Monday, 20 June 2016

Ofsted focus on English and maths

Ofsted focus on maths and English

FE carry some very interesting data this week about the focus on maths and English applied by Ofsted in their FE inspections and how this is affecting "grades".

The number of inspections since September is up 25% to 51, with data researched by FE Week showing that almost 20% of Colleges have been given Grade 4 - inadequate.

And the major cause in many cases is maths and English. The full article makes an interesting read.

We also noticed a piece on the BBC Education website which raised a smile. I'm not certain how relevant it is the majority of law abiding hard working people in the UK, but the underlying message is very clear. We won't say more, except click here. 

Traineeships and the digital economy

Traineeships and the digital economy

It's generally accepted that Traineeships haven't had the impact that we all thought they would.

Less than 10% of 19-24 year olds who completed a traineeship then went onto to an apprenticeship, a figure that certainly shocked me.

This week, FE Week carries an analysis of research into some of the key reasons why.

Traineeships may be missing the point, on a similar theme; a BBC report about the digital economy also indicates issues.

Whilst 90% of all jobs require "digital skills to some degree", 12.6 million adults lack basic skills and 5.8 million have never used the internet at all.

"Digital exclusion has no place in 21st Century Britain," the Commons Science and Technology Committee said. "While the government is to be commended for the actions taken so far... stubborn digital exclusion and systemic problems with digital education and training need to be addressed as a matter of urgency in the government's forthcoming digital strategy," it continued.

Friday, 10 June 2016

Edition 226 newsletter


Where are traineeships heading? News that less than 10% of 19-24 year olds who complete a traineeship, subsequently progress to an apprenticeship is putting the programme under threat with calls for a review of the programme.

After three years of reform, says Baroness Wolf in her evidence to the Commons committee on education & skills. She suggested that the focus on numbers was holding back reform of the process.

Students aged 16-18 with a grade D GCSE on study programmes will have two more chances to re-sit their "old style" GCSE in 2016/17 after the SFA confirmed an additional re-sit window for June 2017. Students who are genuinely on courses to progress their skills will continue to be funded, but those simply re-sitting exams will not.

The impact of the levy will affect SMEs too. The government is introducing a new Apprenticeship Levy from April 2017, which will affect larger businesses and require smaller firms to make upfront cash payments for training. Under government proposals, any smaller company with around 110 or fewer staff, who don’t pay the levy, will find themselves having to pay thousands of pounds up front for each apprentice they take on to cover the cost of accredited training.

Schools are worried too about the new maths GCSE. Half way through the teaching programme for the new cohort, Professor Anne Watson has said "that while the eventual plan is for a “more numerate population” her “expectation is that first of all there is likely to be a mess due to the scale and pace of the imposed change.”

Support materials for ForSkills customers

Support materials from ForSkills

These are all available to everyone, old customers, new customers and non-customers alike.

Paper based initial assessment booklets for maths, English and ICT costing £1 each.

Paper based screeners for maths, English and ICT costing 30p each.

A3 learner journey posters that are available free of charge on request.

Report of the results of the 2016 maths and English survey, free on request.

Published research report - The positive effects of using e-learning resources on the success rates and progression of learners, free on request.

A wide range of free videos accessed via the ForSkills YouTube channel.

Get in touch. If there's anything you'd like.

Friday, 27 May 2016

edition 225 of the newsletter

This week we focus on videos, specifically videos that help learners and tutors with Functional Skills. We've chosen three examples for maths (Pythagoras), English (Implicit meaning) and ICT (@if functions) and made them all available on the ForSkills YouTube channel.

Also this week, we have a couple of links to some interesting apprenticeships articles. Next week, I get a break as for many (including me) it's holiday time - back mid-June!

ForSkills YouTube Channel - click to subscribe. 70,000+ views, 100+ videos with over 100,000 minutes watched and a fast growing subscriber list, and it's all free - what's not to like?

As always, feel free to contact Jonathan Wells, the editor of this newsletter on 0191 3055045 or

World class apprenticeships

An academic research report by Mieschbuehler, R. and Hooley, T of the University of Derby has been published.

The aim of this research was to identify world-class apprenticeship standards and to make suggestions as to how these could be applied to the English system.

