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Functional skills still not ready for September start

With six months to go before they are due to be introduced, none of the new functional skills qualifications are ready

The specifications for the new functional skills qualifications have still not been released

With six months to go before they are due to be introduced, none of the new functional skills qualifications are ready

Teachers who are expected to deliver a new suite of functional skills qualifications from September still do not have the final specifications for the courses.

The current suite of functional skills qualifications will be phased out from the start of the next academic year, with only continuing students or apprentices being funded to study these “legacy qualifications”. However, none of the new functional skills courses that are due to start being taught in September are yet ready for delivery.

Information published by exams regulator Ofqual shows that as of 12 March, none of the qualifications are ready for delivery in September. Over a third have been resubmitted to Ofqual for final approval, the last stage in the process. Half are with the awarding organisations after an initial technical evaluation, with the final approval stage still to go. The remaining 14 per cent are still stuck at the first and second stages of the approval process.


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At the Association of Colleges' (AoC) English and maths conference last month, the Department for Education’s head of post-16 basic skills Jim Addison said the “worst case” scenario would be that the materials would not be available until May half-term – but said he expected them to be release “at some point” this month or next.

Catherine Sezen, senior policy manager at the Association of Colleges said it is getting “very late in the day” for a September start, adding: “Especially when there is no legacy system in place as there was with the move to reformed GCSEs.

“Colleges are waiting for the confirmed specifications from awarding organisations. They are going through a staged and very thorough technical evaluation by Ofqual in order to ensure greater consistency in the offer, which we welcome. We know that awarding organisations and Ofqual are working towards completing the evaluations. The challenge is that none of the AOs have completed all the steps in the technical evaluation at the moment.”

Changes to GCSE resit policy

Ms Sezen said that in the meantime, colleges are looking at the published content and draft materials available and accessing training, but need the finalised specifications.

It comes as the government announced last month changes to the condition of funding surrounding GCSE English and maths resits for 2019-20 which mean that students with a grade 2 or below will only have to complete a functional skills qualification, rather than preparing to sit a GCSE exam afterwards.

This could mean a greater demand for functional skills qualifications, as currently some colleges will put learners with a grade 2 or below straight on to a GCSE syllabus to prepare them for trying to get a grade 4.

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