Further evidence has emerged that the government already favours GCSEs, with Skills Minister Matthew Hancock having described Functional Skills as “stepping stone” qualifications.

Functional Skills are set to be dropped as the accompanying qualification for apprenticeships in favour of tougher new maths and English GCSEs from 2017 — but they are still supposed to remain equivalent to GSCEs until then.

However, a parliamentary written response from Mr Hancock referred to Functional Skills as “stepping stones” to GCSEs.
He said: “Students [aged 16 or over] whose initial assessment shows they are not ready to re-take GCSEs may take one of the interim qualifications as a stepping stone to GCSE, which can include Functional Skills and free-standing mathematics qualifications recognised by the funding condition.”

Sue Southwood (pictured), programme manager for the National Institute of Adult Continuing Education, said: “While GCSE is seen as the level two ‘gold standard’ by the government, Functional Skills may be a more appropriate level two qualification for many adults to achieve.

“For instance, while GCSE English requires an appreciation of literature and poetry, some adults will want a syllabus that helps them to, for instance, write emails or read reports.

“It’s terribly important these qualifications retain their value so adults who put so much effort in to achieving them are not faced with still not being good enough.”

Mr Hancock’s comments came just weeks after the DfE said it would not accept Functional Skills as equal to GCSEs for early years’ educator training courses.

The DfE claimed its rejection of Functional Skills would “raise the overall quality of literacy and numeracy skills of those entering the workforce”.