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Old February 8th, 2014, 10:11 AM   #1
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Value of British BTEC qualification?

Long time lurker here, hope some of the people with business experience can help.

I'm a professional stills photographer and writer, but this query is for the benefit of my son. Coming uo sixteen, finishing initial secondary school and at the point of making choices of 6th Form College for four A Levels ore undertaking a BTEC Level Three in Creative Media and filmmaking.

The BTEC is considered to be equivalent to three A Levels, should he choose to continue to university. He's considering this instead of A Levels, since he's pretty clear that the industry is where he sees his future and would rather begin to specialise now and gain practical experience and make contacts rather than spend another two years studying for generic A Levels.

Question is, for those employing in this industry, is this qualification highly regarded, if accompanied with a body of personal work for example.

Obviously, in the UK A Levels are a generally recognised qualification, what would be the views on the Level Three BTEC?

Any opinions would be very welcome.

Neill W
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Old February 8th, 2014, 11:15 AM   #2
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Re: Value of British BTEC qualification?

Hi Neil,

Between 1994 and 2002 I ran a BTECH ND course in Media Production at the Isle College in Wisbech. It was a sub contract to my own audio and video production business and I gained a good insight into how Btechs are run. There seem to be considerable variations in how different colleges run their courses, even though the syllabus for a particular course may appear to be the same at different colleges.

The biggest difference seems to be in how much of the course is practical hands on with equipment, to produce an end product as against those courses that seem to have the emphasis on theoretical skills and scripting, film analysis etc, but with far less end product and practical skills. It seems to depend on the levels of experience of the tutors, with those that have a purely teaching background being much more about studies and those with a professional production background being more hands on.

My own courses were very much about applying the theoretical learning to handling cameras, editing, and producing a product to show how the theory was applied. That could be animations, documentaries, short drama films etc. Many of my ex students have kept in contact and a number of them have been very successful in the media industry, after moving on from the BTech at 18 to a degree course.

So my advice is that students on BTech courses can learn very employable skills that will also lead them into degree courses if they achieve well at their BTech. Just look very carefully at individual courses as frequently practical ability has more employment value than just theoretical knowledge. For employment in the national broadcasting companies such as the BBC etc, a degree is usually a requirement and the BTech can be a good route into Uni.

Roger

Last edited by Roger Gunkel; February 8th, 2014 at 11:16 AM. Reason: Spilling
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Old February 8th, 2014, 11:25 AM   #3
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Re: Value of British BTEC qualification?

Thanks, Roger. One of the things that I was impressed with was that they did seem to put emphasis on the industry as opposed to the usual head full of theory I often see.

He wants to keep his options open after the next two years and didn't want to regret not doing A levels and not be able to do a degree course if he'd gone the BTEC route.

Neill W
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Old February 8th, 2014, 11:38 AM   #4
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Re: Value of British BTEC qualification?

Just as an afterthought Neil, Every student I ever had that achieved good results on all their BTech modules, were able to get Uni places. Those that wanted them of course.

Roger
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Old February 8th, 2014, 12:41 PM   #5
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Re: Value of British BTEC qualification?

Thanks for the info, Roger. Sounds like we should visit more than one in the area to get some comparisons.

Neill W
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Old February 8th, 2014, 03:21 PM   #6
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Re: Value of British BTEC qualification?

Taught it for ten years, and I've been one of the team who has written the past 3 versions. Before this I was Principal Examiner for the same board in one of their A Level subjects. I've now finished doing this - so can be quite honest. I've done a long stint going around the country to schools and colleges, seeing what people are doing with them and examining and verifying them.

They are different beasts. For anything practical - especially Music, Media and Performing Arts, then BTEC wins hands down - no content. The thing is actually quite simple. A Levels test knowledge, if they have any practical content, it's tiny. A Levels are traditionally liked by conventional teachers, because they follow the same process as GCSE. Colleges often have a few full time lecturers, but lots of part-timers - often industry people doing a few extra hours a week. These people are the key. BTEC, delivered by idiots, or people who have gone school/6th form/uni, then straight to teaching, simply have not got the industry experience to put things into context. BTEC delivered by perhaps a cameraman, editor, or lighting or sound professionals means the kids do real world projects properly. They also get an idea for the critical areas like planning, time management and money. School teachers have no idea in general.

For me - looking at all the teachers I have known, it's a simple choice. For those people who are good at doing, and can work hard - then they'll get very good grades. Universities understand how BTEC works, and value the skills they WON'T have to teach, because the intake can do them. If a uni wants thinkers, and doesn't need doers, then A levels are fine.

If (and thank God it doesn't exist) there was a A Level in being an electrician, then the A Level A* person might get an exam question saying " Explain how you would wire a 13A socket in a room". They'd tell you they would use a 32A MCB in the consumer unit, using 2.5mm Flat Twin and Earth cable in a ring format. They might be able to tell you about earth loop impedance and other detailed stuff. In a BTEC, they'd just give the student a pile of bits and tell them to do it - and if the assessor's kettle worked afterwards and it was safe, they'd get the pass. Who would you rather have wiring your house? Theoretical knowledge is fine, but I'd prefer my cameraman to know how to get the focus and white balance right, rather than know the names of Hitchcock's children!

A Level subjects, like Media - have 'Studies' tagged on the end - because they study it, rather than do it!

Word of warning - BTECs new specifications have been changed due to funding changes - so here are some important questions to ask the college.

How many guided learning hours? They will fudge around this one, because teaching hours are being cut.
Which units are being delivered? Each college select units from a massive list - usually to suit their staff's skills.

