Part 4: Technical versus Academic options at 16: BTEC Level 3 Extended Diploma / T Levels and the International Baccalaureate Career-related Programme
BTEC qualifications are studied by more than a million students worldwide each year. BTEC stands for Business and Technology Education Council. BTEC Level 3 qualifications are studied at different levels:
A BTEC Level 3 Extended Diploma is the equivalent of 3 A Levels, a BTEC Level 3 Diploma is equivalent to 2 A Levels, a BTEC Level 3 Foundation Diploma is the equivalent is the equivalent of 1.5 A Levels, a BTEC Level 3 Extended Certificate is equivalent to one A Level, and the BTEC Level 3 Certificate is equivalent to 0,5 A Levels.
Level 2 qualifications are broadly equivalent to IGCSE levels on a similar tariff basis.
In the Emirates Level 3 BTEC Extended Diploma courses are generally provided in Business, Tourism and Sport – and the best schools offer all three subjects. There is much greater choice of subjects in the UK.
The easiest way to compare the value of the BTEC Extended Diploma is to map the Grades onto UK UCAS point scoring for university entrance.
A Grade A* at A Level is worth 56 Points
A Grade A at A Level is worth 48 Points
A Grade B at A Level is worth 40 Points
A Grade C at A Level is worth 32 Points
A Grade D at A Level is worth 24 Points
A Grade E at A Level is worth 16 points
A BTEC Level 3 Extended Diploma subject Grade D* (Distinction*) is worth 56 points
A BTEC Level 3 Extended Diploma subject Grade D (Distinction) is worth 48 Points
A BTEC Level 3 Extended Diploma subject Grade M (Merit) is worth 32 Points
A BTEC Level 3 Extended Diploma subject Grade P (Pass) is worth 16 points
3 subjects are studied within the extended diploma with a maximum score possible of 168 points – the equivalent of 3 A* Grades at A Level.
The argument that BTEC does not have the same value as A level is simply not accurate.
It is very likely that BTECs will now be replaced by T Levels.
T Levels are a new UK qualification designed to have the status and prestige of A Levels, but in more the traditional vocational subjects populated currently by BTEC. T Levels are due to launch in September 2019.
With the launch of T Levels, the choice of technical subjects will grow – we estimate that there will be around 50 T Levels on offer. They will be focused around 15 industry areas:
Agriculture, Environmental and Animal Care
Business and Administrative
Catering and Hospitality
Childcare and Education
Creative and Design
Engineering and Manufacturing
Hair and Beauty
Health and Science
Legal, Finance and Accounting
Protective Services (Apprenticeship)
Sales, Marketing and Procurement (Apprenticeship)
Social Care (Apprenticeship)
Transport and Logistics (Apprenticeship)
The Apprenticeship options above, which rest significantly on direct industry placements, are unlikely to be offered in the Emirates until employers work much better with schools and the government recognises the value of apprenticeships. In this area the UAE is still playing catch-up.
The International Baccalaureate Career-related Programme (IB CRP/CP)
The International Baccalaureate CRP/CP was designed to offer an alternative to the extremely academic profile and demands of its Diploma. It is, however, very different to the BTEC – although its technical element is often provided with a BTEC Level 3 qualification (often tourism, sport or business). However, whilst British schools will tend to offer a Level 3 BTEC high level qualification (which after all represents the equivalent to studying three A Levels) in isolation, the IB CRP/CP demands that students also study 2 or 3 regular IB Diploma courses as well as 4 IB components making up the CP core: a second language (although, unlike the IB DP this is not examined), a relevant skills course, a thesis and a community service project.
Bottom line? Our view of Technical Education between 16 and 18
The background to this division between technical and academic qualifications has arguably never been resolved in any curricular. Interestingly both Indian curricular (CBSE and ICSSE) boards have now, as of March 2017, to all intents and purposes discontinued technical education altogether.
The problem has ultimately been one of status. Technical qualifications, quite wrongly, were not, on the whole, given the credit they were due.
T Levels should finally address this, although we still question why these subjects should not simply be called A Levels (or the other curricular variants of the mainstay qualification).
