BTECs: Entries rise despite doubts over future

Almost 250,000 students have completed a level 3 BTEC in 2019, but the fate of the qualifications remains uncertain

Kate Parker

The number of entries for BTECs has increased compared with last year, new figures show

The number of students taking BTECs is on the rise despite doubts over the future of the qualification, new data has revealed. 

Provisional statistics, released today by awarding body Pearson, show that more than 246,000 learners have completed a level 3 BTEC in 2019 – 5,000 more than the equivalent figure published for 2018.

The news comes as the fate of BTECs and other vocational applied general qualifications hangs in the balance. A government review of post-16 qualifications at level 3 and below is in progress, with the aim of reducing the number of courses that overlap with the new "gold standard" T levels, the first of which will be introduced in 2020.

Bill Watkin, chief executive of the Sixth Form Colleges Association, said: "Today’s evidence of the continued popularity of applied general qualifications comes as no surprise to us or our members – AGQs are valued by students, universities and employers. With a new secretary of state in place, we hope the Department for Education will reconsider its view that only A levels and T levels are ‘gold standard’ qualifications.

"Today provides us with a quarter of a million reasons to support AGQs and we will continue to make the strongest possible case to ensure they have a secure future."

Background: Ofqual blasts 'confusion' over BTECs

Opinon: Scrapping BTECs 'rash and reckless', warn principals

News: Funding axed for more than 160 level 3 qualifications

Two types of BTECs are currently available to learners: the original qualifications and a reformed, more rigorous version incorporating external assessment. 

The new data reveals that the majority of students are still taking old-style BTECs, with more than 168,000 learners completing one in 2019. In July, the DfE announced that, from 2020, 76 of these qualifications would be axed as part of a drive to cut down on "poor-quality post-16 qualifications”.

BTEC results 2019

Research by Ofqual, published in December, found “sound evidence of unwarranted grade inflation” with the older-style level 3 BTEC qualifications.

In March, the regulator's chair, Roger Taylor, told the Commons Education Select Committee that having two types of the qualifications in use simultaneously had caused "confusion", and backed moves to stop funding the old-style qualifications. 

Some 78,000 of the BTECs completed this year were the reformed version, up by 77.3 per cent from last year. Business was the most popular subject, taken by 15 per cent of the cohort, followed by sport (14 per cent) and health and social care (13 per cent). It has also been revealed that 6 per cent of this year's BTEC students are adults. 

According to research from Universities UK, the number of higher education entrants with BTEC qualifications more than doubled between 2008 and 2018. 

Celebrating vocational qualifications

All of these figures are provisional, and represent around 80 per cent of the final results. These will be released in October. 

Cindy Rampersaud, senior vice-president (BTECs) at Pearson, said: ​“Today’s results are a testament to the extraordinary hard work and dedication of students across the UK. BTECs offer a unique blend of academic and vocational learning that students and employers value highly. I wish all of today’s BTEC graduates luck in their chosen profession or university career.” 

The early release of results has been timed to coincide with the BBC's celebration of vocational qualifications today, headed up by BBC Breakfast business presenter Steph McGovern, ahead of A-level results day tomorrow.

Ms McGovern has been vocal about her support for further education, and last year convinced BBC bosses to turn their attention to the millions of people completing vocational qualifications. In a blog at the time, she wrote: “The 1.5 million people who did A levels last year got a day of national media coverage, but what about the 3.8 million people who took vocational qualifications?” 

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Kate Parker

Kate Parker is a schools and colleges content producer.

Find me on Twitter @KateParkerTes

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