Suitably emotive post title – but a question that I find myself constantly discussing with my colleagues and one that cuts to the heart of the education equivalent of the “prisoners dilemma“.
That is to say, there is considerable tension between conflicting outcomes and a mutually beneficial solution might not be possible – in fact a beneficial outcome for one party might result in considerable hardship for the other. Or, as in classic prisoners dilemma, both parties suffer and the “trick” is to find the solution that minimises the collective suffering.
What’s this got to do with BTEC?
Btec is a qualification that has grown out of the vocational courses of olde – GPVE, CPVE and C+G and NVQ’s. At its heart it is based on a functional “job” that the course is scaffolding with theory to enable the employee to progress. In that role, the BTEC (certainly for Science and I am sure for other courses) works wonderfully well.
If I was an employer taking on apprentice lab technicians, I would have no qualms about using the Btec to support my employees. So, back to my title — Btec is “fit for purpose” – but we need to examine what the “purpose” is.
Btec in secondary schools
As educators we need to ask ourselves “what the purpose” of Btec is. Has Btec been implemented in your school for the following reasons:
- To raise the grades of the school?
- To impact on the A*-C haul of the learners?
- To improve the CSI?
- To deliver a course more suited to the “learners” you have?
- Because its “easier” to pass?
- Because your learners demanded a vocational course?
- Because you believe in the course?
At this point, I need to be clear (especially if Edexcel is reading) — I am not bashing BTEC – I like / value the course (see above), but am conflicted over the extent and reason I am teaching it.
- Do you and your school / SLT view Btec as an “easier” alternative that students can pass, because there used to be no exam? (Even now, the new exams don’t look like GCSE A*-C equivalent — more like F-D equivalent) If so, then Btec is definably not “fit for purpose”.
- Do cream off the top 60 learners for GCSE and put the rest through Btec? Do you syphon off the bottom 60 learners and put them through Btec? Again, if so, then Btec is “not fit for purpose”
- Do you hand pick those 30-45 learners who are traditionally disfranchised with GCSEs an put them through Btec. Mmmm, closer to the purpose.
- Do you allow ALL your learners a FREE choice when it comes to options at Year 9 and allow them to genuinely choose GCSE / Btec – advising them accordingly over the expectations of each and the demands of the course? If yes, then Btec is definitely fit for purpose.
Not second fiddle
As a practitioner who teaches Btec and leads a team that does so, I want to run Btec “properly” – not the paperwork, IV’ing and assignment marking – but the spirit of the course. That’s why next year we’re changing how we run the course:
All our incoming KS4 will be taught a common curriculum until Christmas. At that point, we will examine the learners and use the results of these examinations to inform personalised discussions with each students during tutor time. Those academically more talented will be “suggested” down the GCSE route, but not “enforced”. Those less academic will be suggested down the Btec route (again, not enforced).
What we’re going to do alongside the academic assessment is to consider behaviour and attendance. Btec is all but impossible with poorly behaved learners with random attendance. For these learners, for the first time we acknowledge that Btec is not for them – and that achieving E-F grades at GCSE is more attainable / representative of their skills.
Btec “fit for purpose?”
We need to change the culture surrounding Btec and move it away from a “course that anyone can pass” (as it is often seen) back into its heritage. A course firmly rooted in the preparation for work, not a course used to “boost figures” and “add to the CSI”.
So to conclude — what’s the purpose of Btec in your school?