Steve Spriggs: Ampleforth College is now offering BTECs among its A Levels

Steve Spriggs writes on how Ampleforth College now offers BTECs, as well as A Levels, and why he thinks this will work wonderfully.

Ampleforth College, the top public school run by Benedectine monks is now offering BTECs among its A Levels in a bid to provide a “more holistic education” and I think it’s a great idea.

The education system is changing and the prestigious Yorkshire school, which has been steeped in the same Catholic tradition since it opened in 1802, can see this. Gone are the days when good A Levels from an excellent school (or excellent A Levels from a good school) would guarantee you a place at a top university. Many universities now set their own entrance exams and select on interviews rather than results. And, with fees so high and a workplace that is less than buoyant, youngsters are beginning to value skills and a trade over countless paper qualifications.

Harriet Thompson, Ampleforth’s Assistant Head Academic Development who joined the school just a few months ago and who will lead the BTECs when they begin in September says: “We pride ourselves on offering an education which not only helps our pupils flourish academically but sets them up for when they leave school.” That’s sensible. It’s no longer the case that simply attending Ampleforth opens the doors to a well-paid illustrious career.

Call me cynical but I doubt it’s the only reason. The school also has to broaden its appeal in a highly-competitive market. The impartial independent school advice website puts Ampleforth at number 71 in the league table for co-educational boarding schools. It can no longer rely on reputation alone to get pupils through the doors. Yes, its rich history, Benedectine ethos and impressive grounds prove attractive, especially for international pupils craving a quintessentially English education, but with fees at almost £35,000 a year, other schools producing better results, and results not always counting for much anyway, it’s probably not enough.

Ampleforth isn’t the first independent school to introduce BTECs although it is possibly the most high profile. Last August, The Times reported that the number of privately-schooled pupils taking BTECs had doubled in the past four years with headteachers advising youngsters to consider a different path from the traditional university route. With pupils – and parents – questioning whether higher education provides value for money and companies looking to recruit people based on their skills and experience, vocational courses look increasingly more appealing.

With Ampleforth now heading that way, I imagine other top public schools will follow and more subjects will be on offer although I wouldn’t hold your breath for BTECs in Childcare and Beauty Therapy to join the curriculum. Ampleforth is offering BTECs in only three carefully-selected subjects, which can be taken alone or combined with A levels. These are Enterprise and Entrepreneurship which equips pupils with skills to run their own business, Hospitality, which focuses on event management and Countryside Management, which will explore the legal and practical side of managing an estate. I’m sure Julian Fellowes, Ampleforth old boy and writer of Downton Abbey approves.


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