10 facts you need to know about A levels

10 facts you need to know about A levels

Doing the jump between GCSE and A levels can often be a tricky one, especially as there are many things to consider – like career paths and course options. 

But even if you haven’t decided on what career you want to do in the future, you can still make an educated decision about your, well, education.

That’s why we’ve put together a list of key things you need to know about A levels to help you feel confident and prepare you for the journey ahead. 

  1. What even is an A level? 

Advanced Level qualifications (or A levels to you and me) are subject-based qualifications that can lead to university, further training, a job or an apprenticeship. These two-year qualifications prepare you for the future by increasing your knowledge and specialism in a range of subject areas and they pack your CV full of valuable skills. 

  1. What does an A level involve?

A levels usually last for two years and involve classroom-based learning with end-of-year exams.

  1. How many A levels can you take? 

Most students in the UK usually study three or four A level subjects. This is particularly beneficial as it means that you don’t have to choose between your favourite ones and you get to learn about them at an advanced level. 

  1. Do you need A levels for university?

Not always, but A levels are the traditional route into university because most entry requirements focus on your final A level results. Some universities also take into account your AS levels and GCSEs. 

A levels aren’t the only way to get to university. Other options include an Access to Higher Education (Access to HE) diploma or adding a foundation year to an undergraduate degree course.

  1. Do universities care what A levels you study? 

If you have a career path in mind, it’s important to check university entry requirements before applying as some universities require specific A levels. For example, if you want to apply for a science degree, a university will typically expect to see a science A level among your grades. 

However, you might not know what career path you want to follow and that’s okay too. If you’re not yet sure about your university plans, it’s best to keep your options open by choosing a range of A-level subjects that play to your strengths and you enjoy studying.

  1. Are A levels harder than GCSEs? 

Are A levels hard, you ask? In short, yes. You may notice a slight jump from doing GCSEs to A levels as they are considered to be a more advanced qualification. However, there are many benefits that come with A levels that you don’t get with GCSEs. 

Thanks to the reduced number of subjects, studying A levels means flexible timetables, more opportunity to study independently and take ownership of your learning.   

  1. Can I do A levels without GCSEs?

In order to study A levels, you will need five GCSEs graded 9-4, including English and Maths (or equivalent) and three additional GCSE qualifications at grade 9-4 or BTEC equivalents. Grade 4 is equivalent to a grade C.

A level

To see the grades required for your subject, take a look at our subject-specific entry requirements. 

  1. What if I don’t want to do A levels? 

If A levels don’t sound like your cup of tea and you’re looking for something a bit more hands on, T Levels and vocational courses are a great alternative. At Leeds Sixth Form College, we offer a range of vocational pathways that complement your A levels – allowing you to specialise in a particular subject whilst gaining industry experience. 

  1. Can I get a job with A levels and no degree?

Many students go on to higher education after studying A levels, but others choose to do an apprenticeship or enter employment. The good news is that there are a range of careers that don’t require a degree or higher education. In fact, many sectors even train you from within the career, like the hospitality industry or professions like dental hygienists, pharmacy technicians and administrators. 

  1. What happens if I need support during my studies?

Sometimes studying can be stressful, but if you are ever struggling or need that extra bit of guidance, we offer academic and pastoral support throughout the year. 

So, now that you have the scoop on A levels, all that’s left to do is choose what you’re going to study. Good luck!

How to make the most of an Open Event

How to make the most of an Open Event

Open events are a great way to get a feel for college life and discover more about the subjects you’re interested in.

If you have any friends or family that go to the college you’re interested in, you probably know a little bit about it. However, if it’s your first time experiencing it for yourself, you might not know where to start or what you need to be aware of. 

That’s why to help you make the most of an open event at Leeds Sixth Form College, we’ve put together a few handy tips.

Planning ahead

The main things you need to consider before an open event are what you are hoping to gain and what you want to see. It’s easy to feel overwhelmed with the number of options available, especially when you’re unsure of what you want to study. Researching A level subjects beforehand will help you prepare for what facilities you need to tour and who you’ll need to speak to. 

