Leena Atkins, Head of Secondary at GEMS Winchester School Dubai

Leena Atkins holds a distinguished academic background, earning a Bachelor of Engineering (Hons) in Mechanical Engineering from Cardiff University. After a successful stint as a Design Engineer in the oil and gas sector, she transitioned to education, completing her teacher training in Mathematics from the University of Manchester. Her dedication to continuous learning is evident through her Master’s degree in Educational Leadership (with distinction) from Middlesex University in Dubai, and most recently her National Professional Qualification for Headship, further solidifying her leadership expertise. With over 15 years of teaching and leadership experience across four Key Stages in both the UK and Dubai, Leena brings a wealth of knowledge and a proven track record to her role. Her leadership roles have included Head of Mathematics, Head of Sixth Form, Head of Middle School, and most recently, Head of Secondary for the past four years.  She further contributes to the educational landscape as an examiner and is a qualified British Schools Overseas inspector.


For many years, A Levels have been the traditional pathway for university entrance for international British curriculum schools. Level 3 BTEC qualifications, such as Business, Sport, IT, and Creative Media, however, are an alternative pathway with proven success.

There are many misconceptions surrounding BTECs and their value in preparing students for the demands of university life. From the success of my Year 13 students, I want to highlight how BTECs provide a rigorous, inclusive, and practical approach to learning, making them a fantastic pathway for a wide range of degree courses in Dubai and internationally.

One frequent misconception is that BTECs offer a “softer” option compared to A Levels. This couldn’t be further from the truth. BTECs are designed to be academically demanding, with a strong emphasis on applied learning. Students engage with real-world scenarios, developing crucial knowledge and practical skills relevant to their chosen course. For instance, our BTEC Business program offers simulated business activities, allowing students to gain practical experience in areas like marketing and finance. This hands-on approach mirrors the project-based learning often encountered at university, equipping students with transferable skills that are highly valued by employers and universities alike.

The depth of a BTEC qualification shouldn’t be underestimated. Each program boasts a comprehensive curriculum aligned with industry standards. BTEC Sport delves into areas like sports psychology, performance nutrition, and coaching methods, preparing students for careers in sports science, coaching, or even physiotherapy. The Level 3 qualification in Sport, Fitness Instructing and Personal Training is also recognised as an industry standard qualification by the Register of Exercise Professionals for students to become approved personal trainers in the UAE. Students gain not only theoretical knowledge but also practical experience through activities like analyzing training programs, designing coaching strategies, and evaluating performance. Similarly, the BTEC IT program equips students with the latest software development skills, network security knowledge, and IT project management techniques. This prepares them for immediate employment opportunities in IT support or network administration, or positions them well for university degrees in computer science, cyber security, or software engineering.

Students like Selwan, a BTEC IT student, exemplify this advantage. Selwan has thrived in the BTEC program. His passion for technology shone through practical projects where he undertook website design and development for a fictional company. This hands-on experience not only bolstered his understanding of network security principles but also allowed him to develop problem-solving and critical thinking skills – invaluable assets for both his future career and university studies. Selwan has an offer to read Cyber Security and Forensics from Sheffield Hallam University, the sixth largest university in the UK.

BTECs move away from the pressure of high-stakes, end-of-course exams and embrace a system of continuous assessment. This means students are evaluated throughout the program on their coursework, assignments, presentations, and practical projects. This approach mirrors the ongoing assessment methods used in many university degrees, allowing students to develop strong time management and self-evaluation skills. They learn to manage deadlines, prioritise tasks, and take ownership of their learning – crucial skills for success in higher education.

Beyond academics, BTECs also nurture crucial soft skills. Through group projects, presentations, and client simulations (in the BTEC Business program, for example), students develop communication, collaboration, and teamwork skills. These are highly sought-after attributes by universities and employers alike. Furthermore, BTEC programs encourage critical thinking and problem-solving through case studies and project-based learning. Students learn to analyse situations, apply their knowledge creatively, and develop solutions – skills that will benefit them throughout their academic and professional journeys.

The versatility of BTECs is another key advantage. While they provide a strong foundation for related degree courses, such as Business BTEC leading to a Business Management degree, they also open doors to a wider range of programs. Our BTEC Creative Media students, for instance, have received offers for degrees in marketing, international business and even psychology, demonstrating the transferable skills developed through this program. These students develop expertise in areas like animation, graphic design, and web development,  but also hone their communication, creativity, and critical thinking skills – all assets for success in a variety of university courses. Additionally, BTECs are widely recognised by universities in Dubai, such as the University of Birmingham Dubai and the Rochester Institute of Technology Dubai, as well as internationally, making them a valuable asset for students planning to study in the UAE or abroad.

BTECs cater to a diverse range of learning styles. The focus on practical projects and coursework allows students who may not excel in traditional exams to shine. This makes BTECs a truly inclusive pathway to higher education, providing a valuable alternative for students who learn best through a hands-on approach.

A prime example is Drashya, a BTEC Business student who felt stifled by the theoretical nature of A-Levels.  In the BTEC program, Drashya thrived. His entrepreneurial spirit came alive as he delved into relationship marketing, business plan development, and business ethics activities. His final project, a comprehensive plan for business ethics, showcased not only his understanding of ethical behaviour but also how companies can implement socially responsible business practices. Drashya impressed his teachers and even earned himself a place at Heriot Watt University (a top 50 UK university). Drashya’s experience exemplifies how BTECs cater to students who are more hands-on and excel in applying business concepts to real-world situations.

At GEMS Winchester Dubai, we’re proud to be offering BTEC qualifications. As with any new program, places were initially limited. However, with their growing popularity and proven success, we’re committed to expanding our BTEC offerings in the coming years. This will allow more students like Simone, a BTEC Level 3 graduate, to access a clear pathway to their dream career. Simone has an offer from the University of Westminster to study law. We are confident that BTECs will continue to empower our students to achieve their academic goals and thrive in their chosen careers.

BTECs are not a lesser substitute for A Levels; they are a valuable alternative pathway with distinct advantages. They equip students with the academic rigor, practical skills, and ongoing assessment experience needed to excel in higher education. Whether students aim for a Business degree in Dubai or a Sports Science program abroad, BTECs open doors to a bright future. We ask that more universities add BTEC Level 3 qualifications to their list of entry criteria and work with us in schools to ensure our pupils are ready and well prepared to start your courses.

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