Functional skills

OECD Survey of Adult Skills 2013

A recent report from The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) ranked the UK 22 for literacy and 21 for numeracy out of 24 countries and warned of a shrinking pool of skilled workers.

The survey showed that England is the only country where results are going backwards, with young people (under 24) doing worse than older people (55-65 age range) over the last 15 years.

The study also shows that there are 8.5 million adults in England and Northern Ireland with the numeracy levels of a 10-year-old.

What the report says

The study shows a real need for a renewed focus on Functional Skills (previously Skills for Life), saying that,"The economic and social rewards for having high skills are particularly strong in England and Northern Ireland, says the research, with significant advantages in health, job opportunities and income".

Since functional skill are about applying practical skills, learners will need more time and support, both for learning and taking the tests.

Since functional skills are about applying practical skills, learners will need more time and support, both for learning and taking the tests. Because learners will need longer on their courses there will be a need for more employer support.

There is clearly a need for ULRs to explore the resources and opportunities available in these areas and help members to improve them. Functional Skills are needed to do our jobs, run our homes, manage our money and enjoy a social life.


The way forward for ULRs

With regards to ULRs working with learning providers, there are still questions about how functional skills will be delivered, how accessible they are and the quality of the provision that ULRs need to consider. ULRs should seek to establish Service Level Agreements (SLAs) with providers when discussing the delivery of Functional Skills.

When negotiating with employers, ULRs need to stress the practical advantage of having a skilled workforce and point out functional skills offer more practical qualifications and problem solving skills. The upside for employers is that the skills developed are practical transferable and usable in the work environment.


Functional Skills

Functional Skills are about developing skills in maths, English and ICT, but also focus on teaching learners how to apply these skills in everyday contexts and situations.

For example, the government is putting more emphasis on functional maths, which focuses on problem-solving, and gives learners practical strategies for applying and transferring skills in everyday situations. Functional Skills provide a single route to achievement from entry level to level 2 for all learners in all sectors.

Although they are built on existing standards and the curriculum for adult literacy and numeracy, they focus on learning and applying skills and therefore have different learning programmes and tests. From September 2012 they will replace Key Skills qualifications; and also Skills for Life qualifications at levels 1 and 2 (though not entry level)

Functional Skills can be accredited as free-standing qualifications (as the adult literacy and numeracy qualifications have been). But they can also be awarded as a component of apprenticeships or other awards, including diplomas or foundation learning.

New challenges

There are a number of issues that will face union learning reps when introducing Functional Skills:

Providers will need to be ready to adapt their programmes to deliver flexibly and in right contexts - unions can help

In general, learners will need more time to learn, to reach the point where they are ready for new Functional Skills tests - employer buy-in is important.

To meet this challenge Unionlearn has produced a new briefing for ULRs, learning centre managers and tutors, union staff and ULF project workers called Understanding Functional Skills.

Unionlearn has also produced a briefing, Negotiating for Functional Skills, aimed at trade union reps and officers who negotiate with employers on learning and skills.


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