You’ll also need to plan your journey. Our sixth form college is located in the city centre, just a 10-minute walk from the train station with various bus stops located around our campus.

Tour our campus

A good way to know if a subject is right for you is to see where you’ll be studying it – which is where taking a tour of our facilities comes in. 

We have a range of exciting new facilities such as our independent learning zones situated on each floor, specially designed as quiet places to study.

When you’re not studying, our Natural Press coffee shop is a popular lunch spot which offers hot drinks, hot food and delicious confectionaries. The cafe is designed as an eco-conscious environment with plants throughout the space. 

Don’t forget to visit our modern science laboratories, as well as our new pharmaceutical suite that our STEM students use to gain experience and practical skills. 

Meet our tutors 

At every open event, there will be a tutor representing each of our courses. They’re there to chat with you about things like what you’ll learn on your course, what trips you may go on and what career opportunities the course will bring. 

They’re there to guide you on making the right choice for you and are always happy to chat with you about your subject in more detail. 

  • What does the course cover?
  • What student support is available?
  • What have previous students gone on to do for work/university after finishing this course?
  • What qualifications will I need for the course I want to apply for?

What to bring

We always advise you to bring along your booking confirmation to the event. You’re also welcome to attend with a friend, parent or guardian if you’d prefer to look around our campus with someone else. You can also bring anything else that helps you feel comfortable, such as a bottle of water. 


To book on to one of our next open events, visit our Event page.

Grab your second chance to shine at Leeds Sixth Form College

’It’s not the end of the world’ is a phrase we’ve all heard from well-meaning family or friends after a setback.

If you have just failed an important exam, however, the chances are that such words will be of little comfort. Instead, what is needed at such moments is practical help – for someone to tell you ‘you can try again, and here’s how’.

That is where Leeds Sixth Form College’s Step-Up Pathway comes in. The programme is designed specifically to help 16-18 year olds, who did not gain the GCSEs they were hoping for, get what they need to progress.

Step-Up provides a three-year route to sitting A levels, or a hybrid option of A levels plus a vocational qualification, and starts with a first year during which each student aims to gain five GCSEs. For some, like former Leeds Sixth Form College student Jamal Mottley, this option has represented a life-changing second chance.

An alternative route to success

Jamal used the Step-Up Pathway to re-sit his GCSEs before going on to achieve three A levels with Leeds Sixth Form College, and has now started university. Speaking in August after finding out his results, he explained how difficult personal circumstances had led to him failing his GCSEs the first time around.

He said: “I didn’t know you could re-sit them and thought it was a one-time thing.

“But then my mum got out of hospital and helped me look for somewhere to re-sit my GCSEs, and found Leeds Sixth Form College. I don’t know where I’d be without Step-up!”

Ro Elliott, meanwhile, has just started her A level courses at the college after successfully gaining five GCSEs through Step-Up.

She said: “I wasn’t really in full-time education for a lot of secondary school which is why I didn’t get the opportunity to do my GCSEs properly, so the fact the college introduced this course was really beneficial to me.”

Helping to tackle inequality

In a recently published study on education inequalities, the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) argued that one of the key shortcomings of the country’s education system was the ‘lack of adequate second chances’.

Step-Up, which is especially helpful for English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) students, allows them to develop their language skills.

Principal of Leeds Sixth Form College, Rachael Booth, said: “We are very proud of our Step-Up Pathway and the route it provides for students who want to study A levels but haven’t, for whatever reason, got the qualifications they need yet.

“Each year we hear from so many talented young people, like Ro and Jamal, about how much having this second opportunity to achieve, and excel, means to them.

“Education, like life, isn’t always a straight line, often due to things we can’t control. This pathway ensures that students can try again for the qualifications they need to progress and shine in whatever they choose to do.”

More information on the Step-Up Pathway can be found here. The IFS study can be viewed here.

A college with its sights set high

We are forging ahead into the new academic year with a ‘Good’ with ‘Outstanding’ features Ofsted rating under our belt.

Based in the heart of Leeds and driven by a belief that every student has the ability to excel, Leeds Sixth Form College impressed the inspectors when they visited earlier this year.

Our passionate and expert staff, and the partnership work they do to ensure our educational programmes meet the needs of local employers, were singled out for praise.

