At the end of Year 11, students will have completed their secondary school education and GCSEs. This takes them to the age of 16, at which point they can legally finish school. However, in recent years the law has changed; whereas 16 was the legal requirement for education, after which a student could go on to full time employment and leave their studies behind, whereas in England there must be some further education up until the age of 18, although there are several options about what that can be.
Many secondary schools also house a sixth form, which is a continuation of studies after the five years of secondary education. They are usually on site and classes take place in many of the same buildings and classrooms as the younger years. There are fewer classes to take, subjects are chosen, and there is a generally more relaxed attitude and atmosphere than Years 7-11, with more room for freedom and flexibility than at school. However, you will still be on a school site with rules and teachers and other pupils to consider, so can be more formal than a college. If you enjoyed the atmosphere and teaching staff at a school, it can be ideal to stay on at the sixth form for the familiarity.
College is similar to sixth form in that is a continuation of education with studies that are chosen at the pupil’s discretion. However, it is different from sixth form in that it is not on the same site as a school, but rather its own premise, sometimes spread over one or more campuses. This gives pupils much more freedom, which can be a lot to handle at the age of 16. Colleges often specialise in an area, like arts, and may have more to offer than a school sixth form. A college will provide a totally new environment.
The purpose of college and sixth form is to gain A Level qualifications. These are taken over two years and are what will be used to apply for universities.
If academia is not your thing, you can opt for a more vocational route. This involves work experience combined with education in your chosen career path, that will focus less on exams, and more on practical experience. As you will be working, you will also receive a wage and holidays.