In 2020-21 the pass rates for Functional Skills maths at Level 1 and 2 were not at their highest and were not where we would have wanted them to be. For a fuller analysis take a look at our previous blog on pass rates. To help support with this moving forward, the maths team took a look at the trends over the year and this is their findings.
Learners are not showing enough working and as a result lose marks for inaccurate answers. Process marks can be awarded for working even if the answer is inaccurate. Learners should be encouraged to show their working out wherever possible and it would be beneficial for them if this was laid out logically and clearly too. Let’s take a look at a question from one of our Level 1 practice papers.
29.4 - 50.8 - 24.7 - 19.9
Work out the mean of these numbers. (3)
We can see there are three marks for this question. Looking at what's on the mark scheme we can clearly see how those marks are awarded:
- Begins to calculate mean (1 mark) - Mark Grid A
- 29.4 + 50.8 + 24.7 + 19.9 = 124.8
- Full process to calculate mean (1 mark) - Mark Grid AB
- "124.8" divided by 4 = 31.2
- Accurate figure (1 mark) - Mark Grid ABC
- 31.2 (NB Accept any suitable mathematical layout for calculation.
The learner will get all three marks for clearly stating the answer, in this case 31.2. However, if they were to get that wrong, they would get one mark for knowing they need to add the numbers up (showing their working) and two marks for doing this and then dividing by four. Even if they added the numbers up incorrectly, they would still get marks. There is no harm in walking the learners through how the questions are marked if it means they may get some process marks.
Carrying Out Checks
This old favourite is in there again.
Checks are not being carried out by a significant number of learners.
- If a reverse calculation check is requested a calculation AND answer is expected. If no original working is shown how can a learner, then show a reverse calculation? Another reason why the need for working is again key.
- If estimation is requested, then learners should estimate key figures and show a simplified calculation which they should be able to carry out ‘in their heads’.
- If the learner is asked to simply show a check, then they are allowed to choose which check to show.
Carrying out checks are so important and should really be a natural part of what a learner does in the classroom, in the assessment and, in reality, in everyday life. Carrying out a check not only helps them answer the check questions, but it also helps ensure their answers are correct more of the time.
The use of calculators should also be practiced, it is not enough to assume that learners can effectively use a calculator. Typical things seen are:
- Some learners do not use all the figures on their screens when continuing a calculation and so lose accuracy marks. For example, if money is being used just working pounds is not functional, we expect the learner to work in pounds and pence throughout the question.
- Some learners continue to use pen and paper methods when working on the calculator section of the paper. This is not good practice. The timing of the paper does expect the use of a calculator and the figures used are also intended to be processed by a calculator. Appropriate use of equipment is a requirement.
- Learners do need to be able to use the equals and clear buttons appropriately. Errors are occurring when previous numbers are not cleared properly and they carry over into a new calculation.
- Efficient use of calculators should be encouraged. For example, when adding four numbers they should be added as a string and not just two at a time.
New Areas Of The Curriculum
All new topics should be taught prior to taking an assessment. While we understand that scheduling assessments through the year means learners may have not completed all their guided learning hours, assessing prior to the completion of learning is setting up many learners to fail and would not happen in other subjects. You would not expect a history learner to complete their GCSE without having studied all the subjects, nor would you expect an apprentice to complete their EPA if they had not covered all the content.
Many learners are not able to group data in equal groups, find simple interest (new topics at level 1) nor are they able to find compound interest or estimate the mean (new topics at level 2). These skills have improved over the year, but further improvement is still possible. To support this, Pearson has produced some additional assessment style questions on some areas of new content to give tutors and learners more opportunities to practice. These are available under resources on our website - Functional Skills Maths | Course Materials
Old Areas Of The Curriculum
In addition to the new content, there are some older topics that could still be improved.
Learners need to have a better grasp of long division, especially for the non-calculator paper. The evidence from the assessments shows this is still a struggle for many learners and that teaching time should be set aside for this skill. The question on mean above requires the learners to be able to divide. Not being able to do so will cost them a minimum of a mark in that question.
Area, Perimeter and Volume
There is an ongoing issue with some learners confusing area, perimeter and volume. Tutors are encouraged to discuss the differences and look at words which may be in questions to help learners differentiate the required skill, e.g. edge and perimeter; cover and area.
It might help to look at the practical side with this and trying to relate it to something they know. Working with professional footballers from Southend United, I used to describe perimeter as the line around the edge of the pitch and area as the space inside the penalty box. Once they had grasped this understanding, they were able to apply this to different contexts in their assessments.
Top Ten Areas Of Weakness For Learners
These are the top ten areas of weakness demonstrated by learners in their assessments. We would really recommend spending some time thinking about these topics and looking at our exemplification document for some ideas on what the learners need to know and how we might approach the questions: Exemplification Document
- Simple Interest
- Grouped Frequency Tables
- Pie Charts
- Negative Numbers/Bidmas
- Calculating With Fractions
- Compound Interest
- Percentage Finding The Original Value/Percentage Profit
- Estimating The Mean
- Inverse Proportion
- Circle Formulae
- Area/Perimeter/Surface Area/Volume
- Interpreting The Range
- Ratio Part to Whole
- Compound Measures In Problems
The final piece of advice would be to ensure you keep using ResultsPlus to see the areas of weakness that your learners have after their assessments, even if they pass. This not only allows you support them in their resits or progression, but you may also be able to see trends across your learners that might help you evolve your teaching and improve results.
Chris Briggs - Sector Manager Post 16 English and Maths