I am a huge advocate of Functional Skills. I believe it represents our best chance in a decade to address the skills crisis in the UK, highlighted only a couple of days ago by the latest CBI/Pearson survey which showed that four out of ten companies are now carrying out remedial training in maths and English for school and college leavers who join them.

It has therefore come as a very unpleasant shock to providers operating in this field to learn that the Skills Funding Agency (SFA) intends to reduce the level of funding for Functional Skills. Organisations delivering the standalone qualification in the workplace will receive 40 per cent less compared with the existing Adult Basic Skills qualifications. This move seems to lack any sense of logic.

So, the government introduces a fantastic new set of qualifications to address this issue and then immediately shoots itself in the foot by cutting the funding rate by 40% “

Everyone accepts that Functional Skills will take longer to deliver than Skills for Life. Since it will almost certainly require more contact time between learner and tutor, it would seem only fair that the funding for the new qualification is at the very least on par with that offered for Skills for Life.

The implications of this news are potentially disastrous. We now know from the government’s own figures that over 5.1 million adults are functionally illiterate and that a staggering 16.1 m adults (nearly half the adult working population) lack functional numeracy skills. So, the government introduces a fantastic new set of qualifications to address this issue and then immediately shoots itself in the foot by cutting the funding rate by 40% for adults who seek these qualifications through the workplace as opposed to college training?

For many providers in this field, most of whom rely on this funding as their main source of income, the cut means that delivering Functional Skills will become impossible. We all have to tighten our belts in these difficult economic times, but no organisation can sustain a drop of 40 per cent in revenue and remain economically viable without a huge reduction in their level of service. As a consequence, it seems almost certain that many highly successful and reputable training providers will move out of an area which is absolutely vital to the future success of the UK economy.

I don’t believe that someone from the SFA has simply woken up one morning and said “Let’s cut Basic Skills funding in the workplace by 40 per cent”. More likely, the SFA simply haven’t thought through the implications of their actions. In attempting to set a uniform rate across the whole FE landscape, they have ignored the huge differences between workplace training (with intensive one-to-one support for individual learners) and the classroom scenario where larger numbers of learners can be taught within a single group.

That’s my theory. We can speculate on the reasons why, but what is clearly not in dispute is the devastating impact of these new funding guidelines on organisations who specialise in Basic Skills training in the workplace.
Of course, the use of technology can provide savings and efficiencies. At MindLeaders we have developed a full distance-learning solution for Functional Skills which we are delivering successfully to many organisations across the UK.

But I don’t believe that government funding strategy should be set on the basis that the only way to deliver Functional Skills cost-effectively is to fully utilise technology. I would therefore urge the SFA to review this decision. There are still a couple of months remaining before the introduction of Functional Skills and this is a U-turn which I believe is essential if we are going to tackle the skills crisis in the UK.

Roger Francis,
Services and HR Director, Mindleaders

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