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Articles > Work & Training September, 23, 2015

Why BTECs And A-Levels Are Equally As Valuable

Rachael Horton
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I used to be one of those people. I used to wrinkle my nose at those who did BTECs, suggesting that they were for stupid people and I, at the time an A level student, would never deign to take one. Twelve months, two U grades and a complete overhaul of my career plans later, I emerged, a BTEC student.

It started with a conversation between a young student nurse and myself at my hospital workplace. Upon hearing that I was going to be taking nursing at University, she told me that she had never intended to be a nurse, but had ‘had a little problem with her A levels.’ I then, thoughtlessly perhaps, asked if she had taken a BTEC course as well. She merely snorted and said ‘God no, I’m not stupid.’

Btecs and a levels - equally as valuable?

Photo by Gideon Tsang

This may have put my back up a bit and I longed to give her a similarly impassioned speech as I am about to give you, dear reader, but, lovable coward that I am, I laughed nervously, agreed with her and returned home to vent on the internet.

I confess, I originally thought that I would walk through the qualification but I actually found it just as taxing as my AS levels. I strongly believe that neither method is harder or easier than the other, just that they are different types of learning. Different types of learning suit different people, so it makes sense that there be a range of options for people wanting to study at all levels. So why then, are the students of vocational qualifications made to feel like second class learners?

It seems unfair that people like me have to feel embarrassed about telling people their qualifications, simply because they aren’t A levels. Why, when telling people about my results, do I feel it’s necessary to say ‘well it was only a BTEC’ when being congratulated on my 3 Distinction *’s? Why should BTEC students who achieve maximum scores still be seen as inferior to those with mediocre and even low A level grades? Well I say, no more!

Everyone, and that means absolutely everyone, should be able to share their results with pride, be they good or bad, no matter what qualification they have taken. A person who has just completed a mentally taxing and physically exhausting course should be met with nothing but praise and adulation. Isn’t congratulating them the only decent thing to do when someone tells you their results?

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  1. Benjamin Sutton

    Well, to be honest I’ve tried A-levels and BTEC. They were in different subjects, but I have to say the BTEC was trivial compared to A-levels. With an A-level, you listen in class, study, revise, and then take a high-pressure exam or three per subject. Your grade doesn’t depend on your knowledge of the subject directly, it depends on how well you can cram stuff into your head the week before the exam, and dig it back out on exam day. It’s hard.

    With my BTEC I was permitted to not only do the coursework while surfing the web for basically any info I needed (why learn when the internet is right there?(!)), but I was also permitted to re-submit any coursework I didn’t get the max grade on, after being told WHY I didn’t get max grade. This makes it super trivial. But still, the grade doesn’t depend on the knowledge and skill of the student. just as bad as the A-Level.

    I don’t judge people based on the qualifications they got, I judge them based on whether they actually have any talent or skill, and how competent they are at the tasks involved in their field of work/study.

  2. Georgina Price

    I completely agree, I remember the shame I felt every time I had to tell people that the best two of three of my level 3 qualifications were BTECs, I wish I could have been more proud, and so many people seemed to either look down at me or needed to be told what a BTEC was

  3. Chloe Hatherley

    I think BTECs are actually probably far better than A-Levels. My sister and I have never been the most academic people, focusing more on practical subjects like drama than maths/science/geography etc.

    When we got to college, my sister took a BTEC in Media Production, learning the skills she needed to get onto one of the best Film courses in the country. I, despite my aspirations to study acting at uni, took 3 A Levels, and an AS level- lots of the information from which I simply remembered for the exams and forgot soon after. A ‘little and often’ method of teaching, instead of one big exam at the end, I imagine is a much better way of retaining information, instead of learning everything over the course of an entire year and then having to re-learn it yourself at the end. Of course, this will not apply to everyone, but I cannot be the only one who feels this way.

    There is still a large part of me to this day that wishes that I had taken a BTEC, a course more suited to my learning needs. I probably would have achieved better grades.

    A great article with some excellent points!

  4. Lucy Hatherley

    Hello- I am the sister mentioned in the previous comment.

    I completed a Level 3 BTEC in Creative Media Production in May 2014. I am now on one of the most acclaimed and most competitive university film courses in the country.

    I find it extremely offensive when people say that those who take BTECs are stupid.

