Major exam board to withdraw functional skills exams

The decision comes just months after reformed versions of functional skills qualifications were rolled out

Function skills, level 1 functional skills, level 2 functional skills, Dr Chris Jones, Ofsted, Mark Dawe

One of the country's biggest exam boards will stop offering functional skills qualifications in English and maths by the end of 2020.

The decision by OCR comes just months after the reformed functional skills qualifications were rolled out in September. 

In a statement published on its website, OCR says that it does not believe it is "able to provide a service that best suits English and maths functional skills teaching and learning".

The statement adds: "We intend to withdraw from providing English and maths functional skills qualifications at entry level, level 1 and level 2 at the end of 2020."


Background: What should we do with functional skills, the government asks FE sector

Need to know: Functional skills still not ready for September start

Opinion: Functional skills changes could be a 'real mistake'


A spokesperson for OCR told Tes“We worked hard on a delivery model for functional skills external assessments with a fast results service but, as we informed our customers in December, we were not able to roll this out.

"The funding of functional skills was not an influence on the decision we’ve taken."

According to the Ofqual website, OCR was one of 11 awarding bodies approved to deliver at least one of the new functional skills qualifications.

The demand for functional skills

In April 2019, the government announced changes to the condition of funding surrounding GCSE English and maths for 2019-20 which meant that students with a grade 2 or below will only have to complete a functional skills qualification, rather than prepare to sit a GCSE exam afterwards.

According to Ofqual data, 243,605 students sat English functional skills in 2018-19, with 13,405 doing so through OCR. When it came to maths functional skills, of the 287,940 students who undertook the qualification 11,320 did so with OCR. Entry data for 2019-20 is not yet available. 

In its statement, OCR says that it will support "support everyone offering English and maths functional skills to make alternative plans for 2021 onwards".

It adds: "There is a range of awarding organisations you can move to, but we have already talked to awarding body NCFE to ensure a smooth handover for schools, colleges and other centres who wish to transfer to them."

Catherine Sezen, senior policy manager at the Association of Colleges, said that she was pleased NCFE had agreed to work with OCR on this.

She said: "We were sorry to hear that OCR will no longer offer functional skills qualifications after the end of this calendar year, but welcome the advanced notice given and action plan to support colleges' transition to an alternative awarding organisation.

"We are pleased that NCFE has agreed to work with OCR to ensure that disruption to students and colleges undertaking these key qualifications is kept to a minimum." 

OCR has said it will continue to offer the functional skills ICT qualifications, which will be redeveloped and launched as digital functional skills in 2021-22. 

The exam board has said that in order to support teachers looking for external assessments for level 1 and level 2 functional skills in English and maths in 2020, it will provide paper-based tests scheduled for specific times in March, June and July, and will offer a resit opportunity at the end of 2020. It added that all internally assessed functional skills will continue until the end of December 2020.

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