What you can do at 16 Without GCSEs

If your young person has attended school at any point it’s highly likely that they have been convinced that they will have no future if they don’t get GCSEs at 16. Luckily this is not true. Education doesn’t stop just because compulsory school age ends and if it turns out your young person does need GCSEs for their chosen path, there is nothing to stop them taking the exams later on. This post explains what you can do at 16 without GCSEs.

The Law Relating to Education Between 16 and 18

While the Government want every young person to stay in education until they are 18, when they made that law in 2013, they didn’t include anyway to enforce it. This effectively means there are no consequences to not staying in education.

It also allows young people to work full time if they choose, they just need to continue some kind of part time education. For more information have a look at the Government Guidance.

(Continue) Home Education

If you have already been home educating then there is no reason why this can’t carry on. The bonus of home educating past 16 is that the local authority are no longer required to make sure that your young person is receiving an education so if you have been supplying them with information that can stop.

If you were home educating before compulsory school age ended and receiving child benefit, you can continue to receive it while home educating post 16. Unfortunately Government employees don’t always realise this and sometimes need it pointing out to them.

If your young person was in school until the end of year 11 and then you start home educating, unfortunately you won’t be entitled to receive child benefit anymore.

Post 16 home education can look however you and your young person would like it to. Some people work towards GCSEs, taking them as a private candidate at an exam centre. Some people choose to work towards alternative qualifications like Functional Skills.

Other people don’t bother with qualifications at all and focus on life skills and supporting their young person’s interests.

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Go to College

Pretty much every college will have some course options for young people who don’t have GCSEs. What will be on offer will vary a great deal at different colleges so you’ll need to have a look at local college’s websites to get an idea.

Some colleges will expect a young person with no GCSEs to start on a level 1 course. There are usually limited subjects available at level 1 so it might be necessary to start with something they aren’t that interested in, in order to work their way up to a level 2 course that is more suited to their interests. Colleges will sometimes accept young people onto a level 2 course without GCSEs so it’s worth asking.

A quick look at my local college shows that at level 1 they offer a number of construction related courses, beauty therapy, hairdressing, social care and a broad course that introduces lots of different subject areas.

All colleges will require young people without GCSE Maths and English to study Maths and English alongside their course. They may work towards GCSEs or they may work towards a Functional Skills qualification. This is a condition of funding for colleges and as such can’t be avoided.

Do an Apprenticeship

Apprenticeships involve working in a a job and doing training at the same time while earning a small wage.

The entry requirements for apprenticeships are generally set by either the employer, or the college that offers the training side. There is no minimum entry requirement set by the Government. In areas that are competitive, the requirements will usually be higher than in areas that are struggling to recruit. So apprenticeships in the service or care industries are likely to have lower entry requirements than apprenticeships in the construction industry.

As with college, young people undertaking an apprenticeship who don’t have Maths and English GCSEs at 4 or above will be required to study them alongside their apprenticeship.

If you are interested in apprenticeships you can look on job sites like Indeed, look on the websites of large companies in the industry you’re interested in or see if your local college helps to arrange apprenticeships.

Get a Job

As mentioned previously, the law regarding staying in education until 18 has no means of being enforced. This effectively means that if a young person doesn’t want to stay in education, no one is going to make them. The local authority might contact them to ask what they are doing but, as the law currently stands, there are no consequences to not being in education.

Some employers might be hesitant about hiring an under 18 because of the law but the law says they can work full time but need to continue with education part time alongside it. Home education is a perfectly acceptable way to continue education and so could be done alongside a job.

Without GCSEs, options for work might be more limited but as long as they’re willing to start at the bottom and work their way up you, they’ll still have opportunities. They might start out flipping burgers for a living, but that’s unlikely to be their life, there are lots of opportunities to work your way up in most industries, McDonalds senior manager earn £70,000 plus a year!


Young people who would like to gain some experience in work could look at volunteering opportunities. There will be some limitations because of their age (some organisation require volunteers to be 18) however there will be more opportunities than there are for under 16s.

You can use the Get Volunteering website to find opportunities in your local area. There are some volunteering opportunities that can be done remotely which might suit young people who struggle with social situations.

Start a Business

If your young person is a budding entrepreneur they could consider starting their own business. This could be “in real life” or something online. You can earn up to £1000 a year from a business before you need to register with HMRC so it’s fairly straightforward to give it a go and then just register if it looks like it will be a success.

The Prince’s Trust offers support to young people who want to start a business. If you’re looking for appropriate business ideas, you can have a look at these teen business ideas.

The important thing about not having GCSEs is that it doesn’t need to stop you achieving your goals. There is plenty of time to get them, or other qualifications, later if you want to and plenty of opportunities to work your way up if you don’t.

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