    I walked away from secondary school with 12 GCSEs (5 A*, 6 A and 1 B), as well as an early AS level, for which I received an A.

    At college, I achieved not only a D*D*D* for my BTEC, but an A in A Level English Language and Literature and an A* for my Extended Project.

    But this is not just about me personally. No one who commits themselves to completing an educational course- no matter what difficulty it is or what grade they get at the end- deserves to have their level of competence laughed at after its completion.

    I am not embarrassed to tell people that I took a BTEC because there is nothing to be ashamed of. It was exactly what I needed to do in order to progress towards my chosen career (and I’m sure it was the same for you). It gave me confidence starting my new course, knowing that I already had a good understanding of the subject and what was required of me.

    Yes, some people believe it is an “easier option” than A Levels. But, as a person who has experienced both, I found them to be equally challenging in their own ways. Whilst my A Level demanded the skills of revision, memory and clarity of written work, my BTEC demanded skills of technical ability, communication, collaboration and independent research/learning, which I have found just as valuable (if not more) when moving into university and the world of work.

    Deciding to complete a BTEC was one of the best decisions I have ever made and I stand by them. Thank you for this article- it’s about time people started to respect BTECs and the people who take them more.

  5. Meg

    I am a BTEC student now studying at the university of Exeter and have to admit I have not met another BTEC student yet. However I did try Alevels and at the time realised that if I were to stay, realistically I would not get the grades I needed to achieve my ideal career. That’s why I went to college and took a BTEC level 3 extended diploma in business and I loved it!! For me it’s a much more ideal way of learning. I found that I learnt so much more from learning short amounts and writing essays weekly, compared to memorising a years worth for a day to complete and exam. I do feel everyone has their own preferred way of learning, but for me BTEC was a life changer.

  6. Ghadeer Sheraf

    I believe that A levels are a lot harder than BTECs, and it annoys me when people who have done BTECs say for example ‘I got two As and a B’ when really they mean two Distinctions and a merit. Like why are you embarrassed to state you done a BTEC its no big deal. However, having done Alevels and a BTEC myself, BTEC are very time consuming and stressful at times but nothing comparable to Alevels.

    • Annie Plant

      BTEC has changed their rules and now are on a par with stress-fullness and hardness of A-levels

  7. Emma Casey

    I totally agree with the fact that a levels and btecs are equal. I myself have done a levels and am now currently studying for an ocr level 3 Cambridge technical in IT. I believe that yes a levels are harder than a btec however were made a lot harder for students, like myself, when they decided to make a levels linear rather than modular. To expect a student to remember every single detail about 3 subjects from the whole current year of academic learning is just unrealistic. In my case I was studying Spanish law and geography however knowing I wanted to go to uni and study law, I focused most of my time on law. This was great as I came out with a B at as level, however failed my other two meaning I couldn’t carry on at sixth form. Now I am 2 years behind but hold an offer to study law at Nottingham Trent university. To say they are not equal is wrong as universities class them as the EQUIVALENT!!!

  8. Russ

    I feel it is really sad that people have this opinion of Btech, I am currently 38 and have had a run of misfortune which resulted in me being left unemployed, after hours of discussions with my wife we decided there was no other option but to retrain thus I headed back to education after a 20 year hiatus to like yourself complete an extended diploma in Engineering at triple D* still to have people turn their noses up and face to face tell at the beginning of my university experience that Btech students are substandard and rarely do well in their degrees, I worked long and hard to get my grades and complete them around three months early so naturally I am quite sad that some lecturers feel the need to share that opinion, thank you for having the nerve to publish this it’s nice to feel quite so alone in this matter

  9. Janhvi Panchani

    To start with, i gotta admit as i am not from this country and only arrived here when i got admission in btec, i have no idea this is the case. I have been telling people my qualification the way i always had.
    Another thing that i noticed when i went to uni to study fashion and textiles, after successfully completing btec in fashion abd clothing, is that the students who opted for btec had more knowledge on the subject both in theory and practice. Also most of the students were from btec or foundation. The reason might be that it is a creative subject.
    From what i remember, i never saw that ‘looking down on me’ expression on people…or maybe i just didn’t notice as i didn’t even know that this is the case.
    Either way, if this is the mentality, that it needs to change!

