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Initial assessment

Initial assessment is a relatively brief assessment, lasting perhaps 30 minutes or more, at the beginning of a learning programme in order to inform a starting point for learning.

Purpose of initial assessment

The purpose of a functional skills initial assessment is to establish the learner’s level of confidence in English, mathematics or ICT skills, to make appropriate recommendations about the programme of functional skills learning.

Good practice in initial assessment of functional skills suggests that:

  • there is a good mix of task-based (or practical) and test-based assessment tasks, so ensuring that the learner’s level of functionality, or ability to apply skills in different circumstances, is assessed;
  • ideally, initial assessment should be in a context with which the learner is familiar. For workplace or vocational learners, this should be in the context of their chosen programme of learning. Note that the Tools Library site has contextualised initial assessments for English and mathematics.

It is important to recognise that the ‘level’ of a functional skill is determined by a combination of factors:

  • familiarity to the learner of the situation or problem;
  • autonomy – the independence of the learner in identifying and selecting the skills they will need, and in tackling the situation or problem;
  • complexity of the situation or problem the learner is tackling; and
  • technical demand of the skill required.

Further good practice guidelines for initial assessment are in a leaflet entitled Initial and diagnostic assessment: a learner-centred process.

There are top tips on initial assessment on the Skills for Life Improvement Programme website.

Functional skills for adults: Preparing to coordinate and manage functional skills has a useful section on assessment from pages 7 to 9.

Initial assessment tools

A web search for functional skills initial assessments will suggest links to some of the most recent developments in this area. Most will be commercially available resources and it is likely that more resources will be developed in this area. There is no nationally developed initial assessment tool designed specifically for functional skills.

However, it is possible to use existing nationally developed and commercially developed adult literacy and numeracy initial assessment tools to assess basic English and maths skills. These meet at least part of the need for a test-based assessment of skills by indicating broad learner strengths and gaps in underpinning knowledge and skills. They are, however, insufficient on their own, as they do not assess functionality.

This test-based approach could therefore be supplemented by setting brief integrated tasks where learners are required to apply English, mathematics and ICT skills to solving a problem. These could be individual or group tasks. These task-based or practical assessments should be relevant to the learner’s proposed programme of study. It is likely that providers will be able to develop appropriate initial assessment tasks based on their own knowledge of the requirements of particular programmes of learning, and these are some examples of functional tasks available: 

  • Move On tasks: An example of a Move On integrated task, with more assignments available on the site. 
  • The adult core curriculum site has integrated activities (tasks) for the following sections: employability skills; family learning; embedded skills.
  • Key skills practice test. Key Skills > Trainer provides a useful set of test questions that will provide information to support initial assessment.
  • Initial assessment for adult literacy and numeracy. The Tools Library on the Excellence Gateway has guidance about initial and other aspects of assessment, as well as nationally developed tests for adult literacy and numeracy.

In the diagnostic tools for literacy section of the Skills for Life site, there is a tool for assessing free writing to levels and a miscue reading analysis: 

  • Assessment of free writing: the instructions for this are in the literacy tutor instruction manual, pages 331-340. 
  • Miscue analysis: the instructions for this, including a scoring system, are in the document Diagnostic assessment: literacy: materials for assessing reading using miscue analysis.

Guidance with regard to the level achieved in initial assessment and the level recommended for study

Ensure that, following a thorough assessment of all aspects of functional skills, the learners are on the correct level for functional skills. Note that this may not be the same as the key skills or Skills for Life level.

There are implications for planning and support where the functional skills level is set by the particular Apprenticeship Framework, rather than the learner’s needs.

Note that the guidance for accreditation says: “...a marginal fail at level 2 does not result in a pass at level 1. Learners must be entered at the right level.”