Our A level programme, which helps students take the next step in their educational or career journey, is at the heart of what we do.

A tailored approach for each student, full of enrichment opportunities

But our offering is much broader than that, which is why we give every new student a guidance interview before advising them on which of four pathways to follow. This ensures that their courses will help them move on to the job, university degree, or higher apprenticeship they have in mind.

And for 16 to 18 year olds who need extra GCSEs, or higher grades in those they already have, we offer the Step-up Pathway. This one-year programme helps students gain five GCSEs in preparation for taking on A levels.

The college also aims to ensure that students have an exceptional experience during their time with us, which is why we are always working to secure enrichment opportunities.

In June this year, for example, 61 of our politics, law and history students enjoyed a two-day educational trip to London. Their stay included a tour of Hampton Court Palace, a visit to the Supreme Court, meeting a High Court judge and a trip to the Houses of Parliament.

Our Principal, Rachael Booth, said: “We are fully committed to helping every student, whatever their background or field of interest, reach their full potential and excel.

“To help us achieve that we have a dedicated, expert teaching staff and top-class facilities, to give each of our students the very best chance of success.

“We are also always looking at experiences that can enrich students’ studies and bolster their confidence and self-belief.

“Education transforms lives and opens up new opportunities. We are always excited to welcome new students, and to learn how we can best help them take their vital next step. So please get in touch – we look forward to hearing from you!”

State-of-the-art facilities

Our courses are taught in dedicated, well-equipped teaching rooms in the college’s Park Lane campus. Our students also have access to a permanently staffed Independent Learning Zone, where a suite of 60 chrome-books are provided.

Keen to address the country’s healthcare skills gap and promote STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) subjects, the college recently opened a brand new science laboratory.

This specialist facility features a private consultation room and a pharmacy practice room which have been designed to support the college’s two new pioneering courses, Pharmacy T Level and Access to Medicine.

STEM is a key focus for us and we had some fantastic success stories in this area recently among our A level students. Poppy Middleton, for example, achieved A grades in chemistry, maths and physics along with a B in further maths this year. She is now going on to study aerospace engineering at the University of Leeds.

Sporting, as well as academic, excellence

Thanks to our partnerships with some of the region’s leading sporting organisations, through Leeds Sports Connect, we also offer outstanding opportunities for student-athletes.

Under this pioneering scheme, students can pursue a high-quality education with the college, studying three A levels, without sacrificing development in their chosen sport.

The courses are built around training schedules so participants can enjoy outstanding coaching, in top-class facilities, while pursuing their studies.

Our partners include Leeds Rhinos Foundation, Leeds United Foundation, The Hunslet Club, Ultimate Football Coaching Academy, and Let’s Do More. Click here to find out more about courses at Leeds Sixth Form College.

GYMNASTICS MEDAL SUCCESS FOR A LEVEL STUDENT AIMEE

A Leeds Sixth Form College student is celebrating being part of a medal-winning gymnastics team.

Aimee Dann travelled to Switzerland to compete in the 2022 Gym for Life Challenge, with Leeds Gymnastics Club, in July.

The club, representing Great Britain (GB), achieved a silver medal to the delight of Aimee, her clubmates and her teachers.

Balancing act leads to success

Aimee, who is just about to start year 13 of her A levels at Leeds Sixth Form College, said: It was an amazing experience to represent GB at an international competition.

“I would balance out my studies with gymnastics by doing some while I was away, and revising before and after my gymnastic sessions.

“I think overall it paid off and I was so proud of myself, and my team, for getting silver in the competition.”

The value of transferable skills

Sixth form lecturer, Elizabeth Bailey, said: “What a fantastic achievement!

“Aimee is a pleasure to teach. She works hard to meet her academic goals and is keen to do well.

“Her determination and commitment to gymnastics has clearly transferred over to her academic studies in her religious studies A level, and she is starting year 13 on a really positive footing.

“Aimee is confident and articulate and works well with her peers and is able to work both collaboratively and independently, again something she has surely drawn from her experience at Leeds Gymnastics Club.

