Why employers value BTEC Diplomas

An alternative to GCSE and A Level, the BTEC Diploma is becoming a popular choice. We examine what the qualification involves and why employers are recognising it as a valuable qualification.

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An alternative to GCSE and A Level, the BTEC Diploma is fast becoming a popular and more practical route into higher education. We take a look at this secondary-school leaving qualification, which is available in England, Wales and Northern Ireland.BTEC (Business and Technology Education Council) Diplomas are designed to give students the skills they need to move on to higher education or go straight into employment. They are available in a range of vocational subjects, from business studies to engineering.Edexcel, a subsidiary of Pearson, is the main examination board to offer BTEC Diplomas. According to Albert Hitchcock, Pearson’s chief technology and operations officer, “BTEC gives you a route into employability much faster because it’s giving you tools and techniques that can be very valuable to an employer.”BTEC qualifications are available at seven levels, ranging from Introductory Diplomas and Certificates to Advanced Diplomas, Certificates and Awards.
  • Level 1 Introductory Diplomas and Certificates teach the basic knowledge and skills needed for a specific job
  • Level 2 First Diplomas and Certificates give good knowledge and understanding of a subject and the skills to perform a variety of tasks. They can be useful when applying for jobs
  • Level 3 Diplomas, Certificates and Awards and BTEC Nationals give knowledge, skills and understanding at a more detailed level. They can be useful as a prelude to university
  • Level 4 Professional Diplomas, Certificates and Awards provide specialist learning. They can be useful for people working in technical and professional jobs
  • Level 5 Professional Diplomas, Certificates and Awards provide deeper knowledge of a subject. They involve a high level of work expertise and competence in managing and training others
  • Level 6 Advanced Professional Diplomas, Certificates and Awards provide high-level knowledge for people working as knowledge-based professionals or in professional management positions
  • Level 7 Advanced Professional Diplomas, Certificates and Awards provide a highly developed and complex level of knowledge. They are suitable for senior professionals and managers
BTEC Diplomas are largely equivalent to other qualifications, such as GCSEs (Levels 1 and 2), A Levels (Level 3) and university degrees (Levels 6 and 7).

New BTEC nationals

From 2016 and 2017, new BTEC Nationals are being introduced, bringing the total number of subjects available to 28. Edexcel has worked alongside more than 5,000 employers and higher-education institutions to help develop the new courses.
According to Edexcel, BTEC National qualifications provide a more practical, real-world way of learning and their value is recognised by teaching professionals, employers, the higher-education sector and students. The organisation reports that one in four students who started higher education in England in 2015 had achieved a BTEC National qualification.


Many industry sectors have National Occupational Standards that professionals must follow. Edexcel has built the content of the BTECs around these standards. This, it says, is why BTECs are recognised as valuable qualifications within each industry.According to Ian Blenkharn, director of education and student experience at the University of Exeter, “We’ve seen a real rise in the number of students applying with BTEC qualifications, and we’ve accepted many more as well, and what we’re really pleased to see is that those students are going on to be really successful while they’re at the University of Exeter.”BTECs can be studied alongside, or instead of, GCSEs or A Levels in schools and higher-education colleges. They are mostly studied full time, although they also provide career development opportunities for people already in work. As a result, some schools and colleges provide part-time courses.Grading uses a Pass (P), Merit (M), Distinction (D) and Distinction* (D*) scale. Depending on the course, students may receive one, two or three grades. BTEC Nationals qualify for UCAS points for students wishing to move on to university.BTECs are made up of a number of units, which are usually assessed through assignments that are set and marked by the teacher or course tutor. However, a handful of BTECs include externally marked tests.Assignments can be in the form of tests, research, essays, projects, investigations, artwork, fieldwork or experiments, often linked with practical exercises. Students are assessed throughout their course, so that they can analyse and improve their performance.

BTEC Apprenticeships

BTEC apprenticeships are work-based learning programmes that are available at Levels 2–5 and involve both on- and off-the-job training. They are available in more than 35 sectors and can result in a set of nationally recognised qualifications.This is a revised version of an article originally published in October 2016.
The Guide to Education & Schools in the UK is designed to help relocating parents make informed education choices.
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