Contexts Review Functional Skills Maths

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Hello and welcome to Pearson’s Functional Skills blog for July 2023. This month we will be looking at the recent context review for Functional Skills maths which was started at the beginning of the year.

What contexts work well with your learners?

The key caveat to this is understanding the phrase ‘your learners’. They can be broken down into 14 – 16, 16 – 18 and 19+. What comes across from the responses is that the different age groups have different contexts that they relate to. As well as the additional potential vocational area of study for those in mainstream college education or taking apprenticeships. What we then get is a varied response based on niche groups of learners. Responses such as -

‘My students are all studying land-based qualifications so anything to do with animals, farming is easy for them to understand!’

‘Look at the context overall and have different contexts for adults and 16–18-year-olds.’

‘Subject specific context would be good as well. So, a paper on construction questions etc.’

These responses are not something we can realistically create. There needs to be an element of unknown across the contexts. Also, at Level 1 and 2 each question is standalone. This does not mean that we cannot incorporate some things into the assessments.

Things to consider for the future

The following is a list of areas that we have raised out of the research, things that Pearson needs to consider.

The use of language was raised a number of times. Pearson does use a language specialist in the writing of our assessments, but concerns were raised over the wordiness of some questions, how appropriate the language was for ESOL learners and the general range of vocabulary. One interesting point raised was on the idea of the phrase ‘time and a half’ now being a bit outdated in our current society of zero-hour contracts and that many younger learners just did not understand the concept at all.

Upon asking a colleague what their teenagers thought about this, here is their reply -

‘I asked the kids in my son's football club, they are 14, one knew what it was, or claimed to know, another accused him of googling it. Others did not know, with some of their parents also not knowing, and one kid saying that he knew what 'a save and a half' was.’

Sometimes we take for granted the fact that people have the same bank of knowledge as us.

In terms of contexts, there was praise for the ones we used:

  • Questions around spending money are always a winner as there are very few learners who haven’t experienced entering a shop and buying things.
  • Questions around days out, e.g., visiting zoos etc. are familiar contexts for most adults and young people.
  • Things you can apply to real life situations, e.g., decorating, phones contract comparison, sale offers.
  • Holidays, healthcare and finding a job seem to resonate with our learners. I think this is due to their employment goals and also holidays are something everybody is familiar with.

With these topics there is still a need to be careful here that we do not inadvertently penalise learners who do not have access to such social activities through poverty, disability or background in another nation. Sometimes it is a very fine line that assessment writers need to walk.

This was not just an exercise in finding the good in what we do. There were also comments that need to be addressed.

  • Try to include visuals in your questions. It helps the learners understand concepts better.
  • Try not to use language that learners may well not understand. An example raised was patio. Most learners will understand the concept of a garden even if they do not have one themselves. Patios, on the other hand, are a much more difficult concept if you live in a high-rise flat.
  • Try to ensure that the question relates to something that might happen in real life. Sometimes the questions just feel contrived: calculating the median shoe width to calculate how many shoes fit on a rack is one example.
  • From an ASD point of view keep things short and concise and remove clutter. Only keep information that actually aids with the answering of the question.

The Next Steps

This blog is part of the second stage of this current context review. In addition to this, there is a full internal document analysing the feedback which will be presented to the assessment team for discussion with the plan that amendments could be made to forthcoming assessments and ideas for new contexts taken on board. As part of our upcoming Festival of Functionality CPD events, there will be a full feedback session to providers on the outcomes of the research. Sign up for this event

We look forward to having the opportunity to discuss this with you all further, thank you.