Why I’m Done with the Phrase ‘the BTEC version’

For my column this week at the TES, I’ve talked about why we need to change our attitude towards vocational education. You can read the article on the TES here or below:

I’ve been able to touch type since I was seven years old. In secondary school, I think I spent more time with the IT support team than I did with some of my teachers. I’ve always been someone that enjoys being surrounded by technology. I’ve also never been great at exams – I just can’t retain, and then recall, information in the way you need to to get high grades.

That’s why, when thinking about what to do after school, pursuing a BTEC seemed the most logical, and also most exciting, thing for me to do. And I’m loving it. The combination of being hands-on with equipment, learning theory and being assessed as you go, works really well for me and how I learn.

From reading and listening to the news out of the Department for Education and Westminster over the past week, it seems more students are going to be encouraged to go down this route. To my future classmates, I tell you: you’re in for an amazing time. But if we do look to expand the number of people that go through vocational and technical education streams, I think we need to shift the societal perspective towards BTEC-type qualifications.

Too often, I’ve found myself talking to people, be it former teachers, family members and even some friends, about what I’m doing at college and where I’m studying and been greeted with something along the lines of “Oh, so, just a BTEC?” or “Ah, the cop-out course.”

The BTEC version

There seems to be an undertone among some people that vocational education – and the people who take those courses – are not as worthy of recognition as more academic routes. As I have been looking at university applications, it’s been reassuring to see that 95 per cent of universities accept BTEC entries – but that’s not necessarily the point. It is not about the statistics and the backgrounds of students; it’s more about our attitude, and awareness for different learning (and subject) types. 

There’s a running joke among my peers – “it’s the BTEC version”. Somehow suggesting that it’s weaker, or less significant. But scholars could not study without a building – built by someone who probably had a vocational education. It’s a partnership; we need to be fair and equal in our approach towards the two streams of further and higher education.

It is not always the case that people don’t respect and understand technical education. 

Let us chat about two of my friends, Bill and Rachel. Rachel is studying a plumbing BTEC, and hopes to be an apprentice when that finishes. Bill is studying maths, further maths and physics at A level, with plans to go to university.

I don’t believe for a moment that Bill’s exam-assessed qualifications are any greater than Rachel’s vocational, coursework-based course. I do agree that Bill’s A levels are more academic than Rachel’s plumbing BTEC – simply by their nature. Rachel admits that she isn’t a mathematician, and Bill admits that he has no clue how to fix my broken tap. But both Rachel and Bill enjoy spending time together and are good friends – because, it turns out, there’s more to life than what they study at college. They know that their skill-sets complement each other. They understand the need for both of their skills, and for them to learn them in different ways.

I truly believe that, as we move towards the “German style”, highly-valued skills-based system, we need to adjust our attitudes towards the value of different qualification types – otherwise the number of students, employers, and parents engaging with the courses just won’t be high enough. The right noises are being made to head towards the right direction – but we need to make sure it’s not in vain; regardless of what’s on offer, if there’s a bad stigma, it won’t work.

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