doesn’t gain their grades 4 or above in English and maths GCSE, they will find that they will be asked to re-sit these; either as functional skills or GCSEs… this is the same whether they attend school, college or a study programme. Often these are in addition to their main studies.

If on results day your son or daughter is stuck, they will need to speak to a qualified and independent careers adviser as soon as possible; contact us at CXK if you need this support or the National Careers Service exam helpline.


All of this may feel a little daunting, but our careers advisers in schools as well as our colleagues at the National Careers Service helpline for teenagers are here to support you if you have any questions or queries.

  • According to some experts many of us won’t know what we really want to do until we are closer to our thirties. Our teenage years and twenties are often spent “trying out” and “finding out” about the things we may wish to do or be.
  • For our young people, these years are a series of transitions and transformations, as they begin to fulfil their destinies; for the adults in their lives, this can be somewhat nerve wracking! If you find you or your young person need support, please contact us at CXK and we will do what we can to help.

We wish everyone the best of luck with their GCSEs and future!

Written by Chris Targett RCDP, Careers Adviser

Where to Get Career Advice

CXK provides confidential and impartial careers information, advice and guidance to help you make decisions on learning, training and work opportunities. If you’re a young person looking for support, or a parent looking for careers advice for your young person, visit our Careers Advice for Young People page.

The National Careers Service provides free, up to date, impartial information, advice and guidance on careers, skills and the labour market in England to anyone aged 13 and upwards. To speak to a National Careers Service adviser, call 0800 100 900 or use our webchat (8am to 10pm, 7 days a week)

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