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Government must do more to explain functional skills, report warns


More must be done to improve employers’ awareness and understanding of functional skills if the qualifications are to be respected, according to a new report.

The Education and Training Foundation found that although functional skills in maths and English are gaining widespread recognition with employers, their purpose and value need to be better explained.

Its report, Making maths and English work for all, says a publicity campaign should help put the qualifications in context and make sure they are not seen as a “consolation prize” awarded by a GCSE-focused system.

Functional skills are not “broken”, it says, but do need improving.

It also says their standards should be aligned to employability and their content should be based on what employers need for their workforce. They also need flexible but more standardised and rigorous assessment to give employers confidence in them, it adds.

The review was ordered by skills minister Nick Boles, and took in the views of more than 650 employers through surveys, questionnaires and interviews, as well as a small number of awarding organisations, educators and learners.

Professor Ed Sallis, who chaired the review, told TES there hadn't been enough publicity. “It’s probably a well-kept secret these qualifications exist,” he said.

“To really get into the public perception it does take time. We have gone through basic skills, key skills, core skills, now functional sills; it’s confusing and difficult for employers.”

However, he said a lot of employers are aware of the qualifications and value them.

“It’s a question of finding where they fit and what type of learner they have resonance with,” he said. “For example, there are many young people who find GCSE retakes a difficult prospect. Also, many apprentices can’t find time for GCSEs and functional skills are very useful to them.”

Gill Clipson, deputy chief executive of the Association of Colleges (AoC), said the report confirms employers want staff who have applied skills in English and maths.

“A good proportion of employers also agree that functional skills fit the bill,” she said. "These conclusions support our manifesto recommendation that young people should not routinely be asked to re-sit GCSE English and/or maths.

“We are looking forward to working with ministers after the election to ensure everyone has suitable English and maths qualifications by the age of 19.”

Functional skills qualifications allow students to demonstrate they have achieved practical skills in literacy, numeracy and IT. More than a million were awarded in England last year.

Awarding organisations are already starting to make changes to the qualifications under pressure from Ofqual in order to make them “more valid and reliable”.

The exam watchdog will soon be setting out guidance to make sure consistent standards are set and has warned that if there is evidence its requirements are not being met, it will consider “formal regulatory action”.

Related stories

Turning up the volume on functional skills – February 2015

Ofqual details plan to improve functional skills qualifications – January 2015

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