The report commissioned by Nick Boles has been published and, probably much to the surprise of Nick Boles, the report shows wide support for Functional Skills. Sure there is room for improvement but that is neither a surprise nor a problem, after all Functional Skills are now approaching 8 years old and keeping them relevant and fresh is vital. In summary:
- Functional Skills are gaining widespread recognition and employers who know about them like them and the approach they embody.
- Functional Skills benefit learners because they focus on the skills that are valued by employers.
- Functional Skills are a good basis on which to build.
One of key things I drew from the report is that employers who know about Functional Skills certainly value them in the world of work – more than 87% say they are very or fairly useful, leaving just 13% saying that Functional Skills are not very or not at all useful.
So the top level challenge for Government is almost certainly to improve the number of Employers who know about Functional Skills – the report quotes 47% of employers who are aware of Functional Skills. A further top level challenge is not to change for the sake of change as Functional Skills are “not broken”.
My view of the recommendations of the report include
- There is a clear need for rigorous but flexible qualifications that show a learner has mastered practical and applied English and maths skills
- The standards, content and assessment methods of Functional Skills should be reviewed to ensure they remain relevant to the needs of employers
- Non-GCSE English and maths qualifications should be rationalised to ensure greater public and employer recognition, the inference being to put greater support behind Functional Skills
- The purpose and value of Functional Skills should be the focus of a publicity campaign to employers to improve awareness and understanding with simple, consistent and well-evidenced messages and it is important to avoid promoting any perception that Functional Skills are a consolation prize awarded by a GCSE focused system
- A minor change of name to use “Functional Maths” and “Functional English” would make it clear to employers that learners have gained practical literacy and numeracy qualifications
- Support for teachers/tutors to improve their maths and English skills needs to continue.