BTEC Higher Nationals Case Study: Brendan Coulson
Brendan studied a Higher National Certificate in Computing at Loughborough College in Leicestershire. From this, he went on to achieve a first-class honours degree in Computer Science, and is now studying towards his PhD.
A rocky start
During my time at school, I struggled to attend, and when I did, it was with a feeling of complete dread, anxiety, and stress. The night before school felt like a countdown to misery, and what I did not realise at the time is that I had an undiagnosed mental health condition, which I now know to be Generalised Anxiety Disorder (GAD). Consequently, I left school with no GCSEs at grade C or above. Through medical support and counselling to help with my anxiety, I managed to focus more on education and achieve some Level 2 certificates and further GCSE qualifications in English and Maths.
Excelling with my Level 3 studies
Following this, I then applied to Loughborough College, asking them to give me a chance on a Level 3 Computing course and prove my skills. I later passed the course with flying colours and had made a huge improvement compared to my previous studies.
As a result of this, I had finally met the entry criteria to start my Higher National Certificate (HNC) in Computing at Loughborough College. I still remember the feeling that I was an imposter, and kept asking myself, how can I do this? On the other hand, I also felt so positive that I was now in a position where I could say that I am studying a BTEC Higher National course – I remember feeling so proud of myself.
The HNC was designed in such a way that it enabled me to progress, and complete work at a pace that was more suitable to me. At that time, my reading was still not up to scratch, therefore the assignment-based study reduced the threat of failing an exam despite having the knowledge, because I simply could not read the question properly. In addition to the super support I received from college tutors, Pearson online resources and recommended text allowed me to complete activities in my own time. Subsequently, I achieved a distinction overall and the HNC journey gave me the confidence to take my studies to the next step.
Completing my degree, and moving onto a PhD
Because of the HNC, I developed a thirst for lifelong learning. It made me appreciate that with the right support and course, anyone can achieve their goals. From the academic knowledge and practical confidence in computing that I gained by studying the HNC, I was ready for the next challenge. I chose to continue my education even further by completing a BSc (Hons) Computer Science Degree, which I achieved with a first class honours.
I then went onto achieve a PGCE, a Masters in Learning, Teaching and Education, Advanced Teacher Status, and Principal Fellow Membership of Advance HE. This has further boosted me along my journey to work within the Education sector, and in my current position now where I am studying a PhD in Education at Nottingham Trent University (NTU), alongside working fulltime in academia.
I am so grateful to the post-16 and 18 education system, and especially grateful to Pearson for creating a suite of qualifications that provide access to higher-level skills, and a pathway which does not differ at all in quality compared to ‘academic awards’ but simply provides a different approach to learning.
My current work with Nottingham Trent University
I am now working in Higher Education at NTU as an Education Project Start-Up Lead to develop level 4 & 5 qualifications. In my role I have the confidence to speak at conferences, write strategic documents, help create a book soon to be published to help children deal with GAD, and a series of publications (see below). I am so proud that this work has led me back to Pearson to work in partnership with NTU, to provide others with an option to study the knowledge, skills and behaviours required by industry today.
My advice to any prospective student is to believe in yourself, seek out help to address any barriers you have that prevents you from achieving your own goals, and never give-up. Remember that education can be a great equalizer, it can help you to achieve your ambitions, and to go beyond what you could have ever imagined yourself achieving. Pearson qualifications provide a suite of courses that are recognised by industry and education, these courses offer a brilliant opportunity to start your journey.
Coulson, B. 2021. The Skills for Jobs white paper: A chance to provide ‘flexibility’. [Blog] Available at: https://www.bera.ac.uk/blog/the-skills-for-jobs-white-paper-a-chance-to-provide-flexibility
Coulson, B. 2021. The Purpose of Education. [Blog] Available at: https://www.hepi.ac.uk/2021/07/23/the-purpose-of-education/
Coulson, B. 2022. What does the Higher Technical Kitemark really mean? [Blog] Available at: https://wonkhe.com/blogs/what-does-the-higher-technical-kitemark-really-mean/
Cole, D., Coulson, B. 2022. Beyond COVID-19: Promoting Whole Person Lifelong and Life Wide Learning. Journal of Innovation in Polytechnic Education (JIPE). Humber Press. Available at: https://jipe.ca/index.php/jipe/issue/view/5/6