British independent schools are renowned for small class sizes, individual care, and academic achievement. Exam success is one of the main reasons why parents choose to invest substantial sums of money in their child’s education.
The top-ranked schools for A-levels are seriously competitive to get in to, with students usually needing to pass extremely challenging entrance tests and interviews.
But it’s a common misconception that all private schools only enrol the most academically capable students. According to the Independent Schools Council (ISC) census of 2023, 18.6% of students in British independent schools have some kind of special educational need, and most of these receive support to manage dyslexia, dyscalculia and other mild to moderate learning difficulties.
Of course, you don’t need to have learning difficulties to find A-levels and their rigorous academic exams unappealing.
Not all children are suited for academically competitive environments, and many are unable to do themselves justice under stressful exam conditions – so what sort of private schools do these children go to?
Non-selective private schools
Such students tend to go to non-selective schools. These schools usually attach less importance to exam results, instead focussing on providing a well-rounded educational experience. They understand that A-levels, with their final grades awarded on a handful of timed written exams, are just not suitable for some students. Alternative ways of learning and assessing students’ abilities and progress are required.
BTECs are great for students who learn “by doing”. BTEC Nationals are taken in 6th form (age 16-18) and can be equivalent to 1, 2 or 3 A-levels. Regular assessments mean students build their grades cumulatively over the course of 2 years, so they’re not at the mercy of the “sink or swim” final exams of A-levels.
The rise of BTECs in private schools
This could well explain the rise of BTEC in English independent school sixth forms. Data from the government’s school performance data service reveals that, in 2022, over 190 independent schools offered at least 1 BTEC qualification in 6th form. In 2012, this number stood at under 60.
Many parents worry that their child won’t be able to go to university with BTECs, but the UCAS (Universities and Colleges Admissions Service) 2020 end-of-cycle report reported that the university acceptance rate for applicants holding only BTECS rose from 76.4% in 2011 to 87.5% in 2020. For context, the acceptance rate for students holding only A-levels was 90.7%, and it’s 89.6% for students holding a combination of A-levels and BTECs.
So, there’s a very clear case for choosing BTECs in 6th form: BTECs can give certain students much better learning and university outcomes than A-levels.
The difficulty is in finding which private schools offer BTECs in the UK. To get you started, here are the top 5 schools from the list of 50 best private schools for BTECs.
Schools are ranked by how many BTECs the average student took in 2022, thereby revealing the schools where BTECs are most popular.
1. Milton Abbey School
Location: Blandford Forum, Dorset
Ages: 13 – 18, Day and Boarding
Annual 6th form day fees: £27,570
Annual 6th form boarding fees: £51,135
Total number of BTEC exam entries: 48
Number of BTEC exam entries per student: 1.53
With the slogan “Learn Differently”, Milton Abbey leads the way in finding the right academic pathway for each of its students. The school offers the widest range of BTECs of all British independent schools and, with around 200 students, is small enough for teachers to know and support each student’s individual strengths and challenges. Milton Abbey was named BTEC School of the Year 2019 by the BTEC awarding body, Pearson.
The beautiful campus in Dorset offers plenty of fresh air and sporting activities, with the school even having its own golf course. Most students are full boarders, with local day students making up the numbers.
The Third, Fourth and Lower Sixth Forms are taking part in end-of-year trips, spanning from surfing in Cornwall to outdoor adventures in Somerset. This first update is from the Fourth Form kayaking on the River Frome in Purbeck. More to follow as we get them from trip leaders! pic.twitter.com/9CSZLKeXWI
— Milton Abbey School | Learn Differently (@MiltonAbbey) July 3, 2023
2. Canbury School
Location: Kingston upon Thames, Surrey
Ages: 11 – 18,
Annual 6th form day fees: £19,851
Total number of BTEC exam entries: 12
Number of BTEC exam entries per student: 1.43
Nestled in a leafy Surrey suburb, Canbury School is a tiny senior day school serving the local community. Class sizes are never any more than 17, and approximately 75 students attend the school at present. The school has a very strong focus on supporting students with learning difficulties and, according to its latest Independent Schools Inspectorate (ISI) report the majority of its students to have an EHCP (Education, health and care plan.)
