Remy Shelton assesses the new NQF BTEC and reflects on a decision well made.
Having said goodbye to the QCF course at Level Three it was now time to decide whether to change to delivering the A Level or to try the new NQF BTEC course. I must admit on being apprehensive about delivering the new NQF BTEC, particularly with the addition of the examination elements. My students have thrived on coursework only courses and the course requirements of the QCF have really suited my learners’ needs. However, as a Head of Department, it was my responsibility to decide whether to go with the A level or to give the new NQF course a chance. The benefits of continuing to deliver the BTEC was really tempting as a teacher, despite the course still being very fresh and, as previously stated, having the addition of the exam element. The fact that the coursework element remains and is still 42% of the qualification is very appealing and, in my opinion, the right route for my students and their abilities. The external assessments are 52%, with a combination of set tasks and written exams. A key selling point is that the external assessments can be taken during four windows throughout the course. Also, students have the advantage of two attempts at each external assessment.
This course is clearly designed for learners who are interested in all elements of business, with a range of topics still taught and makes good reference and links to the business world throughout. Having researched the course in depth, the new BTEC qualification really supports entry to various degree courses or a higher/degree level apprenticeship by allowing students to develop a range of key study skills. It carries UCAS points and is becoming more recognised by higher education providers.
I now truly believe that the new NCF is on a par with the standards required for A level. Personally speaking, the A level route simply did not have the same benefits or employability and business links as the new NQF course. As a result, it was the obvious choice for me to continue with the delivery of the BTEC course. I am also in regular contact with my peers from my PGCE and they too have been finding the course manageable and most importantly enjoyable to teach. I rarely come across centres who now solely teach just A level – having both options or just the vocational route on offer is clearly the way delivery is going.
We are now a year in and I have to say I am relishing teaching the NQF course. The balance of coursework and exam based lessons are not only enjoyable to teach but provide a nice transition for the students who have completed the NQF at level 2. I am currently teaching the unit 1 coursework and find it very similar to the old QCF course. Unit 3, the financial exam unit, is also really similar to the level 2 exam unit, unit 2. I am finding that my year 12 students, who studied business at level 2, can recall most of the unit content which has made teaching new terminology easier. I am also teaching unit 14 (customer service), with my year 13s as an optional unit. Luckily for me, each class member studied business at level 2 and they are finding the unit easy. I found they recalled all their subject knowledge from year 11 and said that the set tasks are similar to unit 4 from the level 2 course.
However, I have found the guidance from Edexcel to be slow at times. There are not many past papers and exemplar work for assistance with the synoptic units. Unit 2 in particular was a struggle to deliver as there was little guidance as to how the synoptic work was to be presented by students. My colleague, who delivered the unit last year, resorted to social media for assistance from other teachers. It was very unclear what was expected but, I suppose it was the first year so we can allow for hiccups. The BTEC Facebook page was helpful for my colleagues as they can post questions and other teachers reply. A number of other teachers complained about the lack of resources and guidance for unit 2. Some teachers kindly posted their resources and it became a networking platform for delivering the course. The twitter page is also good to follow and was helpful with tips and further ideas to deliver the course.
Nevertheless, it was good to see every assignment brief made available for teachers to use. I have also found the specification to be very clear and easy to follow. The scheme of work is very detailed, useful and has assisted with my planning. Delivery guides are made available for every unit and I have also found the examiners’ reports helpful, especially when leading on the exam based units.
The textbooks are fine but I have found some definitions of key terms to be extremely basic. For an additional cost, an online version of the text is available for students to download onto their own personal devices, which students have found useful. Additionally, this has avoided my expensive textbooks going missing! I am keen to set questions in exam practice lessons but disappointingly, the revision workbooks have been slow to be published. The revision guides however are fantastic and by far the best resource to be published by Pearson. They are full of brief definitions, mind maps, recap questions and helpful hints. Each exam/synoptic units are in each guide and the pages are very student friendly. This resource is indispensable and I have received fantastic feedback from students.
I would definitely recommend attending the teaching events run by Edexcel prior to teaching the new course. I found the event to be very informative and a great platform for asking questions and hearing from the course providers. I have always found the course advisors from Edexcel to be really helpful too. Having emailed the course advisor for Business on a number of occasions he is always very quick to respond which, to me, is vital when starting to teach a brand new course. If you have the budget I would highly recommend investing in the “Tutor 2 u” resources. They are pricey but they have saved on planning certain elements of the course. As a department, we have bought resources to assist the exam unit (Unit 3) and the synoptic unit (Unit 2). The resources are all electronic which have also helped immensely with delivery and sharing with students. I have found the revision materials to be an excellent resource and students have found them helpful with their personal revision. We have recently booked our students onto the revision day to assist with their January resits. I booked students onto this course because, not only did it seem to receive positive feedback online but, I have a number of teaching friends who have spoken enthusiastically about the day and how it really helped their students. Sometimes it’s great to get another perspective on teaching the unit content, especially from the experts.
I was also pleased to see the paperwork is more streamlined and user friendly. BTECs do come with the stigma of having copious amounts of paperwork but I was glad to see the new NQF paperwork is much clearer. I have also found the example assessment plans to be very helpful when planning my timings for assessment.
This year we have decided to deliver the diploma which is the double award. Again, this course comes with further synoptic units which is covered in the revision guide and workbook, produced by Pearson as guidance. More resources are gradually appearing on the Edexcel website for this unit. This includes helpful exemplar work and practice case studies. Optional units for this course are very assessable for the students and once again are similar to the content taught in level 2.
So, am I glad I decided to continue with delivering BTECs at level 3? Yes, I am! However I still think there is a lot of additional work required in order for Edexcel to successfully support learners and teaching staff. More comprehensive banks of free resources are still needed. One or two examples of exam papers, or assessed work is just not good enough. Delayed published dates for purchased resources is also something the exam board needs to work on. Teachers have needed these resources since going live in 2016 with course delivery. I was excited with the arrival of my revision workbooks but I really needed them back at the start of the course. As expected, there have been many hiccups but surely that is expected for the launch of such a well-recognised new course. I receive regular updates from Edexcel via email and find the board to be informative with new changes. With time, I am sure the NQF will be just as successful as the QCF/old BTEC course. My advice is to go with what suits your learners. If your learners have completed the NQF course at level 2 then this course really is a natural progression for them.
Remy Shelton is Assistant Head of Sixth at the University Church of England Academy in Ellesmere Port, Cheshire.