Functional Skills for FE

From August 2012 Functional Skills is fully funded and replaces Adult Basic Skills and Key Skills. Ofqual has confirmed that the operational end-dates of these qualifications mean that no new enrolments will be taken beyond August 2012 for ABS Certificates and September 2012 for Key Skills qualifications.

The Department for Business Innovation and Skills said the following about Entry Levels:
“It is expected that providers will offer either Functional English and Maths qualifications at Entry Level or whatever new qualifications are available that provide a coherent progression pathway for learners from Entry Level upwards.”

This government is also committed to adults progressing towards GCSE. In the section about funding the statement read:

“We will fund GCSE English and Maths qualifications for adults from August 2012. Functional English and Maths qualifications from Entry Level up to and including Level 2 will also be funded.”

For more information please see the Skills Funding Agency website (external link).


If you work in FE you may well be aware that many providers and tutors felt that the Adult Basic Skills tests were perhaps not sufficiently robust. Research showed that even learners who passed Level 2 Adult Literacy national tests were often not confident in writing. While the move to Functional Skills may be welcome, it will also be a challenge, as it is likely to be more difficult to achieve a pass compared with previous qualifications.

A common misconception is that Functional Skills tests demand more from learners than previous qualifications. As the standards have been taken directly from Key Skills, the Adult Core Curriculum and the National Curriculum at appropriate levels, this is simply not the case. What is different is that students are expected to have secure skills and to be able to apply these skills in a range of practical contexts.

This perceived difficulty is actually the qualification’s real power. English, Maths and ICT are the basis of all learning and they need to be taught in context. What would be the point of cramming students with knowledge without teaching them how to use that knowledge in any practical sense? For example, teach students isolated skills of calculating with time and money without showing them how to use these skills to plan and cost a journey.

With Functional Skills learners learn how to apply skills and to link topics together so that they are able to transfer learning and apply it to everyday contexts.

The challenge in FE will be to:

  • administer an initial diagnostic assessment that will identify specific skills gaps
  • devise a tailored programme of support to plug any gaps in those skills
  • ensure that your learners skills are secure at the level at which you will be entering them for assessment
  • provide your learners with a wide-range of practical activities to practice their skills.

You need to make sure that you have material that will teach both the specific subjects and to develop the practical application of the skills.


Stepping stones to Functional Skills?

With the disappearance of Skills for Life qualifications, awarding organisations are developing new QCF English and Maths qualifications. These qualifications may be more suitable for adult learners who will need extra scaffolding. The English qualifications will also be good for ESOL students.

OCR are launching a series of Proficiency Awards in English and Maths from Entry Level 1 through to Level 2. They are expecting accreditation from Ofqual imminently. Similar qualifications from other awarding bodies are sure to be hot on their heels.