“Year 13 will see Aimee having to manage the demands of her A level courses with her gymnastics commitments, but she is sure to take this in her stride!”

Principal of Leeds Sixth Form College, Rachael Booth, added: “At the college we work with our students not only to achieve the best possible qualifications, but also to enable them to enjoy a wide range of enrichment and leadership opportunities.

“Supporting Aimee to pursue her gymnastic endeavours means that she can develop valuable transferable skills, and I look forward to watching these develop further in her final year of A levels.”

Click here to find out more about courses at Leeds Sixth Form College.

GCSE students praised for ‘resilience and character’ after tough two years

Leeds Sixth Form College and Leeds City College students have been celebrating their GCSE and BTEC results.

This was the first time exams have taken place since 2019, due to the Covid-19 pandemic. In 2020 and 2021 students received results based on teacher-assessed grades.

Grades, nationally, were as expected, lower on average this year with the government being keen to reverse ‘grade inflation’.

But at Leeds City College and Leeds Sixth Form College (LSFC) many students were happy to have secured the results they needed to move on to A levels, apprenticeships or T Levels.

Travis Daly was delighted with his results after achieving a 7 grade in English language, 5s in maths and English literature, and 4s in business and an EPQ (Extended Project Qualification).

And he was full of praise for LSFC, where he did his exams through the Step-up Pathway, which helps students aged 16 to 18 gain GCSEs.

An amazing college full of camaraderie

He said: “These results have exceeded what I was hoping for.

“I’ve found it amazing here. I really preferred the camaraderie of the college, it was significantly better than my secondary school where everyone was just in little factions fighting against each other.

“Here, everyone just gets along. It doesn’t matter where you’re from or who you are, everyone’s just together – we’re all friends. I owe the college so much – my teachers were contacting me almost every day to ask me how I was getting on. I’m so happy to know I’m now going to be doing A levels, it’s the best feeling.”

Travis is planning to do A levels in history, law and politics with Leeds Sixth Form College, and then aims to study law at the University of Toronto, in Canada.

A route back into education

Ro Elliott
Ro Elliott

Ro Elliott was also celebrating some great results despite having had to sit her five GCSEs, through LSFC’s Step-up programme, while suffering from the flu.

She achieved a grade 7 in biology and chemistry, a 6 in physics and 5s in English and maths. She is now planning to study A levels in biology, chemistry and psychology – with a goal of progressing into medicine.

She said: “My time here has been really enjoyable. I wasn’t really in full time education for a lot of secondary school which is why I didn’t get the opportunity to do my GCSEs properly, so the fact the college introduced this course was really beneficial to me.

“And the fact it was only three days a week as well felt like a really good introductory step to getting back into education.”

A great alternative to school

Libby Watkins
Libby Watkins

Libby Watkins is looking forward to studying science-focused A levels at LSFC after getting the GCSE grades she needed in maths, English and science.

Reflecting on her time at Leeds City College’s 14+ Academies, which provides an alternative learning environment to school for young adults, she said: “It’s been really good, I’ve enjoyed the atmosphere which is so friendly.

“The teachers here are good too, they’re nice people – human! Going back to high school wasn’t an option for me and home schooling wasn’t getting me quite as far as I needed to be. So I joined here not realising how good it actually was at first.”

Balancing studying with parenting

Kertu Babik
Kertu Babik

Many adult learners have also been celebrating their results. Kertu Babik, whose first language is Estonian, was celebrating getting all 9s and 8s in her five GCSEs (maths, English, combined science and citizenship).

She said: “It was interesting at Leeds Sixth Form College. At first I was a bit worried because it was my first time studying in the English language. It took a few weeks but then it felt good, and the teachers were inspiring and motivating, and made me feel really welcome.

“I’ve got two kids, one aged two and one four, so one of the hardest things was to be on time for classes, and to study after they had gone to sleep!”

Kertu is now heading to the University of Leeds to study an Interdisciplinary Science with Foundation Year course, with a view to progressing into medicine.

Reflecting on this year’s results, Niki McKenna, Interim Headteacher of the 14+ Academies, said: “GCSE results day is always full of all sorts of emotions but the key thing we feel today is pride, because of how our young people have dealt with a really tough year.

