No matter whether you are about to leave year 11, didn’t get your grades or are looking to re-enter the realm of education later in life it can feel like a minefield. I’ve been in education quite a few years so I thought I would share my personal outlook to help those of you who are a tad confused.
Here’s the back story: I remember leaving school and it felt asthough the ‘clever ones’ went to Sixth Form and the less academic went to College. Anyone with more than three brain-cells knows this isn’t true. However, as a 16 year old, who had no clue what to do I decided I was going to Sixth Form.
I achieved relatively good GCSE results, chose 4 A Levels because I was going to be a Doctor (spoiler: no way will I ever be a Doctor.) Two weeks into A Levels I realised GCSE’s weren’t even a scratch on A Levels and I was probably going to fail. I dropped Chemistry about 6 weeks into the academic term, my dreams of being a Doctor went down the drain.
End of the first year I had achieved B,D,U in my A/S Level exams, dropped Biology (the U grade) and took Health and Social. End of second year B,C,D. Not horrendous but also not the grades I needed to progress.
Anyway, I was pregnant so none of that mattered. Fast forward a year to 2017. I wanted to be a Midwife. Midwifery required ABB A Levels. I wasn’t going to be a Midwife with my A Levels. Plan B. College.
Here came the BTEC. So I signed up to do a Health and Social care extended diploma, I went to the enrollment and I was told about these things called access courses??
Here came the Access to Higher Education: Health Professionals. I was skeptical of this course, it lasted only 1 year and it was the equivalent of 3 A Levels? That didn’t add up for me. Having done A Levels I knew you could not achieve 3 A Levels in one year.
This course has been intense and I still have the final hurdle to jump whilst I’m writing this. I’m on the cusp of getting the credits I need. So close but so far. BUT. It is not the equivalent of 3 full A Levels crammed into one year and has been a godsend for myself who enjoys a mixture of coursework, exams and practical rather than A Levels which are all exams.
Here is my summary of the pro’s and con’s of each, the BTEC side is secondary information from people I know who are doing/have done them.
- Academic – they are accepted by every university and regarded quite highly
- Flexible – A Levels allow routes into many different courses and more advanced appreticeships so if you are unsure what to do they are useful to give you more time to decide whilst you complete them.
- You choose the subject – You can choose which subjects to study and tailor them around the course you want to do or simply what you enjoy doing.
- You get a lot of support from teachers.
- A lot of support with everything, especially UCAS.
- If exams are your thing, then go for it!
- Difficult – The level of work is very difficult, complex and there is a lot to remember. Since I did A Levels the structure has changed which has made them even harder.
- They aren’t the best thing since sliced bread – no offence but if you can take a route you will find easier, then take it. Once you’ve reached the destination nobody cares how you got there.
- If you are going to an inclusive Sixth Form (one that is joined to a year 7-11 school,) you will probably get very fed up of being treated like a child. Yes, I did have to get my parents to sign a form so that I could go on a theatre trip when I was 18.
- A wide variety of subjects are available
- Coursework based so they are really handy for those who struggle with exams
- Normally involve a mix of a theoretical and practical basis
- It takes 2 years which is double the length of time of an Access course
- Not as versatile as A levels – some unis might not accept your specific BTEC
- Constant coursework
- Not the easy option
Access to HE
- The majority of the work is coursework with a few exams.
- It tends to be a more mature and relaxed environment.
- It is rarely Monday-Friday (mine was 2.5 days) so you can fit children, work and other responsibilities around it.
- If you are going back into education you can get the Advanced Learner Loan so you don’t pay upfront.
- The tutors are very laid back.
- It takes a lot or organisation and hardwork – however it is very manageable.
- You have to do a lot of your own research.
- In my experience there was less support with UCAS than Sixth Form but I still got 3 out of 4 offers so it didn’t really matter.
- They are often only available to those 19 and over so may not be easily accessible to school-leavers.
P.s – check the accepted qualifications that allow you onto the course you want to do at the Uni you want to go to.