IBCP or BTEC? Find the Right Vocational Course

As the time comes to finalise sixth form and college applications, have you considered a vocational post-16 course? While the majority of international schools will offer the more traditional choice of A Levels, the US-based Advanced Placement (AP) programme, and the International Baccalaureate Diploma Programme (IBDP), a vocational qualification may suit students who know from an early age that they want to focus on a specific career path.
IBCP or BTEC? Find the Right Vocational Course
By Jenny Mollon
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Which vocational course to choose? One option is the International Baccalaureate Careers Programme (IBCP) – an alternative to the IB Diploma Programme that’s specifically developed for students who want to focus on career-related learning. It is an extension of the UK's BTEC, and can lead to university, apprenticeships or employment. Another is the BTEC (Business and Technology Education Council), which is a UK-based specialist, work-related qualification in subjects including Business, Art & Design, Performing Arts or Sport.

Set aside any misconceptions that these courses are an easier or inferior alternative to more traditional and academic college courses. While both qualifications may be less academic, they are technically rigorous, and require both skill and practical knowledge.

With more than 95% of UK universities accepting BTEC or IBCP for entry, these high-level courses are clearly a well-established pathway into university. Even more than that, and with 33% of UK job vacancies considered to be hard to fill because of “skill shortage vacancies”, you may just get the edge with employers that value hands on, real life skills just as highly as academic qualifications.

Where can I study the IBCP?

Today, 214 schools in 23 countries now offer the IBCP, including the following schools in the UAE itself:

School name Community City
Ambassador International Academy Al Quoz Dubai
Deira International School Festival City Dubai
Dubai International Academy Emirates Hills Dubai
Dubai International Academy Al Barsha Al Barsha 1 Dubai
Dwight School Dubai Al Barsha South Dubai
Emirates International School Jumeirah Umm Suqeim Dubai
Fairgreen International School The Sustainable City Dubai Dubai
GEMS Wellington Academy, Dubai Silicon Oasis Dubai Silicon Oasis Dubai
GEMS Wellington International School  Al Sufouh Dubai
GEMS World Academy Dubai Al Barsha Dubai
Greenfield International School Dubai Investments Park Dubai
Jumeira Baccalaureate School Jumeirah 1 Dubai
Raffles World Academy Umm Suqeim Dubai
Raha International School, Khalifa City Khalifa City Abu Dhabi
Sunmarke School Jumeirah Village Triangle Dubai
Swiss International Scientific School Dubai Dubai Healthcare City Phase 2 Dubai
Taaleem Jumeirah 1 Dubai
Uptown School Mirdif Dubai

What does the IBCP curriculum look like?

The IB Organisation describes the structure of the IBCP course as one divided into three key areas.

“Students complete at least two DP courses in any of that programme's subject groups. DP courses provide and enhance the theoretical underpinnings and academic rigour of the CP.
The CP core components give context to the DP courses and the career-related study, drawing all aspects of the framework together. Through the CP core, students develop personal qualities and professional skills, as well as intellectual habits required for lifelong learning.
Each school chooses the career-related study most suited to local conditions and the needs of its students. The career-related study must satisfy IB criteria for accreditation, assessment and quality assurance”.

In practice, what this means is that options for study within the IBCP qualification are many and varied. Schools can choose to partner with external study or work experience providers to create a unique experience for their students. At Fairgreen International School, the team have created a bespoke IBCP programme by partnering with The Sustainability Management School of Switzerland (SUMAS).

The course will commence in the 2021-2022 academic year (after expected IB authorisation this June). Fairgreen's IBCP integrates academic study with hands-on, real-world learning for students with an interest in or passion for sustainability. Students will produce practical sustainability-focussed projects guided by industry professionals and SUMAS professors, delivered via live streaming and with the use of interactive online platforms.

Graeme Scott, Director of Fairgreen International told WhichSchoolAdvisor.com:

“Through this partnership, Fairgreen students will be able to embrace an international network of experts in sustainability by choosing tracks in: Nature Conservation, Sustainable Hospitality, or Sustainable Fashion and more.
Students will be part of the SUMAS Eco-Club, which is a global network of IBCP students, to share experiences and support to create, develop and implement projects that increase sustainability at Fairgreen and beyond in the broader community. Our IBCP will include practical experiences working with professionals in The Sustainable City, SUMAS, and beyond, as students will connect to experts and mentors who will guide them in the sustainability-related field of their choice. Students who complete the IBCP can earn up to 12 credit hours that can be applied at SUMAS toward the completion of their Bachelor’s degree.
"We are always looking for innovative ways to inspire our students, whilst preparing them for the diverse, multidisciplinary world they live in. The IBCP pathway is already dynamic and highly relevant, and our partnership with SUMAS goes one step further, adding authenticity, employability and a true values-based approach."

