• Functional skills are the skills needed to use basic English, maths and ICT in a range of practical settings according to the LSC.
• Functional English, Functional mathematics and Functional information and communication technology (ICT) skills are essential components of the Foundation Learning Tier (FLT).
• Functional Skills are qualifications being developed by the UK Government as part of an initiative to improve the country's literacy, numeracy and ICT skills.
• It is seen as a spin-off from the Basic Skills and Key Skills that are currently offered as an Adult based qualification; however there will be no requirement to complete a portfolio any longer and learners will just be required to pass tests with "embedded" and "contextualised" themes.
• The functional skills qualifications are currently being piloted in England only and come online in Sept 2010.
• The Learning and Skills Council (who are funding the pilot) defines functional skills as "the skills needed to use Basic English, maths and ICT in a range of practical settings".
• The qualifications are being introduced as part of the government's Diploma qualifications and are a response to the 14–19 Education and Skills White Paper (2005).
• This will create a system capable of offering a new set of curriculum and qualification opportunities.
• Diplomas were designed by universities and employers; the Diploma is the newest qualification for students aged 14 to 19. The Diploma combines theory and practice to equip learners with the skills, knowledge and experience they need for success at college, university and work.
• The Diploma is set to become one of the three main educational choices alongside GCSE’s, A levels and Apprenticeships. The Diploma is designed to give learners a fully rounded education, appealing to their interests and styles of learning while keeping their careers and educational options open for the future.
• The Diploma combines subject learning with other valuable knowledge, including functional skills in English, maths and ICT, projects, work experience and personal skills such as communication and teamwork. That is they learn English, Maths and ICT alongside their Diploma subject.
Five "lines of learning" will be available in the first instance:
• Construction and the Built Environment
• Creative and Media
• Information Technology
• Society, Health and Development
The next five lines of learning will be available from September 2009:
• Business, Administration and Finance
• Environmental and Land Based studies
• Hair and Beauty studies
• Manufacturing and Product Design
Within each line of learning, Diplomas are awarded at three levels:
• Foundation (equivalent to 5 GCSE’s at grades D–G, level 1 in the National Qualifications Framework)
• Higher (equivalent to 7 GCSE’s at grades A*–C, level 2 in the framework)
• Advanced (equivalent to 3.5 A Levels)
FLT and FS at [name withheld]
• The pilot is a national consultation on the skills content and levels for the functional skills standards.
• It is a predominantly situational, task-based assessment model that allowed candidates to apply their knowledge, skills and understanding in real-life contexts.
• Part of the FS QCA (Qualifications & Curriculum Authority) pilot programme the first Foundation Learning Tier (FLT) cohort at [name withheld] Kent was implemented in Feb 2009. These will be the first cohort to complete FS maths, English and ICT at [name withheld].
• There are currently 10 students on the programme of mixed abilities and learning difficulties. These range from dyspraxia, dyslexia, ADHD and E2 to L1.
• Eleven experienced awarding organisations are delivering pilot qualifications that are based upon the functional skills standards
• [name withheld] have chosen ONCW as our awarding body. ICT exams for the FLT group take place this week (commencing Tues 9th June 2009) and they will be the first cohort to complete the FLT programme.
Working together to develop learners’ functional skills in the Foundation Learning Tier
The diagram aims to show how learners and teachers of the three strands of the Progression Pathways (i.e., personal and social development (PSD), vocational skills, and functional skills) should work as a team to enable the learner to achieve mastery in functional skills in the context of a fully integrated programme in the real world of learning. In practice, each learner will start from a different level of competence in each functional skill or sub-skill and will develop and master the skills in different ways and at different speeds, often returning to an earlier stage to reinforce learning.
• Embedded vocational FS is the area that we at [name withheld] Kent have focused on; in particular with the vocational OCNW Level 1 Certificate in Preparation for Employment in the Construction Industries.
• This subject now contains all the embedded elements necessary for contextualised functional skills learning. This is supplemented and reinforced by specific FS classes once a week.
• Similar developments are taking place within [name withheld] for motor vehicle and hairdressing courses where specific embedded FS complement existing vocational programmes of learning.
• This process is ongoing and throughout the pilot we aim to work with vocational tutors / trainers to specify areas of learning that could benefit from FS input.
• The most effective approach to delivering functional skills involves some degree of embedding in purposeful contexts in vocational and PSD learning. Learners are motivated when they find that improving their functional skills helps them to do better in the rest of their programme. This helps them to appreciate that the skills are transferable and relevant in many situations. Within learning programmes, the aim must be to embed functional skills wherever possible.
• To achieve this, we have planned how the functional skills will be integrated into each learner’s programme.
• This has meant working in a team with other tutors / trainers and systematically planning embedded material.
• The FS team here at [name withheld] Kent has worked closely with the Construction team and they now use embedded materials recommended by us. At the moment these are mainly basic skills, and key skills materials adapted for FS. We’re currently developing our own resources to fit in with our specific criteria.
• It is also important that we liaise with our Inclusive Learning/Additional Learning Support team who will be able to suggest ways of delivering functional skills so that they are accessible to the full range of learners with disabilities or learning difficulties. This will require the active support of our senior management or leadership team.
• At the heart of [name withheld] philosophy, and FS, is the personalised teaching and learning programme. Teaching and learning should be based on an assessment of each learner’s starting-points and should aim to promote each learner’s incremental achievement. Activities are presented as flexibly as possible.
Problems [name withheld] Kent have encountered
• Speaking and listening requirements with FS FLT have been ‘ramped up’ and our cohorts have some difficulty adjusting to the requirement of formal and informal speaking & listening in groups. We are countering this by introducing talking about subjects informally first then getting them to write it up. For formal talk we may use strategies like ‘job interview’ scenarios which fulfil the FS criteria.
• At the moment there is no exam on demand (EOD) which would suit the RORO (roll on roll off) system we employ at [name withheld]. Exam windows (for 2 weeks 4 times a year) have made us adopt the strategy of re-timetabling the weeks lessons, a reshuffling of learning needs, to fit around these windows; but it seems to be working. [name withheld]’s RORO system may mean that in order to fit in the window some students sit there exams earlier that we would like. EOD would suit us better and we have been promised that when FS comes online in Sept 2010 this facility will be available to us through the awarding bodies.
• There is a shortage of good affordable, adaptable and accessible resources. Solution for the moment? Adapt key skills, skills for life resources and create our own.
• The ‘quality’ & relevance of the FS exams are questioned by the students who find many of the questions ‘not relevant’ also ‘this would never happen in real life’, ‘when would I ever do this?’ are some of the comments we have received from feedback sheets.