  10. Azam Sarwar

    I think the reason why BTEC isnt getting the recognition it deserves is because, at the moment they are aimed at a very narrow subject group. e.g. engineering, forensics, science optometry to name a few. sure you can do pharmacy with a BTEC, but unis will ask for a chemistry A-Level with the BTEC. As time goes on hopefully BTEC will spread to other courses such as medicine and pharmacy and will have a broad range. i remember a moment when i started college, i was doing A-levels and so were my friends, they purposely went to a BTEC college just to laugh at people who never made the grade at GCSE. 12 month later they got bad grades and ended up joining the people who were doing a BTEC and are now a year behind. so dont knock anyone’s grind down, that could easily be you.

  11. Saanya Mehmood

    I completely agree with this. Both BTEC and A Levels are of equal worth therefore one shouldn’t be seen superior to the other. Also, i myself took BTEC Business and thought it would be easier because it’s all coursework but the pressure and workload is just as much as if you were to do an A level. I did end up moving to the A level version of Business just because like you mentioned different people have different ways and methods in which they learn things. BTEC should definitely not be frowned upon because it’s a qualification just like an A Level is, it still requires the same amount of hard work and effort as any anything else.

  12. Kate Dickin

    I understand as I am a BTEC student, me and others students in my course have realised how much BTEC student are judged, just because we took a BTEC doesn’t make us any less intelligent than A levels. AS many BTEC course is equivalent to 3 A levels A*- C .As a student I am studding an Art and Design level 3 ex diploma BTEC and even though I have not tried A levels except form taster days, I prefer the BTEC as the course offers so much more than 4 or 3 A levels as it involves a lot of specialisms so u can explore every opportunity within art and design.

  13. Noreena Daley

    I think it depends what kind of person you are, and how you cope with pressure. I’m doing a levels and ive never done btecs, but I know it takes a lot of effort to complete them and it can require a lot independent work… I prefer exams tbh, as I revise over long periods of time and build up over time.
    i think they both require equal dedication to do well, and both are difficult!!!
    theyre definitely equally important.

  14. Fatima Ravat

    I used to be a GCSE student who hated BTEC. However, when changing to A-level, I know wish I did BTEC because of the course content and the career opportunities that can be taken from it. I am one of those lazy but devoted student and I dont like taking the extra mile to revise, but I would rather research. Therefore, I would advise to do BTEC.

  15. Kazimul Azad

    I reckon both BTECs and A Levels have their perks. It really depends what type of person you are. In my opinion, I think that people who tend to see BTECs as the easy way out but it’s just as time consuming as doing A levels. I’m sure most people will refer to BTECs being “easier” than A levels but in the end, both types really need time and concentration to achieve a high grade.

  16. Annie Plant

    well i am a btec student i did a level 2 at GCSE and achieve top in my year in the course, i then took a btec at one college and really struggled with it but still achieved DMM which is what i need for my uni course and i am now doing a science btec which is going into as much or more detail than a levels

  17. Patience Angira Angira

    I genuinely believe I struggle more with BTEC as you have to understand and apply knowledge whereas at A-level your cramming large amounts. BTEC level 3 to actual subjects such as business as oppose to A-level counts as 2 a levels not one and can receive more UCAS points. Your only stupid if your ignorance restrains you for doing what’s best for you and your futurw.

  18. Manpreet Madhan

    I feel that content wise both alevels and btecs cover the same points and pressure however rather than an exam coursework is to be completed. seeing it change over the years many used to pass with handing in anything however now they are content specific so if you dont hit the spot you wont get the grade. this then leaves students who do btec to look out and do more research in which sometimes they do more work than the a level students. along with this they can understand things into greater depth.

  19. Azeez Kuku

    To be honest, everyone laughs at students who takes a BTEC. Everyone learns in different ways, some like the pressure of sitting down in an exam hall and pouring out a years worth of knowledge onto a paper and some like to do coursework and work as they go! Most people say that a BTEC is for dumb people but it’s just as hard, meeting deadlines, staying up all night to meet deadlines too! The fact that A-level is more recognised makes btec seem like shit anyway and it don’t matter cause the people who think a BTEC is “shxt” or is not equivalent to an A-level is stupid too. At the end of the day, we all go to university and get a job. It’s just how you get there is abit different to how others get there. If you work hard and you get some good grades then you show them off cause you worked your ass off for that 🙂

  20. Anonymous

    I did an engineering BTEC, full marks. And first year engineering for me is really easy, it’s all stuff I have done beforehand! There’s a stigma against BTECs, but for engineering at least, I feel everyone should do it, it gives so much of an advantage over A Levels with pretty much most of Physics being pretty useless to what I want to do (I did physics and maths a level too).

