In schools and colleges across the country last Thursday, a familiar narrative played out. The same tropes characterised social media posts and news coverage: smiling faces, mid-air shots of triumph and elation, the moment of anxiety before the envelope is opened, the nervous queuing, balloons, banners, hugs and handshakes. Online access to university admissions service Ucas may have taken away some of the buzz, letting students know whether they’ve got their place at university before even seeing their grades, but the day itself is about so much more than the publication of final grades.
Background: BTECs: Entries rise despite doubts over future
The symbolic value of this event is in the communal celebration and recognition of individual achievement. It is a culmination of two years (and sometimes more) of hard work, academic enquiry and critical thinking. For some the transition from GCSE will have been relatively straightforward, for others less so. Regardless, they have made it across the finish line and are ready to embark on the next stage of their lives. For me, as a principal, it is an opportunity to say a personal and public well done and to let our students know that we are proud of each and every one of them. It is also an acknowledgement of the commitment, expertise and enthusiasm of staff who have helped them to develop the knowledge, skills, confidence and agency to succeed.
It is for this reason that results day at Leyton Sixth Form College is an event that marks the accomplishments of ALL students completing their programme of study: both vocational and A level.
Other colleges may have invited students who completed a Btec to pick up their results on Wednesday 14 August, we didn’t release them until the day after, on A-level results day. We passionately believe that there should be parity of esteem between these educational routes and this applies to the important rite of passage that results day embodies.
This determination to put all vocational courses on equal footing to A levels has been made more difficult by the recent uncertainty regarding the future of applied general qualifications in the wake of the introduction of T levels, and the very public devaluing of QCFs. Being an inclusive college which provides a comprehensive curriculum and different kinds of high quality learning experiences is an important aspect of Leyton Sixth Form College’s identity. We believe in the importance of choice and recognise the enormous value of vocational education and all the benefits that this can bring. The demands of a vocational programme of study are no less challenging, stimulating and rigorous than those of an A-level programme. The difference lies in the greater level of practical skills, industry links, real world activity and more varied assessment methodologies that doing a vocational course offers.
Vocational education has long been the poor relation and yet it has provided the route for many young people to progress to competitive universities, apprenticeships and employment. Steph McGovern, a committed campaigner on this issue, visited Leyton Sixth Form College in June. Her enthusiasm for, and her interest in, the courses we offer was palpable and students were inspired by her insistence that they should be enormously proud of qualifications which would contribute directly to industries vital to the UK economy.
Results day 2019 has been and gone and we turn our attention now to welcoming our new students and ensuring that they too can succeed academically and professionally and go on to thrive as active and caring citizens.
Gill Burbridge is the principal of Leyton Sixth Form College.