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Choices after 16

Now that you’ve reached fourth year you have some important decisions to make about your future. The time has come for some serious thinking about your options after school!

Even if you’ve already decided to stay on at school you still need to plan ahead. The subjects and courses you choose now will have an impact on the options open to you when you do leave.

Here's some information and advice to help you explore your options and decide what suits you best.

Your main options are:

  • staying on at school
  • going to college
  • going into a Modern Apprenticeship
  • going straight into a job
  • doing a training or employability programme 
  • or, like some school leavers you could go on to do voluntary work.

As you go through these options and consider them one by one, you should think about the following points.

  • Think about your long term career plans (if you have any yet): what’s going to help you to achieve them?
  • Work out the options that fit best with your skills and interests, and your attitude to studying.
  • Talk your ideas over with your parent or carer. Are there any money issues you need to think about?

Staying on at school


Staying on at school for a fifth, and often a sixth year, is becoming a more and more popular choice. Last year 75% of 16 year olds stayed on at school beyond their official leaving date. Why?

One important reason is that, in general, the longer you stay on the better your chances are of getting into work, training or full time education.

Here are some figures showing the percentages of Scottish school leavers in 2012 who got into work, training or full time education, according to when they left school:

  • 93% of S5 and S6 leavers
  • 81.4% of S4 summer leavers
  • 71.2% of S4 winter leavers.

Below are some of the benefits of staying on at school.

  • You have the chance to carry on with subjects you have developed a strong interest in (which should help you to get more qualifications).
  • You’ll have more time to think about what you want to do after school and find out about the careers and courses open to you.
  • You might be able to get involved in your school’s S5/S6 Vocational Programme and get the chance to study part time at a local college, and get a job related qualification while you are still at school.
  • You might also have the opportunity to take part in other activities that will help to prepare you for further study or the world of work, including youth awards, flexible work experience placements or voluntary work.

However, you need to think about how to make the most out of staying on at school.

  • You will have to think carefully about your subject choice for S5, and possibly also S6.
  • To get more qualifications you have to be prepared to put the work in.
  • Taking your time and exploring the options is one thing; just putting the decision off isn’t the same thing at all!
  • You still need to put the time in constructively, using the careers library, using career related computer software, visiting careers and job fairs and going to college and university open days.
  • You will have to do plenty of research on courses, and plan ahead, if you are thinking of applying to university or college next year.
  • When you’re ready to get to a decision point, talk over your plans with the careers adviser who visits your school and work out your career action plan.


Once you reach your 16th birthday you can apply for an Educational Maintenance Allowance (EMA) of £30 a week during term time if you are staying on at school, or college, and your family has a low income.

There are conditions attached. You can find out more by reading the information in ‘Funding for staying on at school or college (EMA)’ on PlanIT Plus or going direct to the EMA website at http://www.emascotland.com/

Going to college

By going to college full time:

  • you can learn new skills, preparing you for a job or area of work
  • you can develop your interest or skills in a specific career area
  • you can get the qualifications you need to take you into a more advanced course like a Higher National Diploma or a degree
  • you can dip your toe in the water; find out if you have the potential for going further with studying the subject.

You get the chance to:

  • be independent
  • meet new and different people
  • expand your social life.

You’ll have to get used to new ways of learning and thinking. You will have to make adjustments too. Study and assessment methods are likely to be different, often less exam focused, more practical or ‘hands on’.

Independence means taking responsibility.

  • Managing your own time – organising your work schedule, organising your free time, and handing work in on time.
  • Managing your ‘work life balance’ – making the most of being a student, enjoying the freedom that comes with it, but putting the work in because that’s how you get results.

If you go to college straight from S4 to do a full time non advanced course like a National Certificate (NC), National Qualification (NQ) or Scottish Vocational Qualification (SVQ) you can apply for either an EMA or a college bursary to finance your studies.

You should check the financial allowances you are entitled to before you decide what to claim. Read the information in ‘Funding full time further education’ on PlanIT Plus.


And another thing to bear in mind is that you’ll probably have to learn to combine work and college.

Around 60% of 16 and 17 year olds in full time education also have a part time job.

If you are interested in college remember to apply early, in January or February of the year you want to start the course.

In 2011-2012, 44% of S4 school leavers went into further education.

Going into a Modern Apprenticeship     

Modern Apprenticeships are now the main route to employment for people straight from school. There are almost 22,000 young people in Modern Apprenticeships in Scotland.

