What are Functional Skills & why are they different from Key Skills? by Jayne Stigger @ Fossa 99

Functional skills are practical skills in literacy (English), numeracy (Mathematics) and Information and Communication Technology (spreadsheets, email & presentation) that provide every individual with skills that help them to function independently, effectively and confidently in their life. These skills are essential for further learning, employment since they are basic skills needed for most jobs. So functional skills should be integrated into the curriculum and allow learners to apply these skills in real life. The knowledge within the subject has to be linked with the practical skills, helping them to think creatively. Literacy (English Skills)

These skills help build the confidence of an individual while reading, writing, speaking and listening. It helps effective communication where information can be passed clearly through either speaking or writing. It helps understand information and act appropriately. It helps to make presentations, write reports, take part in group discussions and analyse ideas and information. It helps present information in a logical sequence, in the correct format using correct grammar. These are skills that business require and are calling out for.

Numeracy (Mathematics Skills)

These skills help to understand various mathematical concepts, and also how to apply them. It helps increase analytical, problem solving and reasoning skills, identify errors and validate results. It helps use numbers and calculations to process data, solve complex problems and helps with logical working, interpretation and comparison of results in various forms like tables, graphs, charts and diagrams. Again, essential skills for business.

ICT (Information and Communication Technology Skills)

These skills help an individual to confidently use ICT systems for various purposes. Individuals can use ICT to interpret information and can also enhance their learning and improve the quality of their work. They can find information from a variety of sources. It also helps with digital or electronic communication, interpretation, storage and retrieval of information.

Key Skills did not do this, it consisted of a portfolio and an exam, unless there was a proxy in place. Most learners had a proxy, so produced only the portfolio, which was in almost all cases, some of their vocational course work, put into a folder, and a teacher generated check list in the front.

Functional Skills are an externally examined qualification with a much higher emphasis on problem solving. There can be no comparison.


The rationale for change, for the following plan is obvious. It is a change of culture as well as curriculum.

Students must achieve L2 Maths and English to function in society, gain employment, progression to the next level of Education. Apprenticeships are increasingly important both as training and employment and for the College both financially and in terms of reputation.

The CBI, Professor Wolf and the Government have rightly prioritised this as an essential part of learner achievement and economic growth.

Proposal (General Points):

It is not enough just to tweak the delivery of Functional Skills at the point of Delivery.

To deliver an efficient and effective FUNCTIONAL SKILLS programme, the whole Learner Journey should be considered from Initial Advice and Guidance, through Interview, Initial Assessment, and Induction, teaching and desired outcomes. It is a change of culture to recognise the benefit that FUNCTIONAL SKILLS will deliver. There are flow diagrams illustrating these pages at the end of the report.


  • It should be made clear to learners that FUNCTIONAL SKILLS are an integral part of their programme at all levels.
  • Learners, when signing their acceptance of the Contract between them and ‘the college’ should also have to sign to say they agree to attend FUNCTIONAL SKILLS and to take their examinations.
  • Learners should, if they have academic aspirations, be enrolled on GCSE Maths or English with L2 FUNCTIONAL SKILLS inbuilt as a backup. They should also be offered this as an option.
  • Learners should be required to purchase a kit for their FUNCTIONAL SKILLS. @£25. The kit to contain an English and Maths Work Book, a calculator, Trig set (set square, compass etc.) pen, note book, ruler, pencil etc. £20 of this would be refunded on return in a good condition.
  • For learners unable to pay, the college would provide and a £5 deposit would be refundable on return in good condition.
  • Learners should supply the college with a stamped, self-addressed envelope for their FUNCTIONAL SKILLS certificate.

Initial Assessment:

All learners should undertake the same Initial Assessment, resulting in learners working from an understandable level. We recommend that the college adopts the use of BKSB http://www.bksb.co.uk/.

BKSB has the advantage of being Industry Standard, it can link to the college data systems and enables all members of staff to log on and identify the level at which their students are working via accurate and easily understood reports. It can also produce an in-depth diagnostic to detail exactly where a learner is having difficulties.

