The government made BTEC students like me feel we didn’t matter

16 Jan 2021, 7:53


BTEC students have been put on an exams rollercoaster since the start of this term, writes Fatma Shami

Just days after the national lockdown was announced, I was told my exams were set to go ahead on January 12 and 13. I was very fortunate at my college to have my exams cancelled in the end, but I never want to repeat the experience. 

I am studying BTEC Level 3 Applied Science and the exams I was going to take this month were for unit 1.

On one side I was told by my teachers “you still need to revise, your exams most likely won’t be cancelled”, and then several days later I found out that the decision was being passed on to individual colleges and schools, and it was up to them.  

To say it was one of the most uncomfortable situations that I have been in is an understatement. I genuinely thought that I was going to be forced to sit in an exam hall just because my college cared more about the results we needed rather than our safety. 

My mental health has struggled severely during lockdown and remote learning in the first lockdown. This lack of a decision around the BTEC exams, completely disregarding them and just passing on the decision to colleges, has affected me in ways that I didn’t realise were possible.  

I wasn’t motivated to attend any of my lessons even though they are remote, or to leave my bedroom, and I gradually became less motivated to talk to my family and friends or even watch TV, just because I thought that the government cared more about A-levels and GCSEs. 

It left me with a feeling that just because I do a BTEC that I don’t matter, or that I am not enough, and that universities won’t accept me solely on that reason.  

And with how stressed I’d become, I couldn’t sleep for a couple of days and was crying every so often, until I was told by my college “you will not be sitting your exams”. 

It was at that point I felt relieved because I knew that if I were to sit in that exam hall, my mind and focus would be on “what if this invigilator stands too close to me and they might have Covid?”.

What if this invigilator stands too close to me and they might have Covid?

When I first received the email, which was during my lesson, to say that my exam was cancelled, I had screamed and I was crying. Whether that was tears of happiness or anxiousness, I have no idea.  

I remember calling one of my friends who was with me in my class and saying to them, “Is this real? Are you sure that it’s not a joke?”.

My friends have also joined me as members of this emotional rollercoaster. We felt like we had been placed in a box and we were trapped ̶ our voices were silenced and there was nothing that we could do, until we had been told we weren’t sitting the exams.  

When we found out, we felt as though we had finally become important and ultimately that we mattered and we were equal to A-levels and GCSEs. 

This one is for the colleges across the nation. As a student I’d like you to thank you for all the hard work and the immense support that you are giving your students and for prioritising the students’ wellbeing and safety over the results that you receive every year. 

You are the heroes in many students’ eyes because of the lack of leadership in the government. The decision on BTECs was passed on like a parcel, but you decided that you weren’t going to risk your students.   

The government needs to listen to our voices as further education students. If they address A-level and GCSE students, they should also address BTEC students, because all students matter, whatever the qualification they take.   

Every qualification and every educational institution is equal. So before you in the government decide to address any issues or questions in the House of Commons that concern education, make sure you have addressed ALL national exams, not just the “common” ones.

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One comment

  1. I feel sorry for Fatma and all of the other one million students who study for a BTEC each year. She writes eloquently about her personal difficulties, and I hope that people with more influence than I have read her article and have made an approach to her.
    This pandemic will change this world, but the acceptance of that fact will be a small step in the beginning of a start of the evolution of learning. Exams may well be on their last legs, as would league tables, and the emphasis on proper teaching and grading would be an enlightened way forward.
    Breath holding, anyone?