The government has published guidance on the subject content for functional skills courses in maths and English. This follows a consultation exercise on the qualifications' content, which closed last November.
In its response to that consultation, also published today, the government says the revised subject content "sets out the learning aims, requirements and standards expected at each functional skills qualification level". "We will also fund additional continuing professional development to enable teachers to adapt to the new content prior to introduction," it adds.
"These improvements represent the most significant changes to functional skills qualifications since their introduction in 2010. They support the delivery of our Industrial Strategy ambitions to build a world-class technical education system and ensure that everyone can improve their skills throughout their lives, increasing their earning power and opportunities for better jobs."
Sound grasp and confidence
According to the new content guidance for English, "students should be able to demonstrate their competence in English by using it in real-world situations, as well as demonstrating a sound grasp of basic English knowledge and skills," while the document for maths says: "Students will convey their confidence in using mathematics when they can demonstrate a sound grasp of mathematical knowledge and skills and apply it to solve mathematical problems".
To teach students these skills in English, teaching methods should be based on the best available evidence for effective methods to support students to gain these skills. "The structured teaching of phonics should be used to teach students at entry levels for "reading" and "writing", states the document.
The government's consultation response states: "Four respondents were concerned that the teaching of phonics may affect students’ desire to participate in the qualification. Specifically, they felt that adult students could find phonics patronising and remind them of school. We will work with the sector to ensure that adults who need support learning how to read and write are taught in a way that is appropriate to their needs, supported by appropriate materials."
"Mathematical problem solving is an important aspect of functional skills", according to the guidance document for maths, "but it is also vital that the underpinning knowledge and skills required, both with and without a calculator, can be demonstrated in their own right, for example, use of times tables".
Following the publication of the revised subject content, the government says it will now "continue to work with the sector to prepare for the introduction of the reformed English and mathematics functional skills qualifications in 2019". "In addition, Ofqual will begin the consultation process on the conditions of and guidance for functional skills English and mathematics qualifications."
Scap resit policy
Geoff Barton, General Secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said this would now be a good moment for the government to scrap its policy of making large numbers of post-16 students resit GCSEs in English and maths. "Instead of insisting that all students with a Grade 3 in these subjects must retake them, the government should give them the option of either having another try at GCSE or studying for a functional skills qualification," he said.
“It is morale-sapping for young people to be compelled to retake GCSEs that they have already found a real struggle – and large numbers do not improve their grades. The fact that the government is today extolling the virtues of the revised functional skills qualifications surely makes it even more obvious that these are a perfectly valid alternative for young people and they should be allowed to take these courses instead of GCSEs,” said Mr Barton.