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Functional skills policy

General policy information

For updated information on functional skills, visit the Department for Education (DfE) website and the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) section on further education and skills.

National launch of functional skills

Launched nationally in September 2010, functional skills are stand-alone qualifications in their own right. They are also embedded within four qualification routes:

  • GCSEs
  • As a component of the 14–19 Diploma
  • As a component of the Foundation Learning suite of qualifications
  • As a mandatory part of the apprenticeships framework. From September 2012, functional skills will be the only skills component accepted as part of apprenticeships.

It is envisaged that by 2013 there will be a streamlined system based on the above four qualification routes.

Functional skills and adult learners

Functional skills at all levels are available to adult learners as stand-alone qualifications and will replace the national adult literacy and numeracy test qualifications from August 2012. They are also embedded within adult apprenticeships. It is expected that functional skills qualifications at all levels will be the preferred choice for adult learners, in order to provide ‘a coherent progression pathway’ – see the Skills Funding Agency update 95 for details.

Functional skills as stand-alone qualifications

As well as being an integral part of the 14–19 Diplomas, apprenticeships and Foundation Learning, functional skills are available as free-standing qualifications for young people and adults. They have been incorporated into the new Key Stage 3 Programmes of Study for English, mathematics and ICT. They have also been embedded within the revised Key Stage 4 Programme of Study for English, mathematics and ICT for first teaching from September 2010.

Transition from key skills to functional skills

In July 2010, the Minister of State for Further Education, Skills and Lifelong Learning confirmed that functional skills would replace key skills, but agreed to extend dual running of key skills and functional skills in apprenticeships until the end of March 2011 to allow time for employers and providers to finalise their models for delivering functional skills within apprenticeship frameworks.

Following consultation with key partners and the identification of a need for additional development time, ministers have agreed an extended, temporary transitional arrangement involving parallel running between key skills, functional skills and the new GCSEs (with increased functional content) from April 2011 until the end of September 2012. This extension is subject to further work with stakeholders, to develop a wider range of flexible assessment models; to ensure that functional skills are intrinsic to apprenticeships; and to facilitate full implementation by September 2012. Find further information about functional skills and apprenticeships.

The last registration date for key skills Communication, Application of Number and ICT has been extended until 30 September 2012. Learners will have the choice of key skills or functional skills until this date, though functional skills are the recommended route.

Functional skills and GCSEs

In April 2009, the new criteria for English, mathematics and ICT GCSEs were published. These new criteria do not necessitate a structural change to the qualifications and so no longer require that learners pass Level 2 functional skills assessments before they can achieve grades A* - C, as was previously planned.

It is no longer a requirement for learners to be assessed separately in functional skills in order to achieve a GCSE. However, functional skills are embedded into the new GCSE criteria for English, mathematics and ICT, delivered in classrooms from 2010.

Find out more about current policy with regard to GCSEs. Note that recent government announcements (New Challenges, New Chances, December 2011) suggest that adult learners will be funded to study for GCSE qualifications in English and maths from September 2012.

Functional skills and 14–19 Diplomas

Functional skills teaching and accreditation form an integral component of 14–19 Diplomas.

General policy information about 14–19 Diplomas can be on the Department for Education website.

Functional skills and Foundation Learning

Functional skills are an essential component of Foundation Learning. It is anticipated that much of the functional skills content will be embedded in the vocational element of Foundation Learning programmes.

Find out more about Foundation Learning from the DfE. Funding and other policy information can be found on the BIS site.

Functional skills and apprenticeships

The Government’s position on functional skills in apprenticeships is stated in ‘New Challenges, New Chances, December 2011. The government confirms that:

“from the 2012/13 academic year, all apprenticeship providers will be required to support apprentices in progressing towards the achievement of Level 2 English and maths. From October 2012 all apprentices starting English and maths courses will be taking functional skills or GCSE qualifications.”

Functional skills qualifications are a mandatory component of all apprenticeship frameworks. This requirement is stated in the Specification for Apprenticeship Standards in England (SASE), which sets out the minimum requirements to be included in a recognised apprenticeship framework in England. The SASE framework is used by awarding organisations to develop apprenticeship frameworks. These in turn determine whether mathematics, English and ICT are required (or only mathematics and English).

Compliance with the SASE will be a statutory requirement of the Apprenticeships, Skills, Children and Learning (ASCL) Act. The agreed minimum requirement for functional skills qualifications in apprenticeship frameworks is English and mathematics at Level 1 for an intermediate level apprenticeship and Level 2 for an advanced level apprenticeship. ICT is now included in most frameworks.

Find further information about functional skills and apprenticeships. To access the SASE and related guidance documents, visit BIS publications and search for 'apprenticeship'.

Find out more about current policy on apprenticeships on the BIS site and for online apprenticeship frameworks on the Alliance of Sector Skills Councils’ site.

Information about transition from key skills to functional skills is detailed on the functional skills policy menu page.

Review of Vocational Education: The Wolf Report, Department for Education, March 2011

This important report confirms the critical importance of secure English and maths skills to vocational learning for 14 to 19-year-olds. Some concerns about the consistency of standards of functional skills qualifications are discussed.