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Functional skills historical context

Functional skills: where have they come from?

Functional skills were originally specified in the Tomlinson report: Final Report of the Working Group on 14-19 Reform (2004) (see recommendation 1) as a key aspect of core learning for young people. Tomlinson stated that getting the basics right was one of the central reasons for the proposed 14–19 reform and that the achievement of functional mathematics, English and ICT would provide young people with a foundation for the rest of their lives.

Functional skills were also given a key role in the 14–19 Education and Skills white paper (2005) (see page 36) and the Implementation Plan that followed. In July 2007, the World Class Skills paper, Implementing the Leitch Review of Skills in England made reference to the inclusion of functional skills as part of the Employability Skills programme aimed at getting unemployed people back in to work.

The development of functional skills standards

The first functional skills standards, now superseded, were designed with the help of employers and set by QCDA in 2007. They describe the standards for English, mathematics and ICT for the following levels:

  • Entry 1
  • Entry 2
  • Entry 3
  • Level 1
  • Level 2

This original set of standards has now been replaced. See Section 3: Developing effective practice for more detailed information or go directly to the current functional skills subject criteria. It is important to note that the functional skills standards and subject criteria were developed with full reference to the adult literacy, numeracy and ESOL core curricula. More information about this is in Section 3. Find out more about the online adult literacy, numeracy and ESOL [English for speakers of other languages] core curricula.

Piloting functional skills qualifications

Functional skills qualifications were first introduced in 2007 as part of a three-year pilot programme to develop qualifications that would be suitable for all learners, including adults. The aim was to implement a single strategy for the development of English, mathematics and ICT skills to replace existing key skills and Skills for Life qualifications.

The three-year functional skills pilot ended in summer 2010. The functional skills pilot qualifications have therefore been withdrawn and revised accredited functional skills qualifications are now available via several awarding organisations.

An independent evaluation of the functional skills three-year pilot was published by the Qualifications and Curriculum Development Agency (QCDA) in March 2011.

A further evaluation, completed in December 2010, assessed the potential impact of replacing the Certificates in Adult Literacy and Adult Numeracy (Skills for Life qualifications) with functional skills in English and mathematics from September 2012. This evaluation has not been published.

In January 2012, awarding organisations were advised that Skills for Life qualifications would be replaced by functional skills qualifications from September 2012. Contact your awarding organisation for further details.