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A parents’ guide: How to choose from A levels, T levels or apprenticeships

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Helping your teen choose the right path for their future in education, and what choices they have in Blackpool, can be confusing. Here, we look at the choices.

By the time your teen is in year 10 and 11 their thoughts will definitely be turning to the future … does life at college or university beckon, do they want to study a vocational course, take up an apprenticeship, or go straight into the world of work.

After looking after generations of young people, the team at Blackpool Sixth has put together a handy guide to help parents understand the options for 2023/2024 and beyond. Blackpool Sixth was recently rated as ‘Outstanding’ in all areas by Ofsted and so can definitely be relied upon to provide an excellent education and learning experience for your teen.

A levels

Students going into Year 12 with an academic focus will be considering A Levels as their primary choice. These are excellent for those who want to pursue a subject they have enjoyed at school in much greater depth and at a high level. There are also lots of A Levels in subjects that are generally not offered at GCSE level such as law, psychology, politics, and environmental science.

Students who are studying a fully A level programme need to take three of these. A levels are assessed mainly by exam but this varies from subject to subject and some have a large element of coursework such as art-based A levels.

A levels are great for progression to university but also for higher apprenticeships and high-quality employment options. At Blackpool Sixth they offer 35 different A level courses. These can be combined in almost any combination to match the interests of the student and any career direction they have.

Vocational level 3 qualifications

These are the same level as A levels in terms of the national framework of qualifications. The main title for these qualifications is BTEC but there are others such as CTEC (Cambridge Technicals).

The focus for these qualifications is on building up knowledge and skills related to a particular area of employment such as health and social care, fashion, performing arts, IT. They are often available in single, double or even triple formats, so a student taking these can specialise more in a particular area than is possible with A level.

Although these qualifications are focused on particular job areas, they all cover a wide range of transferable skills and so can be used for progression to a very wide range of careers. They are also very well respected by universities. They are assessed mainly by coursework, practical assignments and even through work placements in some cases.

Almost all though do include an examination element. An aspect of Blackpool Sixth's curriculum which sets it apart from most other colleges is that we do allow students to combine A levels and Vocational level 3 qualifications.

Blackpool Sixth offers 29 different vocational level 3 courses.

T levels

Within the vocational category, a new type of qualification is the T level. T levels are an exciting new alternative to A levels, BTECs, apprenticeships and other 16-19 courses. Developed with employers, they are equivalent to three A levels and combine the academic elements of A Levels with the vocational aspects of BTECs and the practical experience of apprenticeships.

As a T level student, you will spend 80% of the course in college learning skills and 20% in an industry placement, putting these skills into action.

Blackpool Sixth is offering T levels in Health (Adult Nursing) and Digital for entry in September 2024.

Other routes to education

Some students will need an extra year before moving on to the next level of qualifications, usually because they haven't quite got the grades to take 'advanced' or Level 3 options straightaway. Fortunately, there is the option of re-taking some core GCSEs such as English and maths and combining these with other GCSEs or with Level 2 vocational options.

Blackpool Sixth has a very successful Transition Programme which helps students bridge the gap between GCSE-level and Level 3 (A level equivalent) study in one year.


Another possibility for school leavers are apprenticeship programmes. These focus on “on the job” training with most of the time spent working for an employer, with some time set aside for learning job-related skills and knowledge.

Blackpool Sixth does not offer apprenticeship programmes for school leavers but an increasing number of students do progress on to higher-level apprenticeships, including degree-level apprenticeships when they have completed their qualifications with us.

Entering an apprenticeship after completing college is a “best of both worlds” option. Students who have already completed A levels or other Level 3 qualifications are able to enter apprenticeships and employment with a lot of knowledge and skills that employers greatly value. This puts them in a great position for promotion and progress within their chosen industry.

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