BTec students ‘hopeful for the future’

Anyone leaving college, school or university and hoping to work this summer faces an uncertain jobs market, with the economy experiencing biggest fall in employment for a decade.

But are some careers more “pandemic proof” than others?

BTec student Harry Baker, 20 certainly hopes so.

He studied for a Level 3 BTec in health and social care at Sheffield College, and is hoping to be awarded three distinction star grades and go to Sheffield Hallam University to study biomedical science.

“I’m hoping to work in some sort of laboratory to do research into diseases, and I imagine there’ll be a lot more focus on lab work now in the future.”

Harry says his course meant he had to complete assessed modules throughout the two years of study, making it a “very hands-on way of learning”.

In terms of results day, he feels the continuous assessment throughout his course means students like him “have less pressure than those doing A-levels, because we’ve being doing assessments all the time and have a good idea of what we’ll get”.

Health and social care is one of the subjects seeing a surge in applications for next year, according to staff at Barking and Dagenham College in Essex.

The rise in applications for courses include:

Barking and Dagenham student Antonela Rosewarne, 18, has just completed the first year of her Level 3 BTec in public services at the college, and thinks her best chance of getting her dream job in the fire service is to continue studying and do the second or “extended” year.

At the start of lockdown, her tutors worked hard to put the course online as best they could. Some parts of it worked well, particularly the citizenship, psychology, criminology and diversity parts of the training.

But the course also focuses on team building, communication and physical fitness, taught through team sports, trekking expeditions and gym work, and there was little the tutors could do apart from advising the students to keep up their fitness by walking or running.

“I was pretty stressed at first,” she says.

“A lot of the course is practical, so I was worried about how it was going to go when we couldn’t do the practical activities.”

She says that having missed out on so much of the practical side of the course “dampens the achievement”, as teamwork and communication in particular “are key skills for people wanting to work in the public services”.

But despite coronavirus she is optimistic about the future: “There’s going to be a lot of changes with Covid-19, but I’m excited to meet new people and do new things.”

What are BTecs?

BTecs are vocational courses designed to develop practical skills – subjects like business, sport, and health and social care are popular.

They are awarded by a private organisation, the education and training company Pearson.

About 20% of university students in England are accepted after studying only BTecs, and another 10% are accepted into higher education with a combination of A-levels and BTecs.

They can be taken by any age group – in fact, most are taken by those over the age of 22, and research by the Social Market Foundation found these qualifications were particularly popular among white working-class students.

While England, Wales and Northern Ireland have BTecs, Scotland has its own Scottish Vocational Qualifications.

There are other vocational qualifications available – such as City and Guilds and Cambridge Technicals offered by OCR – offering a wide range of courses.

How do the new T-levels fit in?

There are changes afoot in the world of vocational learning, with this September seeing the introduction of a new qualification in England – the Technical or T-level – in subjects such as accountancy, catering, finance, hair and beauty, and manufacturing.

T-level courses will be available to students after GCSEs and be equivalent to three A-levels – with a starred distinction being the same as three As at A-level.

T-levels are being phased in some colleges in England, and will run in conjunction with other qualifications such as BTecs.

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