“Our learners have probably been most affected by Covid-19 in terms of the amount of teaching they’ve missed, but we’re really proud of the resilience, determination and character they’ve shown to push through that. And we’re really happy with the level of progress that they’ve made.

“We’ve worked really hard to make them happy and confident individuals and spent a lot of time working on holistic skills to help them be resilient, while also focusing on their academic progress.”

More details on the 14+ Academies can be found here.

Bright futures beckon for Leeds Sixth Form College’s A level students

Leeds Sixth Form College students are celebrating achieving exceptional A level results, following a challenging past two years.

Despite nationwide fears about lower grades, there was an increase in the number of students achieving higher grades at the sixth form compared to 2019, the last time externally assessed examinations were held.

Many students excelled, including a number who achieved a clutch of A*-A grades.

Excelling at STEM

Some, like Poppy Middleton, shone in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) subjects. This is a skills-shortage area that the sixth form, which has just opened a new state-of-the-art science laboratory, is committed to increasing uptake in.

Poppy achieved A grades in chemistry, maths and physics along with a B in further maths, and will now go on to study aerospace engineering at the University of Leeds.

Poppy Middleton
Poppy Middleton

She said: “Studying here was pretty good! Obviously it was impacted by the pandemic, but that wasn’t the sixth form’s fault.

“I had good support from teachers and if I needed any help I knew I could always ask. All of the teachers care about you, and not just about your grades.”

Heading to university after mastering English

For others, there were challenges to overcome before even beginning their educational journey with Leeds Sixth Form College.

When Sabrina Nekkab arrived in the UK from Italy, aged 16, she knew she needed to work on her English before anything else.

She has now, a few years later, achieved the grades she needed – A*s in law and psychology, and a B in business – to progress to the University of Sheffield, where she’ll study economics.

Sabrina Nekkab
Sabrina Nekkab

She said: “I’m really happy and proud of my results. My English wasn’t perfect when I moved here so I took a year to work on it, then did five GCSEs before moving on to A levels.

“I got a lot of support from my teachers and have made a lot of friends for life, it’s been amazing!

“Every day when I came in I looked forward to the lessons and seeing my classmates, and I’d like to thank all of my A level teachers.”

Grasping a second chance following a family crisis

Jamal Mottley, meanwhile, credits the sixth form’s Step-up Pathway for helping him get his life back on track after a family crisis led to him initially failing his GCSEs. The programme helps students aged 16 to 18 work towards gaining five GCSEs.

Jamal did well through Step-up at Leeds sixth form college and went on to progress internally onto A levels in sociology, media and English language. His grades – an A in sociology and Bs in the other two subjects – mean he can now look forward to studying creative and professional writing at the University of Bangor.

Leeds Sixth Form College student Jamal Mottley
Leeds Sixth Form College student Jamal Mottley

He said: “Around the time I was doing my GCSEs my mum went into hospital, she had some mental health stuff going on, and I was living with my grandfather. It was a different environment – mum was gone, and I had to look after my sister too.

“So I failed my GCSEs when I first did them. I didn’t know you could re-sit them and thought it was a one-time thing. But my mum got out of hospital and helped me look for somewhere to re-sit my GCSEs, and found Leeds Sixth Form College.

“I don’t know where I’d be without Step-up, and now I’ve got ABB for my courses at A level, which is really exciting!

“It’s been great here. The teachers are really considerate, understanding and kind. They are great people that you can go and talk to.”

Exceptional results in the face of adversity

Leeds Sixth Form College Principal, Rachael Booth, said: “We’re delighted that many of our students have achieved some exceptional results, despite the challenges of the last two years. These grades reflect the hard work and commitment they have put into their studies.

“All our students have shown tremendous resilience and flexibility throughout their time , while they have been learning new skills and pushing themselves.

“It’s a testament to our teachers who have worked tirelessly to ensure students have been supported throughout the year. We’d like to thank them for their incredible efforts.

“Many of our students will now be progressing to higher level study, and we look forward to seeing what they will achieve in the future.

“Education changes lives, it gives people opportunities. We were happy to be here on results day to support and guide our students.

