Functional Skills Pass Rates 2022/23

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Hello and welcome to Pearson’s Functional Skills blog for September 2023. As it is the end of the academic year, we will be looking at the pass rates for Functional Skills 2022/23. In addition, we will also be looking at the average marking times for our Functional Skills assessments. 

Business As Usual

The 2022/23 academic year saw a considerable amount of talk regarding GCSEs and marking. For Functional Skills this was another year of business as usual in terms of assessments and results.  With little press or fanfare, learners were successfully achieving their qualifications at a higher rate of success since the reform in 2019.

Functional Skills continues to lead the way in terms of accessing assessments with both onscreen and paper-based on demand being utilised by centres. Adaptations such as Remote Invigilation, employer invigilation and a much greater use of online tools such as Teams and Zoom for Speaking, Listening and Communicating are now a common occurrence in Functional Skills helping to ensure that the assessment options suit the needs of all learners. 

How Pearson Works Out Pass Rates 

Pearson presents its pass rates a little differently to how a provider may do it. For us the pass rate is simple, the number of passes as a percentage of the number of tests taken. For many providers it is the number of passes as a percentage of the number of learners. These are not necessarily the same thing, especially when re-sits are factored in. As an example, albeit an extreme, impossible one, if a learner takes 100 tests and passes on test 100, the pass rate Pearson will provide is 1% and the pass rate the provider has is 100%. Please bear this in mind when looking at pass rates.

Entry Level Assessments and Speaking, Listening and Communicating

Pearson does not report pass rates for Entry Level learners in general and for the Speaking, Listening and Communicating component specifically as these are all internally assessed. For these learners we only see the claims for success and not the other attempts a learner might have had.

Pearson’s Pass Rates 2022/23 

Below are Pearson’s overall pass rates. These are for all learners and are not filtered by age, gender or provider type. 

Assessment 1st Time Pass Rate Overall
Maths Level 1  47% 38%
Maths Level 2 42%  37%
Reading Level 1 83% 77%  
Reading Level 2 70% 63%
Writing Level 1   71% 64%
Writing Level 2 65%   56%

Two things strike me about these results: 

  • Success rates are continuing to rise, more learners are successfully completing their Functional Skills assessments
  • The difference in pass rates between maths and English is still there, though maths pass rates are improving at a much quicker rate than previously (see below for more detail on this).

First-Time vs Overall Pass Rates 

Although the difference continues to improve, there is still an issue here. If you look below at the sector data, the difference in first-time vs overall pass rates in Work-Based Learning is minimal (just 2% for Level 1 Reading for example), but the difference in Further Education and Schools is much more significant. In subject and level the first-time pass rate is much higher in Work-Based Learning than in Further Education and Schools. Obviously, this is going to have an effect on overall pass rates and does suggest that some may need a more robust system for deciding when learners take their first assessments.

The key thing to understand is that many learners are taking assessments more than once or twice and are not necessarily successful. This links back to the section on how Pearson presents our pass rates. The overall pass rate is less because the learners who fail the first time (according to the data), tend to fail again. We recommend spending time with learners who have failed looking at the coverage and range points they had less success on prior to any re-sit. This information can be found on ResultsPlus.

If ResultsPlus shows that a learner achieved less than 30% on their assessment, this suggests the learner may not have been fully prepared for the assessment or may have been entered at too high a level. We recommend spending more time with these learners, wherever possible, to facilitate their success before re-entering them

The final element of this is attendance at assessments. The data Pearson uses for pass rates does not include non-attendance but our figures show that almost 25% of Level 1 maths assessments in Further Education were not attended. While the flexible nature of the assessments means that they can be easily resat, this is increasing the burden on exams teams within providers.

English vs Maths Pass Rates

Ofqual carried out a piece of research in 2022 looking at the comparative difficulty of Functional Skills maths across Awarding Organisations from Legacy to Reformed. That research is available here: Reformed functional skills mathematics: evaluation of difficulty

'We found only small differences in expected difficulty between sample assessments offered by each awarding organisation, which could be accommodated when setting pass boundaries. We also found the expected difficulty between legacy and reformed qualifications was very similar.' Ofqual 2022  

The issue is not so much the difficulty of the questions, but rather the size of the curriculum and the starting point of the learners. The key difference between English and maths is the knowledge needed to be successful in the assessment. In a reading test for example, for all intents and purposes, all the information is there in the texts, the learners just need to use this in their responses. With maths, however, the learners need to know more. Not knowing how to work out surface area, for example, means the learners cannot access that question. 