Teachers are having a bit of a panic at the moment. The new Government rules mean that EVERY teacher from next year will have their assessing scrutinised. Industry people may well have to take a formal teaching programme, and many, who perhaps only do a handful of hours a week, may well tell them to stuff it! The result is the industry input may well fall away. Ask questions. If they fudge the responses, walk away.

Level 3 is quite tough, if you want the top grades. In A Level, a C is not really brilliant, a D, though a pass - indicates something went wrong. In BTEC - Distinction is the one to look for. A Merit is the 'C' grade, and a Pass really means they turned up and remembered to breath!

When I stopped teaching, and went back to being self-employed, I've constantly taken on my ex-students with BTEC qualifications. From time to time, I get A Level people, but they don't seem to be able to transfer what they learned to the real world. Bright people - but unskilled.

If anyone has specific questions - I'm happy to answer them.

Edexcel had some grief a while back with examiners giving advice - so no current Edexcel staffer, examiner, verifier or writer is allowed to do any training or other work, or even give internet advice if they mention their link. So it's very difficult to get the info nowadays, because being given advice on the net from somebody who does work for them, can be seen as an unfair advantage - so the contract prohibits them saying what they do. It's not their fault - the Government have their arm tied behind their back.
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Old February 9th, 2014, 03:43 AM   #7
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Re: Value of British BTEC qualification?

Many thanks for such a full reply, Paul.

So it seems that they vary massively, but are potentially very good. I think there are two colleges within striking distance of home that run the course. Will certainly do some digging to see what they say.

Best regards

Neill W
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Old February 9th, 2014, 04:50 AM   #8
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Re: Value of British BTEC qualification?

In the past, because the teachers also do the grading, there was always the possibility that the outside people checked the 'best' never being given the stuff from the poorest teacher. The new system solves it. The new system does mean some of the best bits have been thrown away. For instance, if something went wrong, and grades were poor, the teacher could decide to do their plan b, and have a second try. This can't happen any longer, because better planning and verification BEFORE the kids try it is now the method. When I taught it, if I had a great real project come in, I would use my students, and because it was real, the grades were always better. Short notice stuff like this is still possible, but is so difficult to get through the scrutiny process, it's simpler to go with the six month old plan. These are all good questions for the prospective college. Remember although they are selecting your kids, you are also selecting them!
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Old February 9th, 2014, 12:49 PM   #9
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Re: Value of British BTEC qualification?

Your experience and comments Paul match mine completely. The main reason I got out of the BTech teaching was because of the change of emphasis at my college. I was initially brought in as a professional on a senior lecturer pay structure, but after a few years and good results, they decided that the professional part timers should get a basic teaching qualification to tick the college boxes. The sting in the tail was that they were also proposing that a Newly Qualified Teachers pay would be appropriate to be fair to the 'real' long qualified teachers!

As my then 20 years of professional experience counted for nothing, I made my exit.

Roger
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Old February 9th, 2014, 03:35 PM   #10
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Re: Value of British BTEC qualification?

Very sad Roger - I know exactly what you mean.

At my college, we had a great guy - he had MS, and took an early pension from the BBC, his condition made full time impossible, so he did a few hours teaching on the BTEC media units where a 'real' cameraman was a real asset. Then of course, they suggested he also took on the editing unit - but he didn't want to because clearly it was too much - then they wanted him to do 4 hours a week on his Cert Ed/City & Guilds teacher's qualification, and he went under - and left completely. Ridiculous! The pay, back then, was 20 per hour for Level 2, and 25 for Level 3. My old college had a mass exodus of their staff in just a few months - and my contact there tells me that their zero hours contract people now get paid 20 an hour for Level 3 - and have a requirement to take the qualification, unpaid. He can't find people - I wonder why.

One downside is that many colleges have simply recruited their ex-students, straight from uni as teachers - so these are the ones where searching questions need to be asked.
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Old February 10th, 2014, 04:09 AM   #11
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Re: Value of British BTEC qualification?

I've just done a level 4 award in preparing to teach in the lifelong learning sector, I assume this is the sort of thing you're talking about?
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Old July 19th, 2014, 10:03 AM   #12
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Re: Value of British BTEC qualification?

Hi Paul,

Interesting thoughts. Ive just sent you an email to have a quick word, when / if you have a moment.

Let me know if you dont get my note?

Best

Dom | Founder
UKfilmNet.org
@ukfilmnet
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Old July 19th, 2014, 11:30 AM   #13
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Re: Value of British BTEC qualification?

As a Canadian, I can't speak to the British jobs climate or certification directly but I can tell you what I've seen over the past 15 years.

When I started, education (vocational or academic) was much more highly regarded than it is now in the marketplace here in North America. Tons of startups looking for young inspired creatives regardless of education.

But then you get that position that REQUIRES a specific education along with a skillset. FAR fewer of them but typically more rewarding in my experience.

In short, in this marketplace an education isn't needed until it's needed.

Given the direction that creative enterprises are going these days, if there isn't a fundamental need to start making money right away I'd encourage ANY student to do whatever they can to increase their breadth of knowledge prior to getting that steady paycheque that is so hard to walk away from.

My education is private vocational - it has held me back from a couple of opportunities because it isn't University level but I chuckle as my real world experience over 15 years far surpasses whatever one would have learned in the University courses the hiring party was looking for.

In this days and age, employers are going to "require" whatever they deem to be appropriate, sensical or not. A combination of the best education with a solid skillset never HURTS anybody.

My 2 pence.
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