Welcome to an update on the reform of Functional Skills English and maths.
In this months Functional Skills blog, we take the opportunity to reflect on the development of the Reformed Functional Skills assessments for English and Maths.
The Starting Point
It seems like a long time ago that the draft standards for the reformed Functional Skills were released. At Pearson we took their publication as an opportunity to develop and improve our assessments to ensure that they met the needs of learners taking the qualifications moving forward. We wanted to keep the aspects that centres liked and improve on areas that needed development. At all times, learners were at the forefront of our thinking.
One of the areas we received feedback on for development was our use of contexts within our assessments; with the aim of trying to make them more relevant for learners. Research was carried out with over 150 practitioners and a workshop of key stakeholders which allowed us to create a list of what was and what was not appropriate.
Below is a list of some appropriate contexts:
Of course, this does not mean our contexts are limited to these and there may be occasions when a context is used where learners may have no experience. An example of this from the sample papers, is a Level 2 maths question about putting ribbon around a cake.
I must admit I have never had to do this in a real life scenario, however, it is difficult to come up with a question about the circumference of a circle in a relevant context, therefore in this instance, the context stayed the same. Moving forward however, Pearson will try and use, wherever possible, relatable contexts.
Another change that came from this research was our decision to make our paper based Level 1 and 2 maths papers the same design as our onscreen papers so that learner experience is as similar as possible regardless of the type of assessment they will be taking.
A key area of concern for centres was on the use of language in our assessments, especially in maths. Ofqual’s feedback also stated that the level of difficulty on our maths papers could be attributed to the English rather than the maths. To support this, all our maths and English papers are written with a separate language specialist in the room whose role was to ensure that the level of language and lexical choice is relevant to the level being assessed. This is particularly good news for ESOL learners taking maths assessments who often struggled more with the language than the mathematical content.
Trialling of Functional Skills
Pearson has run two trials of our sample assessments for Functional Skills, our network events this month will focus on the outcome from these. The first trial, back in 2018 focussed on our draft versions and allowed us to accurately set timings for our assessments and get feedback on the changes to the language and contexts.
The second trial in the summer of 2019 focussed on the sample papers that had passed Ofqual’s technical consultation. Learners across the country took part in the trial and these learners covered a range of ages. The providers involved included FE Colleges, Work Based Learning Training Providers and Adult Education Budget providers. The key caveat was that the learners needed to have recently passed the relevant legacy Functional Skills maths or were working towards this qualification.
It is important to note that the assessments were carried out under exam conditions, however, the learners were not specifically prepared for the reformed curriculum, so there may have been gaps in their knowledge that account for some of the results. Similarly, there was no extrinsic motivation for the learners in completing the assessments.
Things we learnt
As previously mentioned, this feedback will form the basis of the network events this month and will also be available as webinars to view on our website in December. The key take home from this were as follows:
New content at Level 1 and 2 performed well, both writer’s voice and inferring from an image.
- Learners were able to engage well with the texts.
- Learners need more practice at:
- recognising and distinguishing between facts and opinionsidentifying organisational features and how these are used
- effective dictionary use
There was no real change in content in the writing papers, but SPaG is now worth 41.7% of the final marks. Learners do need to focus on proofreading their work, with grammar being the major issue here.
The trial of Functional Skills maths raised a number of issues that need to be addressed with learners moving forward. The new content and the content moving level caused far more issues than in the English trial. This was to be expected as the learners were not prepared for this content and it is more difficult to access than the English if a learner is unprepared. The main concern, however, was the learners found it difficult to achieve marks on the sections they should have been prepared for, especially the basics of number. This is in line with both the legacy qualifications and the GCSE. We recommend a thorough grounding in number before the learners move onto the more specialised content.
Our Network Events are in full swing with ten events planned for November across the country. These events focus on the outcomes from the first set of results and the trials. There is still time to register and attend our autumn events by registering.
Keep an eye on the Functional Skills area of our website for up to date information and supporting materials.
Chris Briggs - Sector Manager Post 16 English and Maths