The Complete Guide To UK Sixth Form: What You Need To Know

As students near the end of their secondary education in the UK, they are faced with a range of options for their next steps. For many, the choice of whether to continue studying at sixth form or to pursue other pathways can be a daunting one. The Sixth form offers a unique opportunity to delve deeper into subjects that students are passionate about and can provide the necessary qualifications for higher education. In this guide, we will explore the different options available for studying at sixth form in the UK and provide a comprehensive overview of what students can expect from each.

Complete Guide To UK Sixth Form


The Sixth Form represents the final years of secondary school, for pupils aged 16 to 18. The Sixth Form provides the academic preparation needed for university, transitioning pupils from GCSEs to an undergraduate degree.

In the UK, the 3 common courses in the sixth form are A-levels, and International Baccalaureate Diploma, and foundation programmes.

Here are some key facts about Sixth Form colleges in the UK:

  • 88% of Sixth Form colleges were rated good or outstanding by Ofsted at their latest inspection
  • 67% of Sixth Form college students progress to higher education (higher than further education colleges, academy, and school sixth forms)
  • 19% of sixth form college students progress to the most selective universities

Difference Between A Levels, IB Diploma and Foundation Programmes

A-levels and the International Baccalaureate (IB) are two different paths that students can take to earn their secondary school qualifications in the UK. While both offer a route to higher education, there are several differences between the two.

One key difference is the number of subjects studied. A-levels typically involve studying three or four subjects in depth, whereas the IB requires students to study six subjects, including two languages, mathematics, science, humanities, and the arts. This means that IB students have a broader range of subjects to choose from, which can help them to discover new interests and passions.

Another major difference is the way that the two qualifications are scored. A-levels are graded on a scale of A* to E, with A* being the highest grade. The IB, on the other hand, uses a numerical grading system from 1 to 7, with 7 being the highest grade. The IB also takes into account the student’s performance in the compulsory core program, which includes the Theory of Knowledge, an Extended Essay, and an evaluation of the student’s Creativity, Action, and Service (CAS) activities.

Furthermore, while A-levels are more subject-specific, the IB has a more holistic approach to education. The IB core program requires students to explore a range of academic and personal areas, including philosophy, critical thinking, and community service. This approach aims to develop well-rounded, global citizens who are equipped with the skills and knowledge needed to succeed in higher education and beyond.

Finally, there is a difference in the way that A-levels and the IB are delivered. A-level courses are usually taught through a combination of classroom instruction, independent study, and assessment through exams. In contrast, the IB is delivered through a combination of classroom instruction, independent research, and assessment through coursework and exams.

In addition to A-Levels and the International Baccalaureate (IB), students in the UK also have the option of taking foundation programs to prepare them for university. These programs are usually one year in length and are designed to provide students with the necessary skills and knowledge to succeed in higher education.

Unlike A-Levels and IB, which focus on academic subjects, foundation programs typically include a combination of academic and vocational courses, as well as language and study skills support. These programs are often taken by students who may not have received suitable grades in A-Levels or IB, or who did not have the opportunity to take such qualifications.

Another difference between foundation programs and A-Levels or IB is that foundation programs are not typically subject-specific. Instead, they provide a broad base of knowledge across a range of subjects to ensure that students have the necessary skills to succeed in their chosen degree course.

Overall, the choice between A-Levels, IB, and foundation programs will depend on a student’s individual goals and preferences. A-Levels provide more specialized preparation for further study, while IB offers a wider range of subjects and a more holistic approach. Foundation programs are designed to prepare students for university-level study and can be a good option for those who did not perform well in A-Levels or IB. Ultimately, it is important for students to carefully consider their options and choose the path that best suits their needs and aspirations.

Sixth Form Requirements For Students

Sixth form entry requirements in the UK can vary depending on the school or college. Generally, students will need to have completed their GCSEs or equivalent qualifications, achieving at least a grade 4 (formerly a grade C) in English and mathematics. However, some schools and colleges may require higher grades in certain subjects or overall.

In addition to academic requirements, some schools and colleges may also take into account a student’s extracurricular activities, personal statement, and teacher recommendations when making admissions decisions. This is especially true for more selective schools and colleges, which may have a high demand for places.

It’s important to note that entry requirements can differ depending on the type of sixth form qualification a student is pursuing. For example, some schools and colleges may require students to have a certain number of GCSEs in specific subjects to be eligible for A-Levels or the International Baccalaureate. Similarly, foundation programs may have different entry requirements based on the subject area or level of study.

Ultimately, it’s important for students to carefully research the entry requirements of the schools and colleges they are interested in applying to. By doing so, students can ensure they meet the necessary criteria and give themselves the best chance of being accepted into their chosen sixth form program.

Role Of Extra-curricular Activities In Sixth Form

Besides ensuring students to get perfect grades, extracurricular activities play an important role at Sixth form colleges.

There is a wide array of activities to choose from such as sports, theatre, debating, law, and many more. 

Sixth form colleges invest in professional coaches and teachers that can bring students to greater heights in their hobbies! 

Top-notch facilities such as swimming pools and tennis courts are present to make sure students get the best learning experience.

Sixth Form Results - How To Choose A School

When choosing a sixth form school or college to study at in the UK, it’s important to take into account the academic results of the school (besides the type of sixth form course offered). This will help you choose a school with higher academic standards which can help you or your child get into a top university.

You can check the latest results for A-levels and IB Diploma on our website:

Frequently Asked Questions

What is Sixth Form in the UK?

Sixth Form is the final two years of secondary education in the UK, typically for students aged 16 to 18. It is a period of study that prepares students for university and offers a range of academic and vocational qualifications.

What Age is Sixth Form in the UK?

Sixth Form in the UK is for students aged 16 to 18, typically in their final two years of secondary education.

Why is it Called Sixth Form in the UK?

The term “sixth form” comes from the historical practice of schools having five forms or grades, with the sixth form being added for students in their final two years of study. This practice has continued to the present day, with the term “sixth form” being used to describe the period of study that prepares students for university.


So that’s it, folks! If you’re a student in the UK who’s about to finish your secondary education, you have several options for your next steps. From A-Levels and the International Baccalaureate to foundation programs, there’s something for everyone. Don’t forget to consider your interests, strengths, and goals before making a decision. And hey, extracurricular activities are also a big part of the sixth form experience, so make sure to choose a school that offers the right activities for you. By doing your research and choosing the right path, you’ll be well on your way to success in higher education and beyond. Good luck!

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