The other key issue that has come to the fore this year is that of problem-solving. In Functional Skills maths, problem solving accounts for 75% of the marks, while in GCSE it is 20%. Younger learners especially need to focus on their problem-solving skills in order to be successful. 

The graph above compares the pass rates for the past three years. Pleasingly we can see that there has been an upward trend in pass rates for maths at Levels 1 and 2 and for English at Level 1. Hopefully this shows that the reformed qualifications have started to bed in across the board. This increase over the years is less in maths than English (though it is more pronounced this year), but Pearson has been putting greater support in place for both subjects. We will be looking at support options for Level 2 English moving forward too.

Onscreen vs. Paper-Based Assessments

Generally, there is very little difference between onscreen and paper-based pass rates, though they are slightly higher for onscreen tests at Level 2. This is not about the accessibility of the assessments, but more about the age of the learners taking them. The majority of onscreen assessments take place in work-based learning, where, as you can see below, the learners have a much higher pass rate compared to the norm. These learners are typically older than those in other provisions. 

Onscreen maths assessments are performing well, and it may well be the added functionality of the assessments is supporting achievement here, especially the onscreen calculator reducing transcription errors.

Comparing Provider Types

Here we can see that work-based learning providers continue to outperform both schools and Further Education colleges. There are a number of reasons behind this:

  • Age of the learners: learners in the 19+ demographic have a far higher success rate with Functional Skills. Partly this is due to the style of the assessment, but more often it is about the motivation and experience of the learners. Interestingly, in Further Education colleges the pass rate for Level 1 maths is nearly 50% for 19+ learners. Work-based learning has a higher percentage of learners in the 19+ demographic.  The success rate for 19+ learners is 24 percentage points higher than 16–18-year-old learners across all settings.
  • Motivation of the learners: For learners on an apprenticeship programme, Functional Skills is a mandatory part of the training programme (where necessary) as it is within Further Education. However, the key difference is that learners cannot complete their apprenticeship without passing their English and maths and this helps drive the learners towards success.
  • Funding: There is no condition of funding for work-based learning learners, so providers are free to choose the most suitable maths and English course for their learners. This means there are more learners with grade 3 GCSE maths and English undertaking Level 2 Functional Skills qualifications. There is also a trend for grade 2 learners in Further Education to be entered into GCSE programmes despite the success rates being lower than those of the equivalent age taking Functional Skills. Many learners are leaving Further Education without a Level 2 qualification in English or especially maths. Encouraging grade 3 learners to take Functional Skills Level 2 in their second year of study would greatly remedy this and likely see an increase in Further Education success rates.
  • Loss of learning: Younger learners are still struggling with the lost learning of the COVID lockdown years. This is something we will need to support learners with for many years to come. 

Schools are continuing to improve their performance too, albeit with less learner numbers and we can see a strong performance in both Level 1 English and maths.

Further Education Pass Rates 2022/23

Assessment 1st Time Pass Rate Overall
Maths Level 1  46% 36%
Maths Level 2  35%  31%
Reading Level 1 82%  75% 
Reading Level 2 68% 59% 
Writing Level 1  70% 61%
Writing Level 2  60%  49%

WBL Pass Rates 2022/23

Assessment 1st Time Pass Rate Overall
Maths Level 1 62% 56%
Maths Level 2 52% 48%
Reading Level 1 90% 88%
Reading Level 2 77% 74%
Writing Level 1 81% 78%
Writing Level 2 75% 72%

School Pass Rates 2022/23

Assessment 1st Time Pass Rate Overall
Maths Level 1 40% 37%
Maths Level 2 31% 30%
Reading Level 1 81% 77%
Reading Level 2 57% 53%
Writing Level 1 67% 63%
Writing Level 2 58% 54%

Functional Skills Marking Times 2022/23 

For 2022/23 Pearson has carried out a detailed analysis of the marking times for our Functional Skills: 

Type of Assessment  Number of Working Days
Overall Average 10
Onscreen 7
Paper-Based 11/12

These marking times are based on test booking date. This means that the overall average and the paper-based average are inflated as this includes the “5-day window” for paper-based assessments to be taken and the time it takes for assessments to be returned to us. Without this, these figures would be much lower. 

There are spikes in marking time, especially in November, March and May for onscreen and July for paper-based.

These pass rates show a marked improvement over the previous years of Reformed Functional Skills, continuing an upward trend. Pearson will be supporting you all the way with up-to-date information and support throughout the year. 

Chris Briggs - Product Manager Post 16 English, Maths and Digital Skills