Hello and welcome to an update on the reform of Functional Skills English and maths.
Like many of you I’m sure, I’ve spent a considerable amount of time over the last nine weeks discussing the current situation with colleagues in education predicting the impact and ramifications of Covid on our sector. With all the normal caveats of a fast-moving and uncertain situation firmly in place, this is a summary of these conversations and looks at the bigger topics of discussion.
I will start by making no apologies for the focus of this being on English and maths, as that is my area of interest. But these conversations also touched on other areas. In terms of who I have engaged with and how, the key word here is varied. A variety of colleagues in a variety of roles (from practitioner to educational leader, from administrative staff to HoDs and Curriculum Leads) with a variety of means of communication. I have become an expert at talking with and listening to people, which for those that know me is a key personal development ticked off!
Remote learning engagement
So, where to start? The key thing I have taken away from all the conversations are how concerned people are. Everyday things are no longer taken for granted, the daily interaction with their colleagues and their learners is now seen for how important it truly is.
When asking for top tips for working with English and maths learners, many practitioners wrote back saying, listen to your learners, spend time discussing what is happening at home. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t issues. Most providers were not set up for distance learning and they have had to learn quickly. Online message boards are filled with questions on how to do this. I have even dusted off my teaching hat and produced some online Functional Skills lessons to engage learners.
However, there is still the issue with engagement. English and maths learners are notoriously difficult to engage at times (improving attendance in post 16 English and maths was always at the forefront of college leaders’ minds).
One concerned CEO asked what I had heard about engagement across providers with online learning portals as they were worried that their above 50% engagement was an issue. It is not. For some providers that is still a dream scenario with practitioners reporting that a small minority of learners are blocking phone numbers and email addresses.
The key here is to keep trying. As one headmaster told me, when learners are bored enough, they will come back to learning.
For Functional Skills, we have now moved towards calculated grades as the solution to the lack of testing opportunities currently. This raises questions for providers. So many questions, and so little time to engage with them.
For some, they are worried about the approach in general, feeling it is open to bad practice. My view on that is there needs to be some sort of honour system in place. Most providers understand the repercussions of learners achieving qualifications they did not deserve. Every practitioner has a story of learner that has progressed and then struggles to achieve at a higher level, and most practitioners know they will have those learners back in September.
In addition, there will be checks and balances in place to weed out unscrupulous activities. A robust internal quality assurance process is necessary too. Confidence in your submission is vital. There is a lot of trust being utilized here. Learners are trusting their tutors, Heads of Departments are trusting their tutors and we need to trust providers. We will be asking questions of providers, ensuring that practices are in order. Decisions need to be made based on the available evidence, whether this evidence is virtual or physical.
The key tips for this process here are:
- You need evidence to make your judgments.
- You need to quality assure this evidence.
- Pearson reserve the right to ask for this evidence if needed.
In terms of evidence, centres are worried about how they will collate this. This is not about not having the evidence, though some are concerned about that, it is more about having the capability to provide it.
Post 16 providers run all levels of qualifications from GSCE re-sits to BTECs to Functional Skills. That is a lot of qualifications and a lot of evidence. Pearson are doing what they can to minimise this. For Functional Skills virtual evidence through Individual Learning Plans and tracking can be used. However, centres are concerned that they have furloughed staff and had to let agency staff go because of the situation and getting the evidence itself may be difficult. I think here, the positive is that we are aware of this and will be supportive. Talk to us and we can help.
Even with calculated grades as the agreed course of action, centres are still looking at testing. Calculated grades will still mean learners not achieving, so centres want testing back up and running as soon as possible for those learners that still need to achieve. The scale will all depend on how quickly centres come out of lockdown, with FE centres hoping for a return in September and Private Training Providers sooner. Online Proctoring may well be a solution here if the lockdown continues into August. In the meantime, Pearson is looking at a return to socially distanced testing in the period after calculation.
Legacy extension and funding
The final discussion point comes down to money and funding. From extending the end date for legacy Functional Skills certification and testing to ending access to gateway requirements, almost all providers are concerned about money and funding.
A CEO of a large training provider confided that if this continues for much longer, many training providers might have to close as the achievement funding will dry up. A sentiment that is echoed across the sector. More needs to be done to support Post 16 education in these very trying times.
For further information on supporting Functional Skills providers through Covid-19 visit our website.
Chris Briggs, Sector Manager Post 16 English and Maths