All young people in the UK must complete full time education until the age of 16, then they’re let loose on the world. But this doesn’t mean it’s the end of the road for learning – with more and more exciting career and education options available at this early stage, we’ve done the hard work so you don’t have to and explained them all here.

When can I leave school?

The exact date you can leave school is dependant on two things: where you live in the UK, and your birth date.

In England, people may leave school on the last Friday in June as long as they will be 16 by the end of that year’s summer holidays.

However, everyone born on or after 1st September 1997 must stay in some form of education or training until 18.

Post-16 options are full-time education (e.g. at a school or college), an apprenticeship or traineeship, or part-time education or training – as well as being employed, self-employed or volunteering for 20 hours or more a week.

In Scotland, if you turn 16 between 1 March and 30 September you can leave school after 31 May of that year. If you turn 16 between 1 October and the end of February you can leave at the start of the Christmas holidays in that school year.

In Wales, you can leave school on the last Friday in June, as long as you’ll be 16 by the end of that school year’s summer holidays.

In Northern Ireland, if you turn 16 during the school year (between 1 September and 1 July) you can leave school after 30 June. If you turn 16 between 2 July and 31 August you can’t leave school until 30 June the following year. What financial help can I get? 

Young people wishing to continue with their education may be able to claim Education Maintenance Allowance (EMA) if they’re studying in Northern Ireland, Scotland or Wales. EMA is now closed in England.

In England young people may be eligible to apply for a 16 to 19 Bursary Fund to help with studying cost for example equipment you may need for your course and travel expenses. The bursary is paid directly by the school, college or training provider. They will decide how much and when it is paid.

Other than continuing full-time education at school with A-levels, here are the options available post-16.

International Baccalaureate (IB)

A programme of education for 16-19-year-old students, this is an internationally recognised course, taken by students all around the world. Until recently in the UK it was only taught in a minority of independent schools, but is now on offer at some state schools. It is available at about 125 schools in total across the UK, with 118 of these offering the IB as a post-16 option.

The IB leads to a qualification called the IB Diploma, which is well respected by universities and is also an advantage for young people hoping to study overseas. The IB Diploma is recognised by 126 universities in the UK, including Russell Group universities.

Further Education and Vocational courses

Higher National Diplomas
(HNDs) are a further education qualification for 14-19-year-olds in England. They aim to provide more options for practical learning, less classroom-based than A-levels, and to encourage more young people to continue studying. They are ideal for those who are aiming to work in a specific and specialist industry, such as Travel and Tourism or Finance.

National Vocational Qualifications
(NVQs) are work-based awards in England, Wales and Northern Ireland that are achieved through assessment and training. In Scotland they are known as Scottish Vocational Qualifications (SVQs).

Apprenticeships
Apprenticeships combine practical training in a job with study. They are paid, so offer the opportunity to learn while bringing in a wage. Young people have the chance to work alongside experienced staff and gain skills unique to the workplace, as well as an increasingly well-respected qualification, over a period of one to four years.

It is possible to apply for an apprenticeship while still at school, with a view to beginning directly after.