In 2020-21 the pass rates for Functional Skills English at Level 1 and 2 were pretty good, especially for first time passes. That does not mean that the overall pass rate could not improve somewhat too. For a fuller analysis take a look at our previous blog on pass rates:
To help support with this moving forward, the English team took a look at the trends over the year and this is their findings.
Reading General Comments
- Learners should take time to read all texts and questions carefully. They must be careful to give answers that are text-based, rather than using their own knowledge of a topic, and that address the specific focus of the question. If the text says, as an extreme example, “the capital of France is Lille”, then if a learner is asked “what, according to the text, is the capital of France?”, the answer is not Paris. They need to remember it is a reading assessment, not a general knowledge quiz.
- Learners should be encouraged to read the rubric carefully and to give the correct number of answers to multiple choice questions. Too many lose marks by giving only one answer when two are required or by giving two answers instead of one.
Level 1 Reading
- Learners should understand the function of different punctuation marks and be able to identify why a particular punctuation mark has been used in the given phrase. This has been covered in previous blogs, but we have now produced a learner resource to help support this.
- Learners should be taught to identify different types of organisational features and understand how they are used to present information.
- Learners should avoid using different forms of the same root word when asked for a substitute or explanation. This often happens in the assessment. If asked “what does displease mean?” the learners should not answer with “something that does not please”.
- They should be using another word, not please. Learners should be given opportunities to practise distinguishing between facts and opinions in a range of texts.
- Learners should be given opportunities to practise distinguishing between formal and informal language in a range of texts.
Level 2 Reading
- To perform well on Q2, learners need to be able to recognise different text styles.
- For Q6 learners should be given opportunities to practise distinguishing between facts and opinions in a range of texts.
- Learners should be taught the different types of organisational features to perform well on Q7b. These include bullet points, tables, text boxes, footnotes, and captions.
- For Q9 learners should avoid one- or two-word answers, which are rarely long enough to show understanding of implicit meaning. Learners should also write their answers as quotations, rather than using paraphrase or their own words.
- For Q10 learners need to be taught what acceptable language features are. These will be different in every text but often include first person, direct address, rule of three, statistics, questions, and commands. Generic features are never accepted, for instance facts, opinions, paragraphs, adjectives, verbs, and persuasive language. Layout features are also not accepted, for instance headings, bold or large font and the use of images.
- Learners should be aware that responses to the words in Q12 should show understanding of meaning and fit into the target quotation. Selecting a word from a dictionary which has a related meaning but does not make sense in the sentence will not gain a mark. Learners are advised to read the sentence to themselves with their chosen word in it as a way of ensuring that the meaning has not been changed.
- For Q13 it helps learners to structure their responses by identifying a similarity and giving an example from each text, labelling them as Text A and Text C separately. This would secure three marks. If this approach were to be repeated for a second similarity, with appropriately identified examples, then the learner would gain six marks.
- For Q14 learners should be reminded that the language feature they select must be in both texts.
One issue that comes up across both Level 1 and 2 is the ability to compare information in more than one text. Learners struggle with this as it not a natural thing for them to do. The number of people that will read information in one newspaper, for example, and then compare it that in another is rare. Similarly people do not switch channels to hear different views on the news, nor do they really ever come out of their online bubble to hear contrasting opinions. But this is what the assessment is asking them to do.
We can support our learners in the classroom with this skill. Here are a few ideas to support:
- In pairs, the learners read a text each noting down the main points. They then discuss what they have read to find similarities and differences.
- Learners can watch youtube reviews to compare information about products, books or films.
- Read opinion pieces in newspapers and magazines. These are more likely to have differing viewpoints on the news.
- Read texts and pick out the main points and a quote to support each one.
Writing General Comments
- The majority of marks on the paper are for Composition and for learners to score well on this they must be able to communicate information, ideas and opinions clearly and with appropriate detail for purpose and audience. Centres should encourage learners to read the source material and task bullet points very carefully and to plan their responses to ensure that what they write is relevant and clear.
- Learners should allocate slightly more time for Task 1 than Task 2 as this is worth the most marks. An approximate split of 35 minutes for Task 1 and 25 minutes for Task 2 would be appropriate.
- While the word counts are only advisory centres should encourage learners to pay attention to them. It is unlikely that responses that are much shorter than the recommended word length will include an appropriate level of detail. Very long responses often become unclear as learners lose control of sentence structure and paragraphing.
- Prior to the test all learners should be given opportunities to practise writing in various formats and for different audiences and purposes.
- Learners should be reminded that the bullet points in the Writing Task can be used to help them structure their response. Generally, there will be three bullet points for Task 1 and two for Task 2.
- Spelling, punctuation and grammar contribute 42% of the marks for this paper. Centres are advised to allocate appropriate teaching time to developing learners’ skills in these areas and to consider entering learners at lower levels if they are not ready for Level 1 or 2. Learners will not pass Level 1 or 2 if they make a large number of basic errors in their writing.
- Learners should be encouraged to allocate time for proof reading responses when they have finished writing. This can make an important difference to the mark awarded for Spelling, punctuation and grammar.
Level 1 Writing
- Of the four content statements for Composition the most important one is ‘Communicate information, ideas and opinions clearly, coherently and accurately’. This is used by markers to place responses into one of the three bands. The other three content statements are then used to come to a judgment within that band. Learners should be encouraged to develop their responses and add some level of appropriate detail. Responses which offer back what is provided in the Information and do little more will almost certainly remain in the two lower bands.
- Common grammatical problems include word order; insecure or inconsistent use of tenses; subject verb agreement; incorrect use of articles.
- There is still some insecurity about when to use full stops or commas and there is much comma-splicing. The use of possessive apostrophes is weak. Many learners use uncapitalised ‘I’s, especially on on-screen papers.
- Learners should be able to use common homophones with confidence. When awarding a mark for spelling, punctuation and grammar markers make a ‘best fit’ judgment using the descriptors so that weakness in one area can be balanced against strengths in another.
Level 2 Writing
- Weaker responses tend to have less sense of audience and occasionally include irrelevant information. These responses are also often weak in sentence structure and are sometimes written in very long sentences that are difficult to follow. A few learners rely too heavily on the material given in the task and copy this out without expanding on it.
- While some responses are written with a high degree of accuracy, this area is generally weaker than Composition for most learners. Responses are marked holistically for spelling, punctuation and grammar and need to be consistently correct to achieve a high mark.
- Grammar is often the weakest area and many responses include many errors, including use of the wrong verb tense, incorrect word order or the omission of articles. These errors often make responses unclear and difficult to understand and this leads to a low mark for SPaG.
- Spelling errors commonly seen include the incorrect use of homophones, for instance ‘there’, ‘their’ and ‘they’re’.
- An issue with onscreen responses is that learner work often includes typographical errors, as well as the errors seen in handwritten work. This makes it even more important that learners should spend some time checking their work when they have finished writing.
- Sentence punctuation is often accurate, but errors are frequently seen in the use of apostrophes. There are also sometimes errors with capitalisation, most seen in the use of the lower case ‘i’ by learners when writing about themselves.
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.
Wishing everyone a safe and happy holiday period as we close out 2021.
Chris Briggs - Sector Manager Post 16 English and Maths