Traffic builds up on vocational route

Ian Nash

Seven out of 10 students taking the Business and Technical Education Council alternative to A-levels went on to do a degree or higher diploma course last year, a national survey of student destinations has revealed.

The results have surprised BTEC officials who expected just over half to go on to higher education, a similar progression from the traditional national diploma courses. But Sir Michael Lickiss, the council's chairman, has issued a strong note of caution: "Good though these results are for the status of the new General National Vocational Qualifications, we must not lose sight of the fact that they are also meant to be a route to employment."

The country was in danger of becoming too obsessed with graduate status, he said. "Equally, if not more important, we need well trained technicians in the workplace." Nevertheless, the survey was a fillip for the new qualification which appeared to be at last breaching the last bastions of academic traditionalism such as medicine.

The survey suggests that the GNVQ is being seen as an alternative to A-level in its own right and not just an addition or route to broadening studies, according to a commentary. "The addition of A-level studies did not appear to influence the likelihood of progressing to higher education."

Additional A-level studies were taken by around one in five of GNVQ students overall and about a quarter of those aiming for degrees.

"However, while 42 per cent of students taking additional A-levels progressed to degree courses, 49 per cent of students not taking A-levels also progressed to degree courses," says the report.

This suggests that the style of GNVQ is more appropriate to those students, and that for many there may be no great benefit in mixing traditional A-levels and advanced-level vocational courses.

The old BTEC qualifications (national diplomas and first diplomas) are being phased out as GNVQ courses are introduced. This has allowed BTEC to compare progress from the two routes and to question whether further changes are needed to strike a different balance between the vocational and academic content of GNVQs.

More students were staying on in full-time education from the new GNVQ courses than from traditional BTEC national diploma courses - 70 per cent compared with 55 per cent. And fewer were going into jobs - 25 per cent compared with 39 per cent.

Of the GNVQ students staying on, just over half went straight to degree courses, around four in 10 went on to HND courses, 2 per cent went into teaching and 2 per cent took other professional qualifications equivalent to higher-level studies. The fact that a substantial number went on to HNDs, a route to skilled technician status was "good for the economy", said Sir Michael.

Most students who aimed for HE achieved their goals. Of those aiming for degree courses, 97 per cent were accepted. Slightly fewer than 91 per cent were accepted for HNDs. Of those aiming for employment, just over seven out of 10 found jobs.

Around eight out of 10 students taking the intermediate-level GNVQs through BTEC, continued in full-time education and 14 per cent went into jobs. Equivalent figures for those studying the traditional BTEC first diploma were 76 per cent and 20 per cent. This, Sir Michael found "most encouraging" since it suggested that more students were endeavouring to reach the A-level-equivalent standards needed for them to start skilled technician training.

Details of the BTEC survey are contained in its annual report. The survey did not include degree subjects chosen by GNVQ students, which it is expected will be covered later this month in a Universities and Colleges Admissions Service survey of destinations for all GNVQ students, including those on Royal Society of Arts and City and Guilds courses.


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