BTECs: Our Role in Supporting BTEC Progression and Their Value in Improving Social Mobility

In preparation for our third Linking London BTEC Practitioner Group meeting later this month I have been putting the finishing touches to a guide for HE Admissions staff to support them to make informed and fair offers to BTEC applicants, which will shortly be available for partners.

With the launch of the review of post-16 qualifications at level 3 and below and the consultation underway, there has been much concern raised in the sector as to what the future holds, if any, for applied general qualifications, of which BTECs form the most significant number. This led me to reflect on our work here at Linking London to support both college and university partners to improve the clarity and certainty of progression of these learners into and through higher education. We originally started out as a HEFCE funded lifelong learning network charged with the responsibility of helping to level the playing field between A levels and vocational qualifications, in particular BTECs, to improve the opportunities for progression from these qualifications. In addition to raising awareness of BTEC qualifications, we worked closely with partners to develop progression agreements between FECs and HEIs to identify suitable HE pathways from a number of BTEC subject areas. During our time as a lifelong learning network over 70 agreements were brokered. As important were the relationships that were formed between college and university staff to address misconceptions and open up channels for ongoing communication.

While working in FE in a previous role it was clear to me that one of the challenges for college learners, as well as advisers, was that HE admissions requirements for BTEC applicants were often unclear and in some cases lacked fairness in comparison with A levels. Linking London supported several HE partners with funding to review their entry requirements for BTEC applicants across their institution and provided guidance on where improvements needed to be made drawing on the recommendations of the Schwartz Report on Fair Admissions to Higher Education. We have continued to support partners in this work and undertake regular mapping of admissions requirements which has highlighted the improvements made by HEIs in London in terms of making fair and meaningful offers.  We have also, as well as setting up a BTEC Practitioner Group (which brings together our college and university partners including Pearson), produced a number of resources aimed at both learners and their advisers and HE outreach staff.

Previously, Linking London have commissioned London college leaver data reports undertaken by the University of Greenwich which over a period of 9 years has tracked over a quarter of a million London college leavers into and through HE. What the data shows is that the number of college learners studying BTECs as well as progressing onto HE has increased substantially in the past 10 years. During the period our reports covered, 2005-14 BTEC level 3 college learners increased from approximately 5000 to nearly 150,000. On average, students holding BTEC qualifications come from more disadvantaged backgrounds than their A level counterparts (HEPI, 2017). Focusing on London College learners, BTEC students applying to HE are even more likely to come from disadvantaged and BME backgrounds – 76% of the BTEC level 3 college cohort (2013-14) in London were classified as living in an area of educational disadvantage using the Income Deprivation Affecting Children Index (IDACI Q1 and Q2) and 64% of London college level 3 students in total were from BME backgrounds.

The increased number of BTEC learners entering HE has therefore played a significant role in widening access to and participation in HE over recent years.  While Applied General qualifications have come in for some criticism regarding their suitability in terms of preparation for and success in HE our research shows that the majority of BTEC learners that do progress achieve a HE qualification, albeit in lower numbers than their A level counterparts. This is in spite of the fact that BTEC learners are more likely to come from disadvantaged backgrounds and that HE curricula is in the main still geared toward A level learners.

Further, BTEC qualifications have recently been revised to better prepare learners for HE study, in part to address concerns raised by more selective institutions. While it’s early days it appears that some university courses that may not have previously accepted BTECs are prepared to offer places to students on the new BTEC level 3 qualifications, while others that previously may have asked for an additional A level in some instances have dropped this requirement. Interestingly, the fastest growing route into HE is those applicants with a BTEC/A level mix. HEIs seem particularly receptive to learners holding a mix of both vocational and academic qualifications – the best of both worlds you could argue, in the sense that these learners will be equipped with both academic as well as vocational skills and knowledge.

Here at Linking London, while we are committed to playing our part in helping to ensure that T levels in London are a success, we feel that their introduction shouldn’t be at the expense of BTECs.


Hello Readers

What a week it has been. Yesterday we marked 10 years of the Linking London partnership with an anniversary celebration at Senate House.

