Gove launches technology focused Tech-bacc as vocational equivalent to A levels

Michael Gove has announced the technical baccalaureate qualification “providing an alternative to the A level study route for post-16 education”.    It will be introduced for courses beginning in September 2014, reported for the first time in the college and school sixth-form performance tables in January 2017.

It will be a performance measure marking achievement by young people aged 16 to 19 consisting of 3 elements:

  • a high-quality level 3 vocational qualification – only the best courses, recognised by employers, will continue to count in league tables; a list of these courses will be published towards the end of the year
  • a level 3 ‘core maths’ qualification, including AS level maths (further information about core maths courses for post-16 students will be published by the Department for Education (DfE) in due course)
  • the extended project, which will develop and test students’ skills in extended writing, communication, research, and self-discipline and self-motivation

The Government says it will be “rigorous and challenging, finally giving vocational education the high status it deserves – putting it on a par with A level study and recognising excellence” and a “ first-class alternative to the more traditional A level route, ensuring students have the technical ability employers want, and giving Britain the skilled workforce it needs to compete in the global race.”

What do we think?  As a sector, we know that applicants to HE Engineering who have BTEC and other non A level qualifications tend to do well.  And the inclusion of Maths as a key element to this qualification is to be welcomed.  But do let us have your views…


  1. Trevor Davies says

    “As a sector, we know that applicants to HE Engineering who have BTEC and other non A level qualifications tend to do well”

    This has not been our experience at Glasgow University (I have responsibility for engng admissions) but perhaps this claim is not intended to encompass MEng level programmes?. Certainly, at Glasgow, applicants presenting “vocational” qualifications perform considerably worse than average. This may be because our comparators are (mainly) students presenting Scottish “Highers” and “Advanced Highers”, and not “A-levels” – around which there has of course been much debate. In any event, applicants presenting vocational qualifications now have to provide supplementary (academic) proof of competence in mathematics.

    • I disagree. Our observation in recent times is that BTEC entrants are better prepared for a university course. I suspect this is for two reasons;
      Firstly, they are not subjected to the coursework-driven regime of A-Level (which doesn’t lead to deep independant learning), and
      Secondly (possibly more importantly) we know folks with BTEC are already committed to engineering and better aware of what is involved. Certainly someone straight in from a grammar school is much more of a retention hazard!

  2. Simon Hodgson says

    In my view what we need more than anything else is some clarity and consistency of message. Certainly there is a lot of confusion out there re the baccalaureate and what actually is, and the risk is that this could do more harm than good unless some urgent effort is put into this. It is a shame that the two main political parties seem to be using this to score political points off each other rather than admitting that there is broad consensus between them on the issue and getting behind it.

    “The tech bacc – technical baccalaureate – will exist in name only, with the Department for Education stressing it is not itself a qualification but “a performance measure marking achievement by young people aged 16 to 19” (

    If it isn’t actually a qualification, then it is difficult to see that it will generate huge appetite amongst schools and colleges, or that it would be considered ”on a par with A levels”. The government seems to be relying on the inclusion of this in School and College league tables as the driver to make it happen. It will be interesting to see if this is enough. Early evidence from young peoples, albeit very limited and not necessarily from the target group, doesn’t seem exactly a ringing endorsement either (see

    From a university perspective, it is interesting that this is aimed at that sector of the population who don’t go on to university – so to some extent we could perhaps be forgiven for not getting involved in this debate, but the reality is that there are a significant proportion of students who switch between “vocational” and “academic” pathways – hence the UCAS Tariff points equivalence of vocational level 3 courses – so this will likely have some real impact on our sector.
    There does seem quite a lot of qualitative evidence that for engineering the more limited mathematical content of vocational courses is a particular issue for students transitioning to university, so the suggestion that the “tech bach” will place more emphasis on this, including a formal “rigorous” mathematics component as one of the three compulsory strands. So provided the level and content of this is sufficient then it seems generally a good thing. Our challenge as EPC will be to ensure that (just as with A level reform) that we are able to help influence and shape the curriculum that fits within this so it is fit for our purposes as well as for students who pursue alternate career pathways outside university. If anyone wants to join our working group looking at this (encompassed within our Admissions and Recruitment group which is concerned with all aspects of the preparation of students to study engineering at university, as well as the attractiveness of our provision) please could you contact our Director Susan Kay (email

    In any event the more comments here, the better we will be able to understand and represent the mood of the sector.

    • Dik Morling says

      It is interesting that all the respondents in the Student Room wrongly assumed that the Tech Bacc was a new qualification in its own right.
      In fact, just like the English Bacc at Level 2, the Tech Bacc is just a set of league table criteria. Using the term “Baccalaureate” is confusing in both cases. No student will get a Tech Bacc certificate.

      Having said that, the Baker-Dearing Trust (behind the UTC movement) with City & Guilds have actually proposed a separate qualification called a Technical Baccalaureate. See: The Government’s press release does not rule this out. Two different sorts of Tech Bacc? Now that would really be confusing!

  3. My observation on students over my years of teaching is that they tend now to have much less in the way of personal work discipline and tenacity when presented with a problem. I blame this partly on the coursework focussed regime they have in schools. My students are often quite shocked when I give them feedback on work and they find they have not got an opportunity to improve on thier submission.
    With regards to the proposed tech bacc, I like the principle and I like the inclusion of some real mathematics. However if “vocational” means that the students have so much “hands-on” work (largely guided by teachers), then I doubt if the fundamental problems (work discipline, and deep learning) will be addressed. Whilst it is argued by some that traditional examinations don’t work… I think the activity of preparing for an examination supports better learning and more independance on part of the students.

  4. Dik Morling says

    The discussion regarding BTEC National Diploma’s (now Extended Diplomas) versus A Levels is an old one.
    I would say that the consensus is that the Extended Diplomas and the new Advanced Diploma in Engineering gives first-year degree students better preparation for the practical elements of their course but their mathematical preparation is wanting. This is a particular issues for CEng as opposed to IEng accredited courses.
    This was the reason for EPC to support the development of the Maths for Engineering ASL course to complement the Advanced Diploma in Engineering. In my opinion, this qualification is a better preparation for engineering degree study than A Level Maths.
    In that respect, the inclusion of an additional Mathematics qualification is to be welcomed.

    This proposal has to be considered in conjunction with the Government’s proposals to classify Level 3 qualifications into three groups: “Academic”, “Applied General Qualifications” and “Occupational Qualifications”. A Levels are in the first group and BTEC would be in the second. Details of a consultation on these proposals can be found at
    The deadline for submission to the DfE is 10 May. EPC is preparing a response to this so please post any thoughts you may have on these proposals here.

  5. Geoff Parks says

    I agree with previous comments about the tremendous scope for confusion about the Tech-bacc actually is. That being said, if its existence encourages more students and teachers/lecturers to consider a Maths qualification and an extended project as the natural choices to complement a level 3 vocational Engineering qualification then this will go a long way to keeping the option of higher education open for such students. If the Maths qualification could be the EPC supported Maths for Engineering qualification, so much the better. A level 3 vocational Engineering qualification, the Maths for Engineering qualification and an extended project would qualify a student to apply for Engineering at the University of Cambridge (assuming high performance in each, of course).

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