Hello and welcome to an update on reformed Functional Skills English and maths.
It has been a busy time in the world of Functional Skills in recent weeks, September has been a month of listening to providers, supporting providers and working together.
We have provided training on the Lessons Learnt from the first year of delivering the reformed Functional Skills qualifications, to help ensure continued developed of learner's skills, as we head into the second year of delivery. This month’s blog will delve into these training sessions, identifying some aspects of maths that have caused concern for examiners in the past, be it on legacy or reform.
One of the key issues that arises again and again throughout the reformed Functional Skills, the legacy and GCSE maths is learners’ difficulty when dealing with checks. Like proofreading with English, it feels like checking their working is something learners have to be cajoled into doing, despite their being marks available for this from Entry level to Level 2. From my years of teaching, there are many possible reasons for this, but the one I always fall back on is learners do not often know when they are wrong. They are too accepting of the answer they get, especially when using a calculator.
Often there are questions on the Functional Skills papers, where the learner needs to make a decision, like the one below:
Sam is a manager in an office.
She wants to buy 14 new chairs.
Each chair costs £73.
Sam will also be charged 20% VAT on the cost of the chairs.
Sam has £1200 to buy the chairs.
Is £1200 enough to buy the 14 chairs?
First of all, learners often forget to give the decision in a question like this (a simple yes or no, with justification). They also sometimes come up with weird and wonderful answers too: No, Sam does not have enough as the chairs cost £2500. Something so far away from our suggested answer must be wrong, but often learners just do not see it.
There are also questions on the Functional Skills papers where learners do have to check their answers, and these have changed with the reform. Now instead of asking the learners to check their answer in a previous question, at the higher levels, we can now be more specific, asking the learner to check a certain part of their previous working or asking them to check their answers in a certain way. Check out our range of papers to see examples of this.
Estimation is linked with checking of answers and it may be one of the specific checks we ask for. It is also something that can come up as a standalone question at Level 1 and 2 as well. If I am honest, learners are struggling with this too. Let’s have a look at an example question:
Lewis is building a brick wall.
The wall will need 19 bags of cement.
Each bag of cement costs £7.83.
Use estimation to work out how much Lewis will need to pay for the cement.
You must show your working.
There are two key points to this question:
1. Use estimation
2. Show your working
Learners who do neither will not be getting marks. TOP TIP: if the question says you must show your working, learners need to show their working. There are three ways a learner can approach this question and only one will lead to marks:
1. Work out the answer in full: this is time consuming (estimation is usually non calculator), prone to error and will not lead to marks
2. Work out the answer in full and then estimate (see above)
3. Use estimation to find the answer: easier than the other two options and will lead to a valid answer
Looking at the example question.
- Using estimation 19 bags at £7.83 each would be 20x8 = £160.
- Using the real numbers and then estimating is 19 x7.83 = £148.77, with £150 as the answer. We would only accept £160 as the correct answer.
It is vitally important that your learners develop their ability to use estimation and check their answers. They are essential tools, not just for Functional Skills but for everyday life.
To help Level 1 Functional Skills learners with their estimation skills, we have created this resource.
In the next few weeks, we will be recording a version of our Lessons Learnt for Functional Skills maths 2019/20, which this blog is partly based on. Look out for it shortly on our Functional Skills webinar portal.
Chris Briggs, Sector Manager Post-16 English and Maths