BKSB can also link to the Additional Learning Support system Midas (Spirals) http://www.midas-spirals.com/company.aspx


  • Learners should not have 3 hours of English and Maths at one time. English and Maths should be run separately in 1.5 hour sessions.
  • Learners should be grouped by initial assessment to ensure they are in lessons with students of equal ability
  • Learners should not be in mixed groups e.g. E1 to L2
  • Learners should not be in groups of more than 20
  • Functional Skills staff should be timetabled to work with Curriculum Area staff to team teach Functional Skills strategies during vocational delivery
  • Functional Skills should not be in graveyard slots or put where it is ‘convenient’ for the Curriculum Area. This leads to poor attendance, tired students and poor achievement.
  • Timetabling for Functional Skills should reflect the importance of these skills and be central to the main programme
  • Learners who take GCSE Maths and GCSE English should also take L2 Functional Skills, delivered inside the lessons. This is a good fallback position for the learner and develops their skills.
  • Offer students who achieve L2 Functional Skills the opportunity to take GCSE (Maths / English) in their 2nd year.

Initial Qualifications:

Learners with a Grade E or below should be carefully interviewed before placing on a L2 or L3 programme, particularly Apprenticeships.

A learner with a Grade G in Maths is closer in achievement to Entry 3 than a GCSE.

  • Entry 1 Qualification in Maths  = 10 points
  • Grade G Qualification in Maths = 16 points
  • Grade C Qualification in Maths = 40 points

These learners have a more challenging journey to make than one with a Grade D and this can impact on their main qualification. There are a significant number of issues with enrolling a student on a programme (mainstream or apprenticeship) with Grades below D.

Learners with D or below should be offered one of the following pathways depending on their grades and availability.

16 – 18 year old Learner

Grade C / B / A students (16 – 18)

Should not have to take FUNCTIONAL SKILLS in Maths or English; however, this is dependent on production of a relevant certificate, and must be Language, not Literature.

D grade students (16 – 18)

  • Can start as normal in September and take FUNCTIONAL SKILLS L1 in the first 4 weeks of Term.
  • If they pass L1 , they are able to transfer across to their main programme and join the classes studying for L2 FUNCTIONAL SKILLS (Maths and/or English)
  • If they do not pass L1: continue on their main programme with L1 FUNCTIONAL SKILLS lessons but in much smaller groups as a number will have passed and left. This will enable more effective teaching and higher success rates.
  • The learner will receive additional teaching support to achieve L1 as soon as possible (October half term)
  • The learner can then join the groups studying for L2 (Maths/English)

Learners below Grade D: 16-18 learners

  • Learners with E and below or no qualifications at all (16-18)) should be offered a choice
  • enrol on a One Year Progression Pathway Programme
  • or
  • Begin the course if the Head of Curriculum believes they are an exceptional student capable of achieving

The One Year Progression Pathway Programme (needs a catchier name e.g. ‘Back on Track’ would consist of:

  • WorkSkills Certificate (to consist of units covering working with others, teamwork and employment skills etc) (130 GLH) This course has a strong English and Maths component depending on the units chosen
  • Functional Skills Exams (English, Maths and ICT) at L1
  • An award in the Curriculum Area they were interested in joining to improve their skills


D Grade Apprentices:

We recognise the importance of the first few weeks of an Apprenticeship Programme in building relationships between learners, employers and the college.

Therefore, we propose the following:

  • BKSB at Interview to gauge levels and inform staff
  • All apprentices are to take the FUNCTIONAL SKILLS L2 exams in English and Maths in the first two weeks administered by FUNCTIONAL SKILLS staff in the CA.
  • If the learner passes, they continue with Curriculum Area apprenticeship and no FUNCTIONAL SKILLS delivery
    • If the learner passes at L1, enrol on FUNCTIONAL SKILLS L2 and begin embedded and discrete delivery after 6 weeks
      • If the learner passes at E3, undertake a diagnostic review of skills and support learner to achieve from E3 to L1, then L2 in one year.


Until Day 43 and the CA has determined if the ‘right learner is on the right course’, there should be no FUNCTIONAL SKILLS teaching delivery

After 6 weeks, FUNCTIONAL SKILLS is delivered as embedded and discrete provision, relevant to the CA by the FUNCTIONAL SKILLS ‘Ask the Expert’ and CA staff.