In the 6th form, Canbury School can offer individualised learning programmes for its students. A handful of A-levels and BTECs are offered, and the provision of specific subjects tends to change on an annual basis to meet student demands.
— Canbury School (@canbury_school) January 4, 2023
3. The Faculty of Queen Ethelburga’s
Location: York, North Yorkshire
Type: Day & Boarding
Annual 6th form day fees (UK students): £20,850
Annual 6th form boarding fees (UK students): £37,800
Annual 6th form boarding fees (International students): £59,850
Total number of BTEC exam entries: 101
Number of BTEC exam entries per student: 1.34
Queen Ethelburga’s is a powerhouse of a private school for children aged 1-18, with around 800 boarders and over 350 local day students bussed in from around the York area. Far from a traditional boarding school, QE is modern, and international, and has some seriously impressive facilities.
At age 14 the more academically capable students are channelled into the “College”, with those needing a little more support entering the “Faculty.” This allows the school to focus on students’ academic needs, with the target to make sure each student fulfils their academic potential. A-levels are offered alongside a wide range of BTEC Nationals equivalent to either 1, 2 or 3 A-levels. This gives students a great amount of flexibility to mix and match courses and give themselves the best chance of progressing to their target university.
The competition was high on Saturday at our annual OE vs QE event!
— Queen Ethelburga’s (@qethelburgas) May 2, 2023
4. Arnold Lodge
Location: Leamington Spa, West Midlands
Annual 6th form day fees: £20,850
Total number of BTEC exam entries 2022: 17
No. of BTEC exam entries per student: 1.27
With around 400 pupils from ages 4-18, Arnold Lodge School is a fine example of what a non-selective independent school should look like. The priority is to produce happy and confident students who are ready to face the challenges of adulthood and contribute to the world. Simply put, the school aims to provide a genuinely “well-rounded” education.
For a non-selective school, academic results are still strong (45% A*-A grades in A-level, 2022) and the school is clever in offering a flexible selection of BTECs so students can balance out their choices to maximise their performance and results.
We are incredibly proud to announce that ALS has been shortlisted for Co-educational Independent School of the Year in the 2023 Independent Schools of the Year Awards! A tremendous testament to all the pupils, staff and parents in our community. Well done everyone! #ISOTY2023 pic.twitter.com/hTGfhVJImg
— Arnold Lodge School (@ArnoldLodgeNews) July 6, 2023
5. Dover College
Location: Dover, Kent
Type: Day, Boarding
Annual 6th form day fees: £19,677
Annual 6th form boarding fees: £40,515
Total number of BTEC exam entries: 41
No. of BTEC exam entries per student: 1.17
Serving around 300 students, including 100 boarders, Dover College is another school that is small enough to make sure every student gets the personal attention they need. The school’s green campus is fairly central to the town but offers plenty of space for students to enjoy sports and activities in the seaside air.
Dover College continues to support students in 6th form, helping them to develop confidence and maximise their potential. Most students will take a combination of BTECs and A-levels and receive bespoke advice on choosing the right subjects for their university goals.
Prize Day 2023 has arrived, and the weather forecast is good! We can’t wait to welcome pupils, their families and other friends of the College later on this morning to celebrate individual and collective achievement this year.#PrizeDay #LastDayOfTerm pic.twitter.com/KNycFZ9mTV
— Dover College (@DoverCollege) July 6, 2023
Find out more and visit some schools
You can visit each school’s website or give them a call to find out what exactly what BTEC and A-level subjects they are offering each year. Your young person will need to choose the right combination to meet the entrance requirements of their target undergraduate courses and universities.
Figure out what you are looking for in a school, then arrange to visit them. You’ll want to check out the facilities, get a feel for the ethos and atmosphere, and understand the individual learning plan they will put in place for your young person. If you get the right combination of BTECs, and potentially A-levels, your young person will exceed academic expectations and leave 6th form focussed, confident, and looking forward to the future.
- Blogger and Educator by Passion | Senior Online Media & PR Strategist at ClickDo Ltd. | Contributor to many Education, Business & Lifestyle Blogs in the United Kingdom & Germany | Summer Course Student at the London School of Journalism and Course Instructor at the SeekaHost University.
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