We have always strongly supported the provision of BTEC in British schools, and the Career-related Programme (CRP) in IB schools, because they offer an alternative to the pure-play academic focus of traditional examinations. BTEC, T Levels and the IB CRP/CP – are all designed to give students the technical skills to move directly into industry. They much better too fit the needs, skills and ambitions of many young men and women for whom pure-play academic qualifications like A Levels or the IB Diploma are simply a foreign language.
The likely cessation of BTEC provision does however somewhat muddy the waters in terms of the recommendation and advice we can give to students and families facing decisions now on their studies for this final, critical 2-year period of schooling.
As it stands, BTEC (which is actually a Pearson qualification) is very likely, we think, to be discontinued – and even if it is not, it is likely to be positioned as a less prestigious, more vocational alternative to the T Level. We do not think it has much future, not because of its quality, but because the T level will simply replace it. In this context parents and students are going to need to weigh up the value of the BTEC in the longer term.
Whilst it is difficult to provide a clear cut recommendation, we believe that students should still pursue current BTEC or CRP routes where appropriate, rather than pure-play academic qualifications in which they may find themselves unable to shine. The BTEC has a defined value for universities, with equivalence to three A Levels, and is much better suited to less academic children who are gifted in hard skills and who are set on roles in industry. The benefit of both qualifications is that they enable a choice at 18 between direct to industry employment or further university study. A Levels and the IB Diploma provide, relatively, a poorer preparation for direct industry employment and are fundamentally designed for students who wish to attend university or pursue apprenticeships. As it stands, the UAE has no formal apprenticeship structure in place amongst major employers.
In terms of the IB CRP/CP, putting aside the very real time and pressures of the CRP/CP programme, the best way of understanding its difference from BTEC is that BTEC is purely technical, where the IB CRP/CP combines academic and technical elements together. The IB claim with merit that it is the only qualification in the world to combine both.
We do, however. have many of the same concerns we do with the Diploma in terms of the pressure of the CRP/CP – its challenges should not be underestimated. If we have a further critique it is simply that, for many students, it is overkill – BTEC provides a clear pathway to industry or university: are these extra pressures really going to deliver that much more added value?
Conversely, IB schools respond, as they do with the IB, that it is simply too early for students to specialise and that the CRP/CP gives breadth. They also argue, correctly, that the value of the CRP/CP is higher in terms of grade equivalence. They claim that it will open more doors to Tier 1 universities including the Russel Group and Oxbridge. It is certainly the case that in the UK, the CRP/CP is given equivalence to the Diploma by universities considering applicants.
The argument that BTEC cannot meet the grade requirements of top universities, however, is not the case. Our experience is that many universities will adjust their grades for BTEC students. This does depend on the course, but we know first-hand where this has been done, including in Russel Group universities. On that basis, in general terms, we do not think historic perceived downgrading of BTEC qualifications should dissuade students – it does not hold water.
So should you choose a technical, rather than academic, programme? The answer is not an absolute one. As with every choice, it will always depend on the individual child(ren). As a general rule, technical qualifications provide a very god fit for the non-academic child.
This does not mean, however, that they will not fit the needs of academic children with a very clear defined career path. As above, both the International Baccalaureate and British school technical streams provide options for university study. Rather, these qualifications enable non-academic children to shine in ways that would simply not be possible in traditional academic streams.
The best schools, we believe, should offer both routes in order that education can be aligned with the needs, potential and aspirations of individual children. Both parents and students should, above all, take from this Guide a recognition that technical options are by no means second best.
The IB CRP/CP to all intents and purposes has the same value and prestige as the Diploma – and non-academic children have options to excel within it they would simply not have in the Diploma. Certainly for students set on the IB but without a second language, or the ability to become highly proficient in one, the IB CRP/CP provides the only IB route we can recommend.
BTEC, notwithstanding historical downplaying of its value versus A Levels, does offer a clear and accepted route to university – and a certain route to direct industry employment depending on the subjects studied. This is particularly the case in top British schools with developed links to industry in the relevant BTEC subject.