E Grade or below:

  • Prospective Apprentices with E and below or no qualifications at all should enrol on a Six Month or One Year Pre Apprenticeship Programme, consisting of:
  • WorkSkills Award/Certificate/Diploma (to consist of units covering working with others, teamwork and employment skills related to their Vocational Choice The CBI particularly recommends that they take business planning and customer relations)
  • Functional Skills Exams – Maths, English and ICT at L1
  • Relevant Vocational Award Course as determined by the CA

Depending on the learner needs, they could embark on a September or January Start, with work experience at the sponsoring Employers place of work in the holidays.

These lessons will be backed up by Blended Learning via Moodle.

This supports the ideology in Matthew Hancock’s January report on NEETS and training opportunities.

Non Achievers at end of additional programmes:

If they do not pass the L1 qualification, a discussion between the CA offering the Apprenticeship and the FUNCTIONAL SKILLS area should be undertaken as to their suitability. E.g. could they achieve if they were given 1 to 1 support, Additional Learning Support etc.

Many adults and adult apprentices have very advanced Vocational Skills but need additional help to achieve L2 Maths, English and ICT.

An Action Plan should be developed for the learner and closely tracked. These learners should be the exception rather than the rule


Often have problems with ‘buy-in’ and commitment; life gets in the way of their academic aspirations and the college needs to be flexible in delivery to meet these changing needs.

Therefore, we should have two types of delivery: Traditional class based and Flexible


  • Should be brought together as a social group to encourage ‘group bonding’ at the start of the course
  • Courses are offered at times to suit parents e.g. between school hours, early evening
  • Learners should be able to move from one group to another if circumstances change
  • Work available on Moodle if unable to attend for a couple of weeks
  • Able to take exam when able, not wait until end of course


  • Should be brought together as a social group to encourage ‘group bonding’ at the start of the course
  • Regular ‘group’ emails from teacher to keep group together and motivated
  • Adults should be offered bespoke Blended Learning via Moodle and Classes to achieve E3, L1. They can then progress to achieve L2.
  • Provision can be a range of options:
  • In the locality (libraries, halls, schools, sports centres etc)
    • Over the Internet – using Skype and Moodle
    • Scheduled sessions in College to check progress

Embedding and Teaching Skills:

Functional Skills should be Functional. NIACE report that: Functional Skills in English and Maths are

vital for young people and adults to participate in life, learning and work.

There is a focus on problem-solving and giving learners practical strategies for applying and transferring skills in everyday situations [http://www.niace.org.uk/sites/default/files/documents/events/BIS016E1-0312/sue-southwood.pdf]

The Wolf Review expresses reservations about embedding Functional Skills in vocational courses, raising the issue of vocational teachers not being qualified to teach English or maths and specialist literacy or numeracy teachers needing to ‘grapple with multiple contexts’ to teach in real life situations.

We agree with this and propose a ‘fusion’ approach of methods, expertise and teaching staff and methods to deliver FUNCTIONAL SKILLS embedded in CA’s and as Discrete provision.

Strengths and Challenges of Embedding Learning:

  • Functional skills should not hinder the primary subject but underpin it
  • Functional skills can form learning outcomes in their own right, or contribute to the main subject course outcomes


  • “It gives learners a ‘toolbox of skills’ where the learner learns to match and use the tool for the situation.”
  • “This is because subjects are more entwined than previously; there is a need to consider the learner ‘holistically’ rather than advising them to progress up the levels in one subject.”


  • Finding contexts that are relevant to all learners in mixed ability groups
  • Finding ways to get learners to apply skills in different contexts
  • Difficult for learners at lower levels
  • Staff in Curriculum Areas have subject knowledge but lack skills to develop FUNCTIONAL SKILLS in their learners, the FUNCTIONAL SKILLS team lack subject knowledge which will bring the FUNCTIONAL SKILLS alive and make them relevant.

Teaching Staff and Embedding

The recommendations from the Lingfield Review regarding the way forward for teaching qualifications have been taken forward by LSIS. There are some interesting proposals for new level five qualifications for those teaching mathematics and English (literacy and numeracy).