We were thrilled to see so many of our valued colleagues and partners together in one space, and it was brilliant to catch up with contacts both old and new over wine and canapés – a chance to let our hair down and mark a decade of valuing collaboration over competition.

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The turnout for the evening was tremendous, and we were delighted to welcome both the Master of Birkbeck, David Latchman, and the former Director of HEFCE, John Selby, to speak to our assembled guests.

John highlighted the challenges that still face vocational learners today, and the work Linking London has done towards easing their progression to higher education, focusing on learner’s strengths as opposed to their weaknesses. David praised our Director Sue for her hard work in sustaining the partnership, and said how proud he was that Birkbeck have been our host throughout the last decade.

Sue herself then said a few words, thanking the partners for their support over the past ten years, and recalling the history of Linking London for the assembled audience. When she first started, Sue had no team and no office – she had to cart her paperwork around Bloomsbury in a plastic bag! Now we are far more comfortably situated, and have 5 members of staff, 42 members and 32 associate members.

We have fought for vocational learners through the financial crash, tuition fee hikes, the removal of funding and changes in government. We believe we are stronger together, and will remain as long as our partners need us.

While we bask in the glow of last night’s festivities, I will leave you with ‘Linking London in Numbers’ – some statistics highlighting what our partnership has achieved over the past decade. Here’s to the next 10 years!

42 partners in the network

53 publications written

305 twitter followers

319 staff development events held

93% of attendees rated this year’s events as good/excellent

1,300 contacts on our database

3000+ learners supported through our IAG offer

4,425 staff members have attended our events

250,000 college learner journeys have been tracked.


Hello Readers

Though most of the headlines over the past week have been devoted to the Olympic gold-medal-rush (congratulations Team GB), hidden amongst the column inches devoted to sporting spectacle have been some education stories which could have huge implications for our sector. This week our blog unpacks some of the biggest education stories of the past seven days.

National Student Survey

The results of HEFCE’s 2016 National Student Survey were published last week, with 86% of undergraduates in the final year of Higher Education responding that they are satisfied with their university programme. Out of Linking London’s partners, the Royal Central School of Speech and Drama was within the top 20 institutions for student satisfaction, and UEL were named as having one of the largest increases in satisfaction year on year (up 5%).

Several Further Education Colleges achieved 100% student satisfaction for their HE provision. Many of Linking London’s FEC partners provide Higher Education qualifications, and we hope this success in the National Student Survey will shine a brighter light on the importance of the provision colleges offer for HE students. Our colleagues as the Association of Colleges were also thrilled, with David Corke, Director of Education Policy at the AoC, stating on the their site:

“The colleges that provide higher education work very hard to ensure they are providing a quality service to their students and the local community and it is gratifying to see that students themselves say they are pleased with the education they receive.”

Apprenticeship Levy Update

On Friday the government published guidance on how the new Apprenticeship Levy would operate. The update is available to read in full here. TES have also published a handy 9 point guide to the update and its implications for the sector. Although the report indicates the levy is still set to be introduced next April, FE Week has reported that the CBI’s director for employment and skills doubts the new system will be ready for successful delivery by the deadline.

Our NNCO website HECAIL contains a free guide to Degree and Higher Apprenticeships, while Linking London members can access the partner area of our website to find our other published resources on Apprenticeships.

A Level Results Day

As we all know, A Level results day is fast approaching this week, and many publications have featured stories telling students how to survive the day – whether their results are better or worse than expected.  The Independent’s ‘A-level results day: the 5 things students should not do’ could be useful for advisers who are trying to calm anxious students, and the Guardian has a feature dedicated to Clearing success stories which some may find helpful. For readers seeking a summary of UCAS Clearing and UCAS Extra, we have a guide available in the ‘After Application’ section of our NNCO website.

That’s all our headlines for this week, more news from us to come next Monday.


Hello Readers

The summer months are quiet ones for the education sector. The time when students and teachers alike flee the classroom to enjoy the sunshine (well, some of the time), and when we hunker down in our office to busily prepare resources and events schedules for the coming term.

