Secret Teacher: Issue 95

Monday, March 1, 2021

Don't scrap the BTEC!

It makes no sense to me why the Government would consider scrapping BTEC qualifications. Why do this? Who is going to benefit from that decision? Not learners and not future employers. The teachers I know value the BTEC and have seen young people achieve in many ways through this way of learning.

I have experience of being a young person who, without this model of learning and assessment, may have never believed I had anything to offer the creative industries and would have been very stuck for choices after leaving school at 16 with only a handful of GCSEs above grade C. To start the entry level BTEC course I wanted to do, it was required that I re-sat my GCSE English and Maths. It seemed I could not get away from everyone telling me I needed those core GCSE subjects, so I reluctantly agreed, but only because I was excited at the prospect of studying Performing Arts every day of the week in a cool college with amazing facilities.

Looking back, having the opportunity to be immersed in a course taught by subject specialists and industry professionals alongside likeminded students gave me a feeling of purpose and belonging that made me more willing to go to the extra Maths and English sessions when everyone else had finished for the day.

As a teenager trying to learn with undiagnosed dyslexia, I could not believe that I did not have to sit a final timed written exam to be considered as ‘good enough’ to achieve. The continuous assessment and practical nature of the BTEC allowed me to learn in a way that invited me to explore a range of creative possibilities, be part of a team, reflect on processes and consider next steps for improving my skills.

As I am writing this, I think: isn't that the way learning should be? I’m not sure learning needs to be the ‘high stakes’ and ‘you only get one chance’ kind of experience. In fact, I think this approach to learning has a negative impact on our overall wellbeing and attitude to life. Since leaving college with my BTEC, I have gained a degree, trained as a teacher, taught BTEC, returned to learning to study an MA and now work in a large regional producing theatre.

Access and Inclusion is a vital priority for the Arts and Education sector. Without the BTEC model, we are creating barriers and excluding a range of learners who can be instrumental in diversifying future workplaces. If the only model of assessment that children and young people experience in formal education is summative, written and sat alone at an exam desk, we are damaging an important ethos of lifelong learning, compounding elitist attitudes and robbing learners of some fundamental skills in problem solving and teamwork.

Do you have views you'd like to express anonymously? Get in touch with the editor at sarah.lambie@markallengroup.com and ask if you can contribute to a Secret Teacher column. We'd love to hear from you!