This is to be achieved via a thorough:

  • A retraining programme for the current FUNCTIONAL SKILLS Maths delivery staff, to ensure that they are ready to meet the challenges of delivering FUNCTIONAL SKILLS Maths, now and in the future. This is for those who are qualified and those who are not; as part of our Continuing Professional Development, refreshing knowledge is vital.
  • All College staff involved in Teaching and Learning should take L2/L1 FUNCTIONAL SKILLS in Maths, English and ICT. This will better prepare them to embed FUNCTIONAL SKILLS and deliver in Vocational lessons.
  • This could begin as an ‘optional exercise’ but those who take it and achieve could be recognised in some way …


  • Functional Skills Staff will be put into teams of One English and One Maths/ICT
  • Each ‘Team’ will be allocated to a Curriculum Area (two areas if they are very small)
  • They will support all 3 FUNCTIONAL SKILLS and have a reduced teaching load, embedding FUNCTIONAL SKILLS into the SOW’s.
  • They will use the syllabus of the area to embed and map FUNCTIONAL SKILLS.
  • They will act as ‘Ask the Expert’, advising CA staff on how to deliver FUNCTIONAL SKILLS in a relevant way that meets the needs of the subject and FUNCTIONAL SKILLS
  • They will teach FUNCTIONAL SKILLS in Discrete classes to support the work of the CA teachers.
  • They will assist with exam entry, tracking and learner reviews.
  • More FUNCTIONAL SKILLS staff will be recruited. They will be well qualified and knowledgeable.
  • The current staff will be trained and refreshed and encouraged to upskill in line with Lingfield Review to have at least a L5 qualification.
  • No teacher should teach FUNCTIONAL SKILLS without a L2 FUNCTIONAL SKILLS qualification themselves.

Exam Entry

No learner should take a FUNCTIONAL SKILLS exam until they have passed two mock papers

No learner should be entered for a FUNCTIONAL SKILLS exam if they are on the ‘Red List’

No learner should be on a programme if they have the wrong qualifications unless they have an authorised and monitored Action Plan


Students should be enrolled onto FUNCTIONAL SKILLS when they enrol on main programme and the importance of FUNCTIONAL SKILLS emphasised. Learners should ‘Sign for Skills’

All students should provide the College with a stamped, self-addressed envelope to enable their FUNCTIONAL SKILLS certificate to be posted to them.


All Functional Skills staff should track learners on FUNCTIONAL SKILLS courses. Functional Skills staff have online spread sheets to complete and must track and report the following:

  • When Learners are enrolled
  • Registered with the exam board
  • When they take exams
  • The results of the exams
  • When they move from one Level to the next
  • Attendance and behaviour issues
  • When Certificates are issued


Should be properly developed as an interactive Scheme of Work, with mobile Apps, interactive lessons, video demonstrations and provide an opportunity for learners to learn and submit work, which will be tracked, marked and assessed.

Learners can use this tool for stand-alone revision, catch up and for Blended Learning opportunities.


These are major changes to the way FUNCTIONAL SKILLS is currently delivered, tracked and monitored. However they will improve student retention, achievement and success and enhance the reputation as an excellent provider in schools, with stakeholders and SME’s.

They will work if implemented fully, as a ‘joined up thinking’, holistic delivery system and not implemented ‘piecemeal’ to suit individual CAs or College wide policy. We look forward to hearing your views and welcome critique.

Essential Actions

Undertake a review of all FUNCTIONAL SKILLS delivery staff and their qualifications. In view of the Lingfield Review, we must ensure that our staff are qualified to meet the needs of the Wolf Report. Staff must be encouraged to undergo training and retraining as required to continue to meet the changes and challenges of FUNCTIONAL SKILLS in the college. (Consultation available on LSIS)

Identify the right FUNCTIONAL SKILLS staff for each Curriculum Area

Devise timetables that enable the FUNCTIONAL SKILLS staff to spend time in CAs to gain understanding of ethos and needs in that area and to work with them on delivery, SOW and resources

Recruit high level maths staff

Encourage all staff to take on the ‘FUNCTIONAL SKILLS Challenge’ and support them to take in Admin Weeks

Change interview process / paperwork to put ‘FUNCTIONAL SKILLS at the heart of what we do’

Purchase resources as identified

Put Workshop Times into the timetable from Day 1. One hour per teacher, per week available for any help needed from students and link it to Moodle.

Reach an agreement as Head of Curriculum on:

  • What is needed
  • How it can be achieved