Developing embedded English, maths and digital skills in T Levels: ‘Techno-mathematical literacies’

The Education and Training Foundation is supporting teachers to get ready for the development of embedded English, maths and digital (EMD) skills in T Levels as part of the T Level Professional Development offer.

In T Levels, as opposed to other further education routes, we are not thinking about abstract skills applied in technical contexts, but about specific technical practices that include English, maths and digital elements; something Hoyles et al (2002) might have termed ‘techno-mathematical literacies’.

But what exactly does this mean in practice?

Learners doing Functional Skills English, for example, need to demonstrate that they can ‘use different language and register (e.g. persuasive techniques, supporting evidence, specialist words), suited to audience and purpose’ as part of their writing assessments. This task can be achieved using a broad context, but when applying it to specific industry practice in a workplace, the production of such material would entail much more than the ability to adapt language and register for audience and purpose. Learners would need to be able to include, for example: some spoken language (asking a manager for clarification of the task), possibly some maths (keeping production within budget), and certainly some digital design in most workplaces. An awareness of audience will be shaped by the context of the business type as well as the intended messaging and the register used may also be shaped by local dialect conventions. In Functional Skills and other specialist qualifications, learners are actively developing their English, maths and digital skills – but in T Levels, ‘techno-mathematical literacies’ are pragmatically applied within the context of everyday working life.

It is because of this pragmatic application of techno-mathematical literacies that T Level teachers need to support learners to translate and develop the English, maths and digital abilities they develop during GCSE/ Functional Skills courses into workplace (technical) competencies, crossing that boundary between ‘school’ and ‘work’ (ACME, 2019).

It is competence in context-based techno-mathematical literacies that T Level teachers will be responsible for supporting. The concept might sound daunting but this is all part of becoming a professional teacher, digital software designer, plasterer, etc; you can’t be good at these jobs without being good at the English, maths and digital components that are embedded within them. This is why I argue that working on English, Maths and digital practices in T Levels is embedding in its ‘pure’ sense; it’s not about merging English, maths and digital learning aims with technical aims, but about developing the English, maths and digital skills already present in technical practices.

By way of framing the embedded aspects of technical practices, the Department for Education (DfE) has developed sets of ‘General English, Maths and Digital Competencies’. These competencies can be seen below:

1. Convey technical information to different audiences
2. Present information & ideas
3. Create texts for different purposes & audiences
4. Summarise information / ideas
5. Synthesise information
6. Take part in / lead discussions
1. Measuring with precision
2. Estimating, calculating & error spotting
3. Working with proportion
4. Using rules & formulae
5. Processing data
6. Understanding data & risk
7. Interpreting & representing with mathematical diagrams
8. Communicating using mathematics
9. Costing a project
10. Optimising work processes
1. Use digital technology & media effectively
2. Create with multimedia & design tools
3. Communicate & collaborate digitally
4. Process & analyse data securely
5. Demonstrate critical digital literacy
6. Code & programme


In real technical practices, competencies usually interconnect with each other and the learner would not be able to undertake this technical practice effectively without being able to successfully apply the relevant embedded English, maths and digital elements.
The competencies are not formal standards for assessment or an additional set of achievement criteria. Instead, the competencies should help learners and teachers to identify opportunities for developing English, maths and digital embedded within a technical programme of study. It’s also important to note that the competencies will form part of the assessed elements of T Levels, so teachers need to ensure their development is included in T Level curriculum planning.

To explore some of these issues in more depth, CPD courses, aimed at technical teachers, are being delivered for the Education and Training Foundation by its partners, Claire Collins Consultancy and WMCETT.

Hoyles, C., Wolf, A., Molyneux-Hodgson, S. & Kent, P. (2002). Mathematical skills in the workplace. London, United Kingdom: Science, Technology and Mathematics Council.

Claire Collins is a director of ccConsultancy, and leads literacies and learning programmes for the ETF and other national/ international bodies. 

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