A MacBook Air on a table alongside three piles of twenty pound notes, a calculator and glasses

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If you've over 16 and you've left school, you normally don't have to pay to do:

  • English or maths to GCSE level
  • some information and communication technology (ICT) courses
  • English for speakers of other languages (ESOL)

If you find that there is a fee at your local college or learning centre, you may be able to get Discretionary Learner Support (see below for more details). 

Beyond Literacy Skills

If you are thinking of furthering your qualifications to a higher level, but don't have the money, there are a number of bursaries and loans available to help you along the way.

Funding can be in the form of:

  • a bursary, scholarship or grant, which you don't have to pay back - but which often set specific criteria
  • a loan, which you will have to pay back

National funding available to you includes:

Advanced Learner Loan

Advanced Learner Loans are available to those aged 19 and over, studying courses from Level 3 (A-level equivalent) up to Level 6 (a graduate certificate) at local colleges and training providers a mimumum of £300. 

Getting a loan doesn't depend on your income and there's no credit check. However these loans to have to be paid back - once you are earning £21,000 per year or more you will have to pay 9% of the earnings you receive above this figure.

Once you've been approved for the Advanced Leaner Loan, you may also apply for the Loan Bursary Fund which can help towards accommodation and travel, courses materials and equipment, childcare and classroom assistance for a disability or learning difficulty. You need to apply through your college or training provider, with each one having its own application process. How much you'll receive will depend upon the provider's scheme and your circumstances, and you can be paid either directly or indirectly e.g. to your landlord or care provider. You can apply for this fund even if you receive other types of funding, e.g. professional and career development loans or disability living allowance.

For non-A-levels, you can only take out one loan at a time. For A-levels you can apply for up to four loans to cover the costs of your A-level programme (including AS and A2 qualifications). If you are studying for more than one A-level at the same time, you can apply for up to four loans at the same time - one for each A-level. 

The loan depends on your college or training provider. If you are searching for a course via the National Careers Service website, the results will tell you whether the college offers the Advanced Learner Loan (previously called the 24+ Advanced Learning Loan).

If you are undertaking an Access to HE Diploma and then go on to complete an HE qualification, the outstanding balance of your Advanced Learner Loan will be written off. 

To apply for a loan you need to ask your college or training provider for a 'Learning and funding information' letter which gives you details about your course. You then need to apply online. If you can't apply online the Advanced Learning Loans website offers you the ability to downloan th forms and send them off via post.

As you'll only pay back 9% of any income above £21,000 a year, here is an estimate of the amount that you'll pay back per month depending on what you're earning. If you want a better estimate of how much you'll have to pay back Directgov has a loan repayment calculator:

Yearly Income Monthly Repayment
Up to £21,000 £0
£22,000 £7
£25,000 £30
£30,000 £67
£35,000 £105
£40,000 £142
Individual Learning Accounts

For those living in Scotland and earning less than £22,000 a year, you could get a grant of £200 towards the cost of learning something new at any approved provider. To find out whether you are eligible and how to apply for funding, please see the ILA eligibility checklist.

Discretionary Learner Support

If you are aged 19 or over, on a further education course and facing financial hardship, you could be entitled to DLS.  This can help pay for this such as accommodation and travel, course materials, or childcare.

You need to apply directly through your learning provider as each one has their own application process. What you get depends on your circumstances and your college's scheme (they are the ones who provide the funding), and it could include:

  • a direct payment to you - which you don't have to pay back
  • a loan - which you have to pay back
  • paid to someone else - e.g. a landlord
Care to Learn

The Care to Learn scheme allows main carergivers under the age of 20 in England the chance to learn by offering grants to cover childcare, deposit and registration fees, travel costs for taking your child to the care provider, and keeping your childcare place over the holidays.

They offer payments of £160 per child per week (£175 in London) and these payments will stop if either you stop studying, you finish the course or your child stops attending childcare. You can get funding while you are in school, 6th form in a school and 6th form colleges.

Payments go directly to your childcare provider while travel payments will go directly to your school or college who will then either pay you the money or arrange your travel for you.

Your childcare provider must be registered with Ofsted and they can include a childminder, preschool playgroup, day nursery or out of school club.

As the scheme is Government funded, you need to download and fill in an application form and sent it off.

Claiming Care to Learn won't affect your family's benefits or allowances.

Professional and Career Development Loans

Professional and Career Development Loans (PCDL) are bank loans that can pay for courses and training that help with your career or help get you into work. You can borrow between £300 and £10,000, and can't have savings of more than £16,000. The loans are offered at a reduced interest rate and the government pays the interest whle you are studying

There are currently two banks which offer these loans - Barclays and Co-op. Fill in the form you get from the bank and the bank will tell you whether you will qualify for a loan. You can only make one application at a time, however if you rejected by one bank you can then apply to the other.

You need to appy at least 3 months before you start your course so the bank has enough time to process your application. If you are receiving benefits these might also be affected with the loan, so check with the benefits office what you will still be entitled to.

The size of the loan can include up to 80% of course fees, or 100% if you've been registered unemployed for three months or more at the time you apply. It can also include other course costs, such as books, equipment, travel expenses and living expenses such as food, rent, council tax and utilities. If you wish to pay for living expenses with the loan you must be working less than 30 hours per week.

You must be over 18 to apply and have been living in the UK for at least 3 years and plan to work in the UK or EU after the course.

Courses must only last up to 2 years or 3 years if they include a year of work experience. They must also be provided by an organisation on the Professional Career and Development Loan Register - check with your course provider to see whether they are eligible.

PCDL are bank loans that have to be paid back. You start repaying the loan (plus interest) one month after leaving your course. The government pays the interest while you study and for 1 month after you leave your course. After this time, you start repaying the loan and interest. You have to repay your loan even if you don't complete the course or your course provider goes out of business.

How much you borrow and how much you have to pay back depends on your course. The Co-op gives an illustrative example on their website:

Loan AmountRepresentative APRTermMonthly RepaymentTotal Payable
£300 9.9% 36 months £9.63 £346.49
£5,000 9.9% 36 months £160.43 £5,775.43
£10,000 9.9% 60 months £210.39 £12,623.58

You can even get a career development loan if your course does not lead to a qualification. They can include:

  • Postgraduate courses - e.g. a master's
  • A specialist course at a privately owed learning provider, for example, in homeopathy or studio sound engineering
  • Management courses, for example, a professional consultant's course
  • Technician level training, including plumbing or electrical installation
  • NVQ or SVQ at a local college, for example, in hospitality and catering
  • Courses leading to a professional qualification, for example, the Certificate in Programme Management


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