So rather than repeat last week’s post, and reel off the extensive list of conferences, workshops and publications we are working on, I have decided to use this week’s post to examine the latest educational news, and how it ties in to the work of Linking London.

The Brexit Backlash

The majority of the Education sector voted to remain in the EU, but we were in the minority as the referendum results revealed. Much of the sector is still reeling, asking what Britain’s exit from the EU means for Higher Education.

Britain’s future in the Erasmus scheme has been thrown into doubt, with the head of the programme refusing to guarantee British participation beyond next year. We also heard this week that new Prime Minister Theresa May is considering placing heavier restrictions on student visas, allowing only the very best foreign students’ access to British Universities. Many of our partners have issued statements reassuring current EU applicants that they are still welcome, and that the immigration status of current students remains (as yet) unchanged.

HEI leaders from 24 EU countries have signed a statement acknowledging the imminent Brexit, but calling for collaboration to continue in spite of it:  “We as European university leaders wish to reaffirm our commitment to international cooperation and exchange in this turbulent time for Europe. We are strongest when we tackle issues collaboratively”.  These sentiments on the power of collaboration are shared by the Linking London team – through our collaborative partnership we aim to make our members stronger, and better prepared for the future of the sector.

The Future of FE

HE in FE is often overlooked, yet around 159,000 learners are studying HE at college.  Currently many FE practitioners fear the implications of the HE Bill, and are concerned that the Office for Students could price colleges out of the HE sector.  Many of our partner colleges provide HE for students. If they were no longer able to afford an HE offer this would be a serious blow to disadvantaged London students who rely upon their local provision.

Social Mobility

Finally this week there has been much discussion regarding the relationship between social mobility and education – a topic close to our hearts, as Linking London was founded to pursue improvements in student achievement, social mobility and social justice.

Alan Milburn, Social Mobility Commission Chairman, believes: “It will be impossible to make progress in improving social mobility until the educational attainment gap between less well-off and better-off children is closed.”

We welcome Mr Milburn’s comments on the importance of education to social mobility – Linking London operates on the belief that through education learners can overcome class barriers and realise their ambitions.

More news, updates and commentary next week.



Hello All

Last week was moving week for Linking London! We boxed up all our resources and headed over to Tavistock Square, where we now reside on the 4th floor of the BMA (100 stairs up – I counted when the lift broke). We are now firmly settled in, and have a lovely view from our window, as you can see in the photo below.

Our New Office View

Our New Office View

In more good news this week our Director Sue welcomed Brunel University into the partnership. We now have a grand total of 42 members as we approach a decade of successful partnership this September.

Planning for our 10 year anniversary celebration is going full steam ahead; the RSVP’s are filling our inboxes, and both the evening entertainment and anniversary brochure are very nearly finalised.  Senate House here we come!

Even with moving office to contend with, we still found time for plenty of partnership work. As well as our monthly team meeting, planning is very much underway for events for the forthcoming academic year.  Deputy Director Andrew and I have been busy, both updating old resources, and creating new ones, to share with the partners upon completion. These include an Adviser Guide, an Access Guide to Nursing Midwifery and Allied Health, and an ICT guide for advisers.

Our NNCO Project Officer Emily is very pleased to announce the new date for the postponed NNCO Conference – the event will now be held on Monday the 17th October, and more details will follow shortly on the website.  In the meantime, as well as orchestrating the timetable for the forthcoming conference, Emily is planning a subject specific ICT event for the autumn term. Work continues on our HECAIL website, and we hope to populate it with many more resources over the summer months. We are particularly proud of our interactive map, which marks all providers of HE in the London area, and allows users to filter the map view by course, subject, and location.

On a final note, our office manager Stuart is on holiday this week, hoping to spend some quality time with his cat Maude! While he enjoys the (mostly) sunny weather I shall be manning the fort, and responding to all your enquiries.

That’s all the Linking London news for now, more next Monday from me and the team.