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Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 23 June 2018

Alternative to A-Levels helps pupils at Abu Dhabi school prepare for industry

The British School Al Khubairat is offering sixth form pupils the option of taking up the Business and Technology Education Council Level 3 diploma in their final year

Mackenzie Cumming has his vitals recorded by Luke Vevers during a training session for the BTEC Sports Level 3 at BSAK. Vidhyaa for The National
Mackenzie Cumming has his vitals recorded by Luke Vevers during a training session for the BTEC Sports Level 3 at BSAK. Vidhyaa for The National

Imagine a secondary school where pupils don’t have to write final exams and get to spend their days learning practical, hands-on lessons in specialised subjects they love.

That pretty much sums up the Business and Technology Education Council (BTEC) Level 3 diploma offered by the British School Al Khubairat (BSAK).

The two-year BTEC programme was introduced by BSAK as a pilot last year to give sixth form pupils — those in the final two years of high school who are between the ages of 16 and 19 years — an alternative to A-levels, which continues to be the traditional academic pathway followed by most British-curriculum pupils wishing to enter university.

“BTEC is more coursework, more practical-based, it relates more to industry, and it is really giving them an insight into a career, whereas the A-levels really are very academic,” said Mark Leppard, headmaster of the British-curriculum school. “For me, there will be some students who are more akin to that type of study, so why not offer it to them?”

So far, BSAK is the only school in Abu Dhabi to offer the BTEC qualification, said Mr Leppard. And, for 16-year-old Jordanian Atef Khasawneh, the opportunity to enrol in the emirate’s only engineering programme offered by a private high school was reason enough to transfer.

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“This is a lot of fun, you can apply this more to real life than other A-level subjects,” Atef said as he stood next to the saw handle he designed and cut from a piece of aluminium and dipped in red coloured plastic in his fabrication class. BTEC pupils are not issued traditional grades, but earn a pass, merit or distinction based on their total performance over the two-year period. Those who don’t meet the minimum requirements will be considered “unclassified,” and ineligible for certification.

“It’s a lot less stressful than having to work up to a final exam,” said Atef. “The stress that you have building up to it — it can be just one bad day and the whole exam is ruined.”

Pupils who earn a minimum grade of five Cs in their General Certificate of Secondary Education (GCSE) exams can enrol for one of 30 BTEC national qualifications ranging from agriculture to travel and tourism. However, since the programme is so new at BSAK, the school only offers the business, engineering and sport and exercise science programmes for now.

Normally, British-curriculum pupils in Year 12 enrol for a minimum of three A-levels, which they study over two years. Since one BTEC diploma course is equivalent to two A-levels, BSAK pupils enrolled in the programme must also take one A-level subject.

“So, you have some students who will do, for example, engineering, and then they may choose maths as well, so that would count as two equivalent A-levels in engineering and one maths,” said Mr Leppard. “The BTEC is accepted by between 95 and 98 per cent of universities in the UK. It’s considered on a par with A-levels. So it is a route to university.”

According to Pearson, the British education publishing and assessment company, 25 per cent of pupils admitted to university in the UK in 2015 did so with a BTEC qualification.

Down the hall from the fabrication shop, in a small room with exercise equipment, 16-year-old Mackenzie Cumming wore an oxygen mask and heart rate monitor as he pedalled a stationary bike. His vitals were being recorded and monitored on a computer by his sport and exercise science classmate, 17-year-old Luke Vevers.

Mackenzie Cumming has his vitals recorded by Luke Vevers during a training session for the BTEC Sports Level 3 at BSAK. Vidhyaa for The National
Mackenzie Cumming has his vitals recorded by Luke Vevers during a training session for the BTEC Sports Level 3 at BSAK. Vidhyaa for The National

“These boys want to do a sports science degree eventually,” said Paul Sewill, head of secondary physical education. “But the course gives them employability skills to go right into industry, if they chose to.”

The school is hosting an open event on November 1 at 4.45pm for prospective pupils who want to learn more about the BTEC diploma and other courses available in the sixth form.