Functional skills changes could be a 'real mistake'

Reformed English and maths qualifications look 'much more academic' than the legacy versions, warns AoC chief

Stephen Exley

Progress rule change welcomed by AoC

The approach taken to reforming functional skills qualifications could prove to be a “real mistake”, the Association of Colleges’ chief executive has warned.

Speaking at the #UKFEchat Conference in Manchester today, David Hughes said the new version of the English and maths qualifications, due to be introduced from September, looked “much more academic” than the legacy version.

Mr Hughes welcomed changes to funding rules surrounding GCSE English and maths resits and how progress in the subjects was calculated, which he described as “kind of helpful but not a massive shift”.

Read more: Concern over delay of reformed functional skills 

More news: Reformed functional skills specifications released

Background: Phonics included in reformed functional skills

But he added: “What was really clear was that as soon as Ofqual got involved, they started to make it look like a much more academic-type qualification, and I think that’s a real mistake. I suspect it’s not going to do what most people in the sector want it to do. But it is a big shift.”

The content of the English qualification now has a "greater focus on oral communication, and the requirements for spelling, punctuation and grammar have been strengthened", according to the consultation document published in 2017. "Phonics has been added in order to effectively build reading skills, providing the foundation needed to sound words out in order to read words automatically on sight.”

And in maths, the reformed content has “a strong focus on contextualising knowledge and skills to improve the relevance for students; for example, calculating percentages based on VAT or calculating simple compound interest". Also included are mathematical literacy, approximation, estimation and checking.

Mr Hughes also highlighted data on the 98,500 college students who completed GCSE maths in 2017-18: just 18 per cent achieved a grade 4 or 5, with 82 per cent failing to achieve a “standard” pass. In English, 28 per cent achieved a grade 4 or better.

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Stephen Exley

Stephen Exley

Stephen Exley is a freelance writer, director of external affairs at Villiers Park Educational Trust and former FE editor at Tes.

Find me on Twitter @stephenexley

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