  21. Shreyash Last Name

    I think that every course has its own requisite difficulty level so one shouldn’t think that one course is hard and other isn’t. For example a civil engineer should be good at mathematics while a chef should know his ingredients, both have different requirements so it doesn’t mean that one is smart and other isn’t, the other one also works equally hard.

    • Rachael Horton

      I think that’s a very mature stance to take, thank you for your comment!

  22. Loyola De kergommeaux

    That is a Nice point of view… Great article!

  23. Emmanuel Emiola

    Add a comment believe that if there is an alternative such as btec, it is fantastic because it shows an interest in education. I also feel that btecs should not be frowned upon because we all have different brains and minders meaning that we have no right to judge as we are all different

  24. Quilza Menezes

    I am going to be honest, I have never thought of BTEC this way. I have always been proud of my grade and the type of qualification that I was taking at the time. Despite what other people thought and still think, BTEC courses can be as harder as any A level course. People should respect everyone’s decision no matter if they are right or wrong. At the end of the day what matters is where you’re planning to go and what you’re planning to do with the course you’ve taken. Believe or not BTEC can take you to lots of places including universities where you will find and study exactly the same course and level with people that have done A levels.

  25. I totally get what your saying, but I have a massive problem with BTEC, I did one myself and I found it appalling the way it penalises you for just one thing you do wrong. I could have got good grades, but because they go by your lowest marks, it made me look very bad. They need to change the way they are graded, to make it more fair. But apart from that they are good for students wanting a more vocational course.

  26. Dan

    What an ignorant A level snob that young student nurse was! Should have slapped her! =)

  27. Natasha Johnston

    There is nothing wrong with BTEC’s at the end of the day you have made the effort to further your education and not just sit on benefits at the end of the day. School and A Levels are not for everyone. You should be proud of your achievements regardless of how big or small and be respectful of others decisions.

  28. Nor Hamza

    I think both BTEC and A levels are equally academic as a student can choose whether to go for BTEC which is more for students that are better at working with coursework throughout the academic year or choose A levels which is for students that are better with revising and sitting in the exam at the end of the academic year.

  29. Matthew Buckley

    Although A levels are a lot more academical and do require more study and thought, me doing a level 3 btec realise that our workload is so much more as we are consistently doing work for the higher grades whereas we aren’t revising for an end of modular exam.

    • Rachael Horton

      I would actually argue that neither qualification is more academic or requires more work than the other. Both are taught in a lecture based environment, both are highly valued by universities and both require a high level of thought and skill on the part of the learner. The difference is that BTEC is essay based, an academic skill in it’s own right, whereas A level is exam based. I have been told by many people working in higher education institutions that BTEC is more highly prized than A level in some areas because of the necessity of practical experience. I have also been told that A level students can struggle with concepts that are extremely familiar to BTEC students, such as proper referencing and research of sources.

      • Matthew buckley

        I understand where you’re coming from but from a personal perspective a BTEC has led me to state facts bluntly to answer a question and if for example like me you further on to university I find essays and exams extremely hard due to me having to critically think outside of the box and think on both sides of an argument, and for the struggling wth exams that’s just because BTECS didn’t offer exams so it’s a lack of experience. 🙂

  30. Bryonie Kenton

    I’m completely with you on this one. I studied a level 3 extended diploma in health and social care as I wanted to study adult nursing at uni and I got the highest grades (D*,D*,D*). When I spoke to my friends about it they didn’t congratulate me and especially talking to older individuals it was like I just past my SATs or something because they completely brushed it off like the last 2 years of my life was nothing. With my Btec I done it was so stressful, I HAD to submit at least 3 assignments in ever 3 weeks AND I HAD to find 200 hours of work placement. It was not easy, I was constantly studying. I had put so much effort into my work and NO ONE appreciated it, no one understood how much effort I actually had to put in to achieve. But at the end of the day I’m actually the one going to uni now, I’m the one studying adult nursing and it doesn’t matter if individuals around us can appreciate our hard work because employers CAN see it.

