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Functional skills standards and curriculum

The functional skills standards and subject criteria were designed to address the need for learners to develop the flexible English, mathematics and ICT skills needed in qualifications and at work. ‘Functionality’, or the ability to apply skills to solve problems in work or in society, is a critical element of functional skills. The standards and subject criteria for functional skills were developed with reference to the key skills standards, which they will fully replace by autumn 2012.

Functional skills subject criteria were also developed with full reference to the adult literacy and numeracy standards and curriculum, reflecting the significant research and teaching expertise embodied in this resource.

What this means in practice is that the adult literacy and numeracy core curriculum continues to inform the practicalities of how and what functional English and mathematics skills to teach. It can be used confidently by teachers and managers to plan provision and provides a critical resource to support quality teaching and learning in all settings of the FE and skills sector.

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Functional skills are not about the basics of reading, writing, arithmetic and using ICT, but the acquisition of these basic skills is an essential stepping stone towards the higher goal of being functional. Being functional means: 

  • Being able to apply knowledge and skills and respond appropriately to all sorts of real-life contexts
  • Having the mental agility to take on challenges in a range of new and often unforeseen settings
  • Being able to work out independently what to do
  • Recognising and expecting that tasks may require persistence, thoughtfulness, struggle and reflection

Functional skills underpin problem-solving, instil confidence and heighten an individual’s ability to learn.

A key characteristic of functional skills is that they are based on a problem-solving approach. Learners who are ‘functionally skilled’ are able to use and apply their knowledge of English, mathematics or ICT to tackle problems that arise in their life and work.

The Developing Learners' functional skills diagram aims to show how the learner, the principal learning (subject) teacher, and the functional skills specialists should work as a team to enable the learner to achieve mastery in functional skills.