All change for Functional Skills


Reviewing the purpose and content of qualifications is obviously necessary from time to time but it can cause disruption and take a while to settle. Some qualifications have been around for a long time which means everyone is familiar with them. For instance, A levels were first introduced back in 1951. Faced with a plethora of diplomas, awards and certificates it’s hard for employers to keep up and to know what skills and knowledge are being validated. In English and maths – both vital subjects for employers looking to recruit and promote staff - the two main qualifications leading up to Level 2 are GCSE and Functionals Skills.  Both have recently been reformed.

There’s no doubt reforms are an upheaval for learners who will feel the goalposts have moved, for tutors who will need to teach new content, create new resources and prepare learners for a slightly different assessment process and for organisations who – in the case of Functional Skills - will have to take into account the increase of guided learning hours from 45 to 55.

A key driver for reform was to make Functional Skills qualifications better for employers and they were consulted as part of the process. The new subject content is more detailed and still requires learners to apply the skills they have developed in a range of scenarios. In maths learners will have to solve ‘real life’ problems both with and without a calculator for the first time. In English, learners must pass all three components to gain a Functional Skills qualification:

● Reading 

● Writing

● Speaking, listening and communicating

Reading and writing tests will be externally set but the testing of speaking, listening and communicating will be carried out by the teacher enabling them to use a familiar context for their learners whilst still following exam conditions.

At entry levels, there will be an expectation that teachers use the structured teaching of phonics to improve reading and spelling but there will be no ‘phonics test’. Learners will have to spell words from a prescribed list of everyday words without the aid of dictionaries or spell checks which is a significant change.

It’s too early to say what all this means for learners. But Functional Skills qualifications are not an easy alternative to GCSE. They are a different type of qualification covering some of the same skills but with a focus on preparation for work and life, rather than for academic study. Their flexible delivery still makes them an attractive qualification for adults. Hopefully they will continue to gain currency by employers who have clung onto GCSE as a benchmark for too long.

You can download the revised subject content for Functional Skills in English and Maths.

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Sue Southwood

Sue Southwood is an independent education consultant with extensive experience in the post 16 education and training sector and has worked at national level with DfE, BIS, Ofqual and with awarding organisations.