New major report finds support for Functional Skills

Employers are in favour of qualifications which provide practical maths and English skills, new research commissioned by the Education and Training Foundation has found.  This study showed that 47% of larger employers know about Functional Skills. 87% of these value them for their approach to applied skills, flexible assessment and problem solving.

This is the first major study of employer views of qualifications in maths and English, in which 1400 employers, learners and training organisations have taken part.

GCSE consistently emerged as a well-known qualification with an established brand. However, employers’ primary focus was the need for young people and adults with good practical maths and English skills, regardless of the specific qualification taken.

Almost half of employers surveyed now recognise Functional Skills qualifications, but three quarters of employers consulted also believe action is needed to improve practical maths and English skills.

Practical knowledge and skills are highly sought after– knowledge such as a firm grasp of units of measurement; and skills such as mental arithmetic and approximation, listening, writing and speaking. There was a strong desire for provision which equips people with practical and applied skills–and employers are concerned that a lack of these skills could impact on business.

The Education and Training Foundation is recommending that work needs to be undertaken to aid and accelerate the growing awareness and understanding of Functional Skills. The qualification landscape is complex – with several hundred qualifications available and changes to terminology over the years. This prevents clearly understood routes becoming established.

Other recommendations in the report include ensuring that all learners have access to a curriculum of practical maths and English knowledge and skills; a review of the standards on which Functional Skills are based; and the creation of a mechanism to provide regular, reliable and representative feedback from employers and providers to inform continual improvement in curriculum and qualifications.

 Download ‘Making maths and English work for all’ 



What people are saying about the review:

Professor Ed Sallis OBE, Chair of the Steering Group:

This has been an important piece of research because the recommendations impact directly on the life chances of individuals. Having a good knowledge of maths and English are two of the most important skills a person can have. Employers are of the same view, and the review shows that they value practical maths and English skills. They value Functional Skills for their practical approach to problem solving and for their flexible assessment.  The challenge will be to communicate this message and to ensure that they are promoted so that every learner has the chance to develop the maths and English skills employers require.

Skills Minister Nick Boles:

I welcome the Education and Training Foundation’s findings, and the support of those who contributed to this report. Over 1 million Functional Skills certificates were awarded last year, giving adult learners a route that is valued by employers to the literacy and numeracy skills essential for success.

This report finds the current Functional Skills system is generally serving its purpose, and reflects the Government’s commitment to ensure all adults have the opportunity to study English and maths. I welcome the new evidence provided by the Foundation and its recommendations for improving the quality and recognition of Functional Skills to ensure they meet the needs of employers and learners, as well as improving understanding of all English and maths qualifications outside of GCSE.

John Allan, Federation of Small Businesses, National Chairman:

The outcome and recommendations in this timely review will be of great interest to small firms. Every business values the skills that will help young people succeed in the workplace, and functional skills like literacy and numeracy are among the most important and are key to getting on to the job ladder. “Employers can see the day-to-day value of functional skills, but there is currently no formal mechanism for applicants to certify they have these skills. As this report says, businesses want to see evidence of practical skills alongside academic qualifications like GCSEs, so that they can be confident that young candidates have the skills they need.

Jeremy Benson, Executive Director for Vocational Qualifications at Ofqual:

We welcome the Education and Training Foundation’s review, and its confirmation of the important role that functional skills qualifications have in recognising the skills that are important to learners and employers. The review complements the work that we are doing to secure higher quality assessments and more consistent standards for functional skills qualifications. We will continue to work closely with the Foundation and Government so that these important qualifications continue to develop in line with both learners’ and employers’ needs

Claire Griffin, Principal Community Learning MK, Milton Keynes Council and Steering Group member for the review:

This research has proved what many of us already believed; that the Functional Skills qualifications provide young people and adults with useful and relevant skills in maths and English that helps them to either gain employment, or progress in their job. This is particularly vital for those people who, for whatever reason, are not able to meet the academic requirements of GCSE but can learn and apply a whole range of important skills when they relate to practical and realistic topics.

David Russell, Chief Executive Officer at the Education and Training Foundation:

Everyone knows – or thinks they know – what a GCSE in maths or English stands for.  But other qualifications exist too, and are increasingly common post-16.  We set out to discover whether employers recognised them, and, if they did, whether they rated them.  We found, unsurprisingly, that it is something people really want to talk about. Employers care about the quality of maths and English skills people have, not just the qualification.  They told us about the type of knowledge and skills which hold real currency and support the success of their businesses  Nearly half of the employers we surveyed told us they recognised Functional Skills, and most of those who did so valued them for their content and approach.

Lee Passmoor, Apprentice Academy Operations Manager, Mercedes-Benz UK Ltd:

A decent standard of both numeracy and literacy gives learners confidence to be more independent in their workplace activities and be more willing to commit to their own continuous professional development.  This benefits the employee due to greater progression in their careers and increased job satisfaction as well as the employers due to increased productivity and efficiency.  This also carries across in to their home life too.  The reason why we value the Functional Skills route is because the contextualisation of the learning makes it more relevant and relatable to learners who are more vocationally orientated and who may have struggled with the purely academic nature of GCSE’s.

The Data Source for Making Maths and English Work for All – Conversations and Desk Research can be found at the following link

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