A teacher's thoughts on BTEC Applied Psychology

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Thinking about teaching BTEC Applied Psychology? We recently spoke to Amanda Bridger, Psychology teacher at Portsmouth College, about her experience of the new qualification. 

Why did you decide to offer BTEC Applied Psychology to your students?

With the recent A Level reforms, we decided to offer BTEC Applied Psychology alongside A Level Psychology in order to offer a diverse range of students the opportunity to study psychology. Many of our students take Criminology or Law, and this course sits nicely alongside – especially with our choice of option in unit 4 (Criminal and Forensic Psychology). Personally, I like the coursework element of the BTEC course as this is something Universities are asking for. It gives students the opportunity to practice formal psychological report writing as well as the chance to explore their own primary research in various depths. The applied psychology course allows students the opportunity to plan research, carry it out, write it up, and more importantly, reflect on the skills they have learned as well as recognise those they could continue to develop.

What do you love most about teaching BTEC Applied Psychology?

The applied nature. Rather than being theory heavy regarding content, it shows students how psychology is used and applied. The specification content facilitates the discussion of a range of career opportunities. I also like the coursework element, as it gives students the opportunity to plan, carry out, and reflect on their research and skills.

The specification promotes differentiation – for example, not all the details in the key studies are required but I can stretch and challenge students by manipulating how much I ask of them. This applies to the coursework element too. For each learning aim, it allows students some choice in how much they wish to cover and gives them some control over their own achievements.

I have had some students really flourish this year in their coursework. If these students had taken an exam-only qualification, this, I believe, would not be the case. Many students experience anxiety in examinations, but due to the BTEC’s coursework focus, much of this is lifted as they are half way through the assessment by the time the exam comes around.

Do you currently teach, or have you previously taught, A Level Psychology? If so, how do you feel they compare?

Yes, I currently teach A Level Psychology as well as BTEC Applied Psychology. In the BTEC, Unit 1 is very similar to the foundation paper 1 (– 9PSO_01) but with less intensity. For example, students are required to have knowledge of three key studies per approach but with much less depth, as the focus is on application (hence applied). Unit 2 gives students the option of learning some statistical tests, but it is not essential for learning aim C, allowing for differentiation. I could really stretch and challenge some students with the maths skills, whilst others could still achieve a distinction in this learning aim without doing the stats tests.

Do you think you will continue teaching BTEC Applied Psychology - why?

Absolutely. It is a rigorous course, but accessible to many types of students. It also complements the other courses on offer to students, such as criminology, sociology, and law. Many of our students study these and/or health and social care.Students receive the opportunity to discuss their findings and explore their subject area in as much detail as those studying BTEC Applied Psychology. Additionally, students are able to reflect on their own skills and progression (through learning aim D).Students learn how to work to deadlines, manage their time, find information for themselves, and hone basic skills like using an index correctly and referencing. They experience writing up a psychological report and can reflect on those skills they need to develop before commencing their journey to university or employment.

"It is a rigorous course, but accessible to many types of students."

What have your students done/achieved that has made you proud of them?

The quality of the coursework has been outstanding. Many students really got involved in their practical research (learning aims B-D) and produced reports of a high quality. Some students who would avoid maths rose to the challenge of doing a statistical test (Spearman’s rho) and were delighted with their own achievements. Their commitment to the course has been great – many have worked hard this year, and knowing it was a new course for the teachers too, they really have given it their best.

When setting flipped learning, I often gave them tasks to do that were related but not necessarily directly on the specification. For example, I set them the task of making a neuron when we started biological psychology. The efforts some students went to was fantastic – one student made a cake, another made a neuron out of wood, others utilised household materials.

Would you recommend a BTEC in Applied Psychology to teachers and students? If so, why?

Yes, I would. Some students have decided to take up BTEC Applied Psychology next year instead of A Levels, as it suits their learning styles better. It seems a shame for someone to have such an interest and desire to want to study a subject but be prevented by the requirements or structure of a course. The applied course is perfect for these students.

The course is applied and as such facilitates much discussion into career pathways while also equipping students with numerous skills that employers are looking for. We opted to use the assignment briefs set by Pearson and these give students a flavour of what working as a psychologist is like.

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