By ‘world class’ we mean that the standards described are acknowledged to be among the best in the world. Thirteen indicators for world-class apprenticeship standards were identified through the research and these have been divided into four sub-sections: (1) training, (2) skills and expertise, (3) recognition and (4) progression

Click here to access the report.

Oliver Trailor of Runway Training posted an article on LinkedIn about his experiences of Apprenticeships - just a page or two and worth a look.

Monday, 23 May 2016

Edition 224 newsletter

Functional Skills reform programme
The ETF have published a 25 page document that is the summary of findings of the employer survey.

It's worth a read, but if you're in a rush, the key findings are:
  • Employees often "fear" maths (more so than English) and are often reluctant to engage with the subjects as they lack confidence and mastery of essential skills. This also applied to some teachers.
  • The maths skills of particular importance include basic maths (area, estimation, conversions, days, geometrical, magnitude, perimeters, scales, 10s, 100s, 1000s), percentages, fractions, ratios and mental arithmetic. Employers are less interested in what they consider to be academic mathematics (e.g. algebra, calculus, etc.).
  • English skills of particular importance include the basics of what is known as the “SPAG” group of skills (spelling, punctuation and grammar) were also frequently mentioned as being important, together with good communication skills – especially oral ones via telephone and in customer-facing and colleague-facing environments.
  • A comparison by size of employer in employment terms suggests that larger organisations (those with greater than 50 staff) are slightly less happy with the maths and English capabilities of their existing workforce. Larger employers also place greater importance on collecting and representing data using ICT, including spreadsheets, while small businesses appear more likely to view mental arithmetic skills as being of greater importance.
  • There appears to be a polarisation of opinion on the treatment of digital skills within English and maths. Some employers regard such skills as a distraction – almost an irrelevance – to the need to upgrade basic maths and English skills – while some argue that everything should be integrated into digital skills.
  • Half of surveyed employers (50%) had heard of Functional Skills qualifications prior to responding to the consultation, with the results indicating that larger employers are more likely to be familiar (64% familiar) than those with fewer than 50 staff (39% familiar).
The full report is here.

A link to the second phase survey for practitioners/providers of FS qualifications is here and will be open until Friday 24th June.

Monday, 16 May 2016

edition 223

The learner journey
It starts with initial assessment and diagnostics to produce an ISP.

The ForSkills system uses a sophisticated assessment engine that significantly improves accuracy and reduces the length of time a learner takes. It’s normally a two phase process lasting about half an hour each. In the first phase, the learner answers a series of screening questions before being given around 25 questions from a “bank of thousands”. The result that you get from this is an overall level and spiky profile.

After the initial assessment, learners can then take a break and move onto step 2 - the diagnostic part – this is 20 or so questions, delivered at the level indicated by the spiky profile. At the end of the diagnostic assessment, the system automatically produces an individual skills plan or ISP – others may call it an ILP.

The results of the initial assessment at step 1 also indicates the time taken by the learner, an excellent indicator of their engagement, and whether any of the additional learning needs (dyslexia and dyscalculia) were highlighted by the questions they answered – that’s not a separate test, the assessment engine works this out based on flagged questions.

The overall result also shows the spiky profile, ever so important to identify where the skills gaps are as we use these results to then construct a diagnostic test based on the spiky profile – there’s no point at all in asking questions and setting problems the learner can’t be expected to achieve, that’s not the case with all systems though, it’s best to check.

The e-learning loop

The-elearning loop is essentially stages 3 and 4.

From the ISP, the system will automatically deliver to the learner a series of e-learning resources that are mapped against the skills that the learner needs to improve. That’s essentially step 3 and step 4, a loop where the learner has a start point, they may watch a video, do some practice work, then a summative assessment in that skill, this measures progress and increases the amount of progression reported.

The picture below shows that typical loop for level 2 grammar.

Not everything is a test or assessment though, some of the activities within e-learning will be functional problems – using the skills in a novel way. And by going round this loop for each skill identified, a learner improves their confidence and competence.

The final step on the learner journey is exam practice and revision using interactive scenarios, longer exam type questions or past papers.  SkillsBuilder has lots of these!

Get in touch. for a copy of the A3 posters.