  31. Diamond Thomas

    Btech is just a different way of learning

  32. Simen Rognmo

    I don’t really think it matters THAT much, but, if I had to say, I’d say BTEC’s are worthless.

  33. shashank reddy

    I think…b tech students are the upcoming knowledge to the world , now a days there are so many new things are cracked by the b tech students… And also this b tech life will be never forgetable life in the entire life span of a person.. So enjoy b tech life and in the other side do something for the man kind

  34. Rachael Horton

    In response to everyone who is commenting on my abysmal A level performance, I have my own reasons that I performed considerably better in my BTEC than in my A levels, chief of which was that I hated what I was studying and so made no effort to revise or even do any homework. When I first started my A levels I was actually predicted A’s and B’s. However, when I started my BTEC I finally felt that I had found something that was worth my time and I began to enjoy studying because I felt it was relevant to what I actually wanted to do. Thanks though, for allowing me to highlight how different types of learning and different qualifications suit different people.

    • J

      Like BTECs and *s, there’s no apostrophe in As or Bs either! :p

  35. I think the fact that you got Us at Alevel and D*s at BTEC show something if I’m honest…

  36. Logan

    So your trying to tell me you got U’s at As-level and then distinctions at BTEC, and then try to tell me that there are just as hard as each other…..

  37. J

    Ask any college tutor and they will tell you that BTECs (no apostrophe-the “s” just signifies a plural) are easier. Anything that allows you to constantly re-submit until you get it right is not going to be looked upon with the same esteem as something that is a one-time-only chance like A levels. Yes, students can re-take exams, but it’s still to a schedule of the exam board’s choosing, and not just a case of re-writing parts and handing it in again.

    Another reason for people to look down on BTECs is that it doesn’t actually test any retained knowledge, opening itself to additional scorn. I am not saying that BTEC students have no knowledge, but the set-up of the course allows people to go through without ever potentially retaining anything (although I know this is nigh-on impossible!). It can be equally argued that exam students will forget what they’ve revised, but they didn’t sit there doing an assessed piece with the answers in a textbook/ready made in front of them. A level exams at least show that, at some point, the information was in a student’s head. A BTEC does not show this, so people will not look at it in the same way.

    On the point of working just as hard on a qualification: Working as hard, or even harder, does not mean a subject is as demanding academically, or more difficult to pass at all. It just means the workload is the same or higher!

    It’s a similar situation to those who take A levels that have been/are perceived as easier. Tell someone you have an A level in Media Studies, then tell them you have an A level in Maths or a science. Which one gets better received? Until there is parity, there will always be lesser and greater qualifications, and greater or lesser subjects within those qualifications.

    People who do well in either form of study should be congratulated, but until BTECs have tighter restrictions administered and publicised, those with a BTEC qualification will always be treated with a higher level of disdain.

    • Rachael Horton

      I think you must be looking at quite an old BTEC (if you look in my article you will see that I have in fact used the correct grammar, but thank you for the pointer anyway) scheme of work. Modern BTEC students are given just 2 chances to submit work in order to attain higher levels. Any more than that and they are given a single chance to pass the assignment and if that is unsuccessful they may be given another chance, but at their course leader’s discretion. I would juxtapose this against the A level system where the student is permitted to retake as many times as they can afford, the timings of the exams are neither here nor there.

      You are perfectly right, BTEC does not have a high emphasis on retained knowledge (although I find the insinuation that students cannot retain knowledge to be frankly insulting) however,the student is expected to research and develop their own work far more than the average A level student. Most BTECs are only taught to a pass level, meaning that the student must research and come up with an argument of their own in order to achieve the higher grades. Is that not better than being able to parrot phrases from a textbook?
      Moving on perfectly from textbooks, I personally never used the textbooks when writing my assignments, because the plagiarism software was on a hair trigger, meaning that if my work showed the slightest similarity to the textbook, it would discredited or only marked to pass level.
      Finally, the restrictions and academic standards surrounding BTEC have been extensively changed within the last twelve. I have mentioned some of these changes above, which I believe have been widely publicised, but perhaps not to those it does not concern.
      In summary, the BTEC qualification promotes independent research, advocates for responsibility for one’s own work, introduces the student into a working environment, introduces the student to a wide array of assessment techniques (I.e, presentation, essay, report, controlled assessment (assignments written within exam conditions) etc) and has far tighter restrictions on what teachers may and may not tell their students about.

