The Reform of Functional Skills

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Welcome to an update on the reform of Functional Skills English and maths. In this blog we will be looking at the background that led to the recent reforms and our approach to it.

The background

It can seem sometimes like Functional Skills is constantly under review! Hot off the heels of the thematic review in 2015, a new set of reforms that will see fundamental changes to the Functional Skills qualifications for English and maths (we’ll get to ICT shortly) are underway.

The reform process started with a review by the ETF which looked at how employers and practitioners viewed the current qualifications. They found that the qualifications were not fundamentally broken, but improvements could be made in terms of employer recognition (only 47% of employers recognised the qualifications), the terms of the skills being assessed and the rigorous nature of the assessments.

The recent reforms

Moving on from this, the DfE has drawn up new subject content in consultation with employers which was published in March 2018. Since then Awarding Organisations have been busy preparing new sample assessments to meet the new requirements. Pearson has worked through this and the conditions and guidance from Ofqual. We are pleased to announce that we have submitted our samples assessments and specifications to Ofqual for approval.

Alongside the English and maths reforms, Pearson has also engaged in the consultation on draft content for digital literacy being run by Alphaplus for the DfE. The idea is this will inform new standards for digital literacy by 2020 and will mean reform for Functional Skills ICT by 2023.

What has Pearson been doing? 

Behind the scenes,  we have been working with providers, practitioners and learners to ensure that our Functional Skills offer best suits everyone's needs.

We started  the year looking at the context we use in our assessments, carried out a substantial piece of market research and finally sought practitioner feedback. This has led to us putting in place a series of improvements.

For English we are now writing assessments that reflect entry level better including aspirational roles for learners and reading texts that will be more relevant to them. For Mathematics we will move away from gardening and trips to the garden centre and make travel based questions more prominent, for example commuting to work or college rather than holidays in the Seychelles.

The final part of the Functional Skills reforms was trialing the sample assessment methods (SAMs) with learners. This showed us how our questions would work and also allowed us to make further tweaks to ensure they were accessible. This the first time Pearson has trialled sample assessments for Functional Skills, the results proving to be worth the time and effort, as key insight and feedback was gathered.

While carrying out our SAMs, we held discussions with Exams Officers and Quality Nominees to ensure the administrative burden was not greatly increased, we tested our new functionality on our POP assessment tool and also engaged as much as possible with providers about the reforms.

Next steps

It has been a thorough and in-depth journey to reach this point and I would like to take the opportunity to thank all the learners and all the practitioners who engaged with us along the way. We are confident you will see the value in our new product when we launch early next year 2019.

Chris Briggs, Sector Manager Post 16 English and Maths, September 2018