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Should BTECs be saved to preserve choice?

By Mark Richards,

24 Jan 2020

If there’s one thing that employers are in agreement about, it’s that the UK education system isn’t as good as it should be at equipping young people with the skills needed for the world of work. The skills shortage is a perennial problem and one that the recent GCSE and A level reform is unlikely to improve.

In fact, all it appears to have done so far is to narrow the curriculum, and to favour students who are more academic. You can’t make pupils more academic simply by forcing them to take academic subjects.

All it does is force them to fail.

It may have come a little late, but at least there is now a recognition that vocational education is important too.

Therefore, the introduction of the new T levels is welcome news.

It should provide rigour and, hopefully, elevate the standing that vocational options have on the curriculum. However, the danger of any type of reform us that if you are not careful you can change (or lose) what is good and already in place. This is why BTEC needs to be preserved.

It should not become a casualty because of the introduction of T levels. Why lose qualifications that are trusted by employers? BTECs are well-regarded by schools and colleges.

Let’s not forget as well that BTECs are taken by over one million students each year.

Although, it’s debatable how much politicians really know about them, the reputation of BTECs was dented when the government suggested that they might be a soft option.

Indeed, it was implied that schools were using BTECs to ‘play the system’ – making it easier for students to reach the benchmark of the time of 5 GCSEs at A*-C. The irony is that it was government that created ‘the system’, but that’s another issue entirely.

And despite attempts to undermine BTEC qualifications, another fact remains – BTECs are well-respected by employers.

They are known and trusted.

Beyond Level 2, BTECs are particularly renowned for the way they enable students to gain practical experience in the workplace.

What’s more, BTECs are seen as robust qualifications by universities too.

All but one of all the universities in England accept BTECs in applications.

Over 25% of new university students last year did so with BTEC qualifications behind them. T levels versus BTECs T levels have been designed as an alternative to A levels.

Giving students a straight choice between a vocational or an academic route has some merit.

Similarly, it’s positive that T levels are seen as a complete equivalent to 3 A levels and with equal standing. However, T levels only come in ‘one size’, they are not available to those already in the workplace who might want to retrain.

BTECs, on the other hand, are ideal as they can be taken part-time. The design of T levels seems to be short-sighted in this respect, especially as it is estimated that as many as ten million adults will need to retrain over the next two decades. For this reason alone, it seems like a clear mistake to abolish BTECs.

The qualifications offer choice for learners of all ages and should be preserved.


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