“This was a particularly special A level results day at Leeds Sixth Form College, following the disruptions that the pandemic caused to these students’ lives. Many of our students experience challenges, and I am particularly pleased to celebrate an increase in the number of young people from disadvantaged backgrounds who gained higher education places this year.”

Purpose-built science lab addresses healthcare skills gap

Leeds Sixth Form College, part of Luminate Education Group, is aiming to bridge the healthcare skills gap with a new state-of-the-art science laboratory.

The college has received funding from the T Levels Capital Fund in a bid to boost pupils’ awareness and interest in the medical sector. 

The specialist facility has a private consultation room and pharmacy practice room, which has been purposely designed for the college’s two new pioneering courses: Pharmacy T Level and Access to Medicine. 

Students are encouraged to get a feel for working in a healthcare environment with areas designed to practice dispensing medications and one-to-one consultations.

Rachael Booth, Principal at Leeds Sixth Form College, said: “We hope our new bespoke science laboratory will inspire the next generation to consider a career in healthcare. We’re committed to putting Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) at the top of our agenda, as it assists in problem-solving and innovative learning which fuels success across a variety of disciplines.

“Recent figures revealed that 84% of the UK healthcare sector were suffering from a lack of skilled workers. This figure, combined with the immense pressure that the industry is facing due to Covid-19, means that we have a responsibility to empower young people to pursue healthcare roles, by showcasing the wide range of incredibly fulfilling and rewarding careers within the sector.”

Lab 1
Lab 1

The innovative Access to Medicine course will launch in the new academic year, which has been designed to help plug a national shortage of doctors. The fast track, one-year programme is aimed at adult learners who want to progress to university to pursue a medical career but lack the required A levels.

T Level Pharmacy Services will be running from September 2023, which fuses academic theory with on-the-job experience. This two-year course is developed in partnership with various local pharmacies to ensure the content matches the industry needs.

The college has recently received a £2k grant from The Ogden Trust to launch an astronomical society.

David Shelton, lecturer at Leeds Sixth Form College, commented: “This enrichment activity allows students to experience stargazing and build skills in using telescopes and cameras for astronomy. The project is directed as students mainly from under-represented groups in STEM, including women, Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic groups and those from disadvantaged backgrounds.

“We strongly believe that everyone should have the opportunity to pursue a career in STEM, especially as our world becomes more reliant on STEM careers with productions of vaccines and exploring the universe. We have been able to buy two specialist telescopes and a camera, which we will use to develop skills in observing the night sky. Through this project, we hope to set an example for inclusivity within STEM.”

‘Outstanding’ career advice and support at Leeds Sixth Form College

Danielle Miller is now, with three A levels just completed, looking forward to pursuing a career in marketing.

Back in 2020, however, things looked a lot less clear. Danielle was unsure about what to do after finishing Year 11 at school, so she approached Leeds Sixth Form College for advice.

She credits the ‘outstanding’ guidance she received, along with some exceptional support from her tutors over the following two years, for helping her re-focus.

She said: “I was very unsure of what to do or where to go, but the college was very understanding and the process was simple.

“I think that my experience here has been very flexible. If I wanted to be more independent the opportunity for that was there, but so was the continued support If I wanted to be more involved.

“Undoubtedly, spending much of the first year inside, due to Covid-19, was really hard for all of us. The support I received from my subject teachers and tutors, however, was outstanding. They never hesitated to give me a hand with anything I was studying, along with general advice regarding my career or self-improvement.

“In our second year it was difficult to get back into a college-based routine, but the teachers were very persistent and gave us the motivation to just get on with it.”

Shining a light on alternative paths

Danielle also credits the college staff for helping her realise there were other options to follow, apart from the expected university route, to pursue her chosen career.

She said: “I really struggled with coming to terms with the idea that university was not for me.

“But the career advice from the college helped to change my attitude towards getting an apprenticeship, and consider it as an alternative option.

“The consistent job and opportunity notifications from my tutors also really helped me to get an idea of this alternative; it was a huge support.”

Danielle, who is currently waiting for her results, is aiming to begin her marketing career through a higher apprenticeship.