Vocational qualifications are offered by a number of UK boarding schools, either running alongside A-Level or IB courses, or as a completely different pathway for pupils. The range of vocational courses continues to grow but includes exciting opportunities to learn about Equine Management, undertake a National Diploma in Sport, or do an internationally acclaimed Leiths Cookery course, to name just a few.

Vocational education prioritises practical, workrelated, experiential learning and is increasingly popular with pupils, universities and employers in the UK. Vocational courses suit some children’s learning styles, in broad terms those who learn by ‘doing’ rather than by ‘listening’. However the qualifications are still relatively misunderstood by parents and only a few independent schools in the UK offer them.

However, nearly all universities and colleges – approximately 95% – now accept BTEC qualifications for entry to undergraduate courses and students are choosing to study vocational courses in the Sixth Form and then at university in ever growing numbers – over 100,000 applicants applied through UCAS to study vocational courses last year. An Extended Diploma Level 3 BTEC is equivalent to three A-Levels in terms of the amount of teaching time and assessment involved. It will also gives pupils the equivalent UCAS points for university applications.

Recent changes to BTEC ‘vocational’ courses have made the qualifications more robust, and more in line with the expectations and requirements of universities and employers. They aim to equip pupils with the industry specific skills they will need to progress after school either through UCAS into university or in to the world of work. Employers also like the end result – a study by Pearson looking at data from 1996 to 2011 showed that 89.8% of people with BTECs and degrees had progressed into employment, compared with 88.1% of those with A-Levels and a degree. BTEC courses are continually assessed with only a relatively small examined element, so they suit learners who like to know exactly where they are in terms of progress during their Sixth Form. Also those who panic in exam situations and don’t reveal their true potential. There are both external and internally assessed components to each BTEC course. Externally set assignments include written pieces and practical assignments which are completed in a set time period. The remainder of the coursematerial is set and assessed in-house and can betailored to meet the needs and specialisms ofschool departments and their pupils.

Pupils studying BTECs enjoy an educational experience both inside the classroom and out ‘in the field’ and they see this as providing them with hands on experience which is directly relevant to the degree course or job they want to do. Of course A-Levels remain an important and valuable qualification and are still the best way of keeping your options open when it comes to course choices at university. However, if your child’s learning style seems more suited to practical learning then BTECs are well worth considering. Whatever your decision, more choice in the Sixth Form – whether it is A-Levels, BTECs or the IB – can only be a good thing.