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Further education colleges provide further education to students, aged 16 to 18, who have left compulsory schooling after GCSE and have decided to continue through the education system. These institutions include sixth form colleges and higher education colleges offering vocational training.
Students of further education may include adults of all ages, as well as 16 to 18 year olds. There are around 440 further education colleges in the UK, which usually offer courses for full-time and part-time study. They offer a cheaper alternative to university degrees, with most courses only costing up to £7,500 a year as opposed to £9,000 at universities from September 2012. A qualified FE lecturer will normally need at least a level 3 qualification in the subject taught, if not a degree.
A student may be able to study at their own school's sixth form or at an independent sixth form college. There are a wide range of opportunities at sixth forms and the environment is often more relaxed than in secondary school. Sixth forms vary in size and the range of courses and facilities differ hugely depending on the college. Sixth form colleges tend to be larger and more informal than school sixth forms. Students at sixth form college typically study for two years, completing AS examinations at the end of the first year, and A-level examinations at the end of the second. Recent years have seen the addition of a range of vocational courses being added to the curriculum. Similar to secondary schools, the staff will be made up of a variety of teachers who all specialise in different subjects.
Some colleges will specialise in a specific area such as art, design, agriculture, horticulture, dance or drama. Courses are also available for those with a particular disability or learning disability.