  • They give you the opportunity to start a job with guaranteed training towards a recognised work based qualification.
  • You can train as a Modern Apprentice in over eighty different jobs, from accounting technician to plumber.
  • Most apprenticeships don’t have formal entry requirements but for some you will need some relevant subjects at Standard Grade or National 4 or 5, and for technician level jobs you may need some Highers.
  • You may have to take an ‘aptitude’ test for some Modern Apprenticeships, particularly for craft level apprenticeships in construction and engineering.
  • How long it takes to complete your training depends on the type of job you go into, it ranges from two to four years.
  • You are an employee earning a wage of around £95 to £135 a week in your first year. From October 2013 the National Minimum Wage rate for Modern Apprentices is £2.68 an hour.
  • You train part time towards a recognised qualification – usually a Scottish Vocational Qualification (SVQ) Level 2 or 3, but some technician level apprenticeships will train you to SVQ Level 4, which is roughly equivalent to a Higher National Diploma (HND).

Not all types of Modern Apprenticeship are available in all areas, for example, the chances of getting an apprenticeship as a forest worker in Glasgow are pretty remote.

You can get more information from your careers adviser and from MappIT, the Scottish Modern Apprenticeship website at http://www.mappit.org.uk/

Going straight into a job

You could decide to look for a job. Opportunities are out there for school leavers, but the current economic situation means that they are limited. So, it’s really important that your job search skills are good.


To give yourself the best chance of finding a job that suits you should:

  • prepare your CV
  • get ready to take the initiative, get networking and contact employers that you think might have suitable vacancies
  • brush up on your interview technique.

And make sure you contact your local Skills Development Scotland Centre for information on local opportunities and for help with the skills involved in looking for a job. Contact the Skills Development Scotland Helpline at 0800 917 8000 for information on your nearest centre.

Hopefully, as well as getting into paid work you’ll also get the chance to do on the job training – even if it doesn’t lead to a recognised qualification.

In 2011-2012, 18% of S4 school leavers went into employment (including Modern Apprenticeships).

The Employability Fund and other employability programmes

If you don’t feel ready to move on to work, training or further education by the time you leave school, you could take part in a personal development or employability programme to help you to build up your confidence and skills.

The Employability Fund is a national programme that helps you to get some work experience and learn new skills. Its main aim is to give you the confidence to move into work, learning or further training.

  • You get paid a training allowance of at least £55 a week.
  • You get training in a range of skills and can try out ‘work tasters’ to help you to decide what’s best for you.
  • You get help with job hunting skills – interviews, CVs and application forms.

There is a wide range of programmes, which vary depending on the area you live in. They can be run by local community groups or employment initiatives. Some may even give you the chance to do voluntary or community work.

For more information on what’s available in your local area contact your careers adviser or local Skills Development Scotland Centre.


In 2011-2012, 15% of S4 school leavers went into training programmes.


Young volunteers get a lot out of volunteering, from work related skills to being part of something that makes a difference to their local community.


At the moment only a very small number of school leavers go into voluntary work when they leave school.

This has mainly been because so many volunteering opportunities were only open to people aged 18 or over. However, things are starting to change. More volunteering opportunities for young people aged 16 and above are planned.

The Scottish Government has introduced a programme called Community Jobs Scotland (CJS). Aimed mainly at 18-24 year olds who have been unemployed for six months or more, although there are some opportunities reserved for 16-17 year olds, it will involve working for a local community or voluntary organisation for at least six months. Those taking part will be paid at least the minimum wage.

You can find out more by taking a look at the article ‘Volunteering: What’s in it for me?’ on PlanIT Plus. Or visit the Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations (SCVO) website at http://www.scvo.org.uk/

In 2011-2012, 0.4% of school leavers went into voluntary work.

School leaving dates

In Scotland you can only legally leave school at one of the two official school leaving dates that apply to all pupils:

  • 31 May if your 16th birthday falls between 1 March and 30 September
  • the last day of term in December if your 16th birthday falls between 1 October and the end of February.

However, it is sometimes possible for pupils who are due to leave in December to spend their last term (August to December) at college rather than at school, doing a course that lasts 18 weeks or more. Your head teacher must give you permission before this can happen, and give the college evidence of this too.

Keeping your parents or carers informed

It’s important to remember that you can help your parents or carers to support you by talking with them about your options.

They may not be aware of all the different options open to you at this stage, or the types of career advice and support that are available in school or through your career coach.

Make sure that they see the S5 Options information from school, and are aware of any options or career-related events you take part in.

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