      I look forward to your reply

      • J

        The use of an apostrophe for BTECs is incorrect (as well as *’s), but the debate risks becoming about grammar rather than qualifications, especially when someone somewhere is obviously editing in response.

        With regards re-submitting work, I count three chances for submission in the example you give-a student sitting an exam does not get three attempts in quick succession. Furthermore, you say the course leader may give them another chance. In the high pressure education market, it is not in any course leader’s interests to have a failing student on their books. Institutions need “our best results ever!” to put on that banner out the front each year. While this probably isn’t the case in any way, it is still open to this abuse, which is why they continue to be looked down upon.

        Again, I didn’t ever say that BTEC students go through the course without learning anything (I did say it was nigh-on impossible to do). What I did say is that due to the nature of the course, retention is never proven/tested. This is another reason they are looked down on; people value, rightly or wrongly, a test over coursework, probably, (as I said) because a test proves retention, even if only for that millisecond in time.

        Students may be taught to a base level, with students expected to develop beyond this. This is admirable, but is not the expectation of anybody (“I’d like to taught to the minimum standard please”) , so people do not figure this into their opinion (also, show me a lecturer teaching to a base level, not pushing/developing students, and I’ll show you a lecturer about to get a visit from management). In addition, in some subjects, an idea can only be developed so many times, so there will be always be pointers available at the very least out there for people to use. They may not use the textbooks or any other outside sources, but until this can be proven definitively, this is still a possibility, and people will still figure that into their opinions.

        You say BTECs have “extensively changed within the last 12” (months?), but that means no one in the world of work has any experience of these new BTEC students, so why would their opinion have changed? They will still base it on the decades of students they’ve had previously.

        What people would consider the strengths of a BTEC can also be considered its weaknesses by others, and in in a society that values cold, hard quantitative data, the coursework option will always be seen as the poorer relation to an exam based system.

        • JM

          Of course it is proven that coursework leads to higher retention than memorizing facts. It enables you to get knowledge into your long-term memory. Many A-Level students just cram it all in last minute. Read scientific articles about memory retention, that would help.

  38. Claire Burnett

    I did a BTEC in Media Studies before going to uni and doing a degree in Journalism. I actually felt I got more physical experience and most of the people who did A Levels agreed. Although an A Level is valued higher in people’s opinion, a BTEC is a great way for people who learn different to achieve a great qualification.

  39. Tiffany Sankey

    I agree. I studied my A Levels and did better than I had expected but I do believe people who study for BTECs are treated differently and it really is a shame. Hope you get to where you want!

  40. Lauren Kerry

    I feel really strongly about this article.
    I undertook B-Tecs in school and achieved Distinction* which is the equivalent to an A*. Compared to people which undertook the GCSE version I received better results which lead me onto doing a B-TEC level 3 in business which I achieved 3 D*’S which is 3 A’s at a levels. Like I said this lead me onto achieve more than others at a level with less stress and worry of exams.
    I personally don’t see why people hate against this choice you have a chance to achieve better results without the stress of exams and you are guaranteed a pass no matter what.
    I think there has been a strong misunderstanding on B-TEC’s and that’s lead on to the perception that they are for people which cannot cope with the stress of exams etc..

  41. Logan

    So your trying to tell me you got U’s at As-level and then distinctions at BTEC, and then try to tell me that there are just as hard as each other…..

    Most of the too university coarses (medicine, dentistry, engeneering, biomedical science) dont even aknowlege vocational coarses. Needless to say that the whole of oxford and cambridge university dont even recognise B-TEC level coarses.

    • Rachael Horton

      *courses. Oxford and Cambridge certainly have a certain reputation, but I am currently studying at the highest rated Russell Group University in the UK for my course and Oxford and Cambridge do not carry my course, I have never used Oxford and Cambridge as a benchmark

      • Azam Sarwar

        at the end of uni, when you go to get a job no one cares which uni you went to. employers couldn’t give a damn if you went to oxford. all that matters is that you get a degree.

  42. georgia bevan

    BTEC’s are worthless