What about BTEC?

BTECs are offered at more than 29 schools in the UAE. These include,

School name Community City
Al Yasmina Academy Al Raha Gardens Abu Dhabi
Arcadia School Jumeirah Village Triangle Dubai
British School Al Khubairat, Abu Dhabi Al Khubairat Abu Dhabi
Cambridge International School Dubai Al Twar Dubai
DEWA Academy Al Hudaiba Dubai
Diyafah International School MBZ Mohammed Bin Zayed City Abu Dhabi
Dubai British School Emirates Hills Dubai
Dubai British School Jumeirah Park Jumeirah Park Dubai
Dubai English Speaking College Dubai Academic City Dubai
Dubai International Academy Emirates Hills Dubai
GEMS FirstPoint School The Villa Dubai
GEMS Wellington Academy Al Khail Dubai Hills Estate Dubai
GEMS Wellington Academy, Dubai Silicon Oasis Dubai Silicon Oasis Dubai
GEMS Wellington International School, Dubai Al Sufouh Dubai
Jumeira Baccalaureate School Jumeirah 1 Dubai
Jumeirah English Speaking School Arabian Ranches Arabian Ranches Dubai
Kent College Dubai Nad al Sheba Dubai
Oxford School Al Muhaisnah Dubai
Raffles International School Umm Suqeim Dubai
Raffles World Academy Umm Suqeim Dubai
Regent International School The Greens Dubai
Safa Community School Motor City Dubai
Sunmarke School Jumeirah Village Triangle Dubai
The Aquila School The Villa Dubai
The Arbor School Al Furjan Dubai
The English College Dubai Umm Suqeim Dubai
The Sheffield Private School Al Nahda Dubai
The Winchester School Jebel Ali Dubai
Uptown School Mirdif Dubai

What subjects are available in BTEC courses?

There are over 2,000 BTEC qualifications across 16 sectors and available from entry level through to professional qualifications at level 7 (equivalent to postgraduate study). Level 3 is equivalent to A Levels and, like the IBCP, is designed for people interested in a particular sector or industry.  In the UAE, popular BTEC subject areas include Business, Enterprise and Entrepreneurship, Sport Science, Art and Design and Leisure and Tourism. 

We asked Matthew Tompkins, Principal-CEO at GEMS FirstPoint School a series of questions to help us better understand BTEC courses and how they differ from IBCP.

Matthew, what makes BTEC a powerful option for students?

“BTECs are designed to provide students with the practical skills and knowledge they need to pursue their career path. They provide highly specialised and work-related learning alongside the theoretical and academic aspects of the subject. Assessment can take the form of project-based learning, creation of a portfolio of evidence and other tasks throughout the course, rather than one final examination as with A-levels (although there are still examined units in most BTEC courses).

"At GEMS FirstPoint School, our BTEC Enterprise and Entrepreneurship is a popular course chosen by students alongside other A-levels, often including Business and Economics. The course gives students exposure to professional skills that they will need in the workplace in the future, such as conducting market research, exploring social enterprise and pitching their ideas in a TED Talk”.

Can you explain to our readers how a standalone BTEC differs from the IBCP?

“Both BTEC and IBCP programmes help students to prepare to be an effective and efficient global citizen. The IBCP has a core vocational component (which is normally delivered through a BTEC) taught within a curriculum of exploration of personal skills, language development, social awareness, two IB subjects and a reflective project.

"Within the British curriculum, the BTEC is normally taught as a discreet unit, meaning greater flexibility for students to choose two or three A-levels alongside this. This way, students get the vocational and practical learning as well as the academic rigour of the traditional A-level courses much desired by top universities.

"There is also a larger BTEC qualification that students can select, which is the equivalent to three A-levels. This would, in most cases, then form the student’s full sixth form study requirement”.

Is BTEC a recognised university pathway?

“BTECs are Level 3 vocational qualifications that provide specialist, work-related learning across a range of sectors. Alongside A-levels, they are one of the most popular qualifications for preparation for university. They are recognised as a university pathway in a growing number of countries. BTEC Nationals are designed to equip students with the specialist knowledge, practical skills and understanding they need to progress to further study, and although not all countries are ready to accept these independently, alongside the right combination of A-levels they can make a powerful and very attractive offer”.


BTEC, IBCP...future ready qualifications?

Whatever the pathway your child chooses, it’s clear that they will be joining a growing body of students choosing vocational education for their post-16 studies.

Vocational courses are in no way inferior to their academic counterparts.  With the world of work changing at an ever increasing pace, many students may find that a combination of skills and knowledge is exactly what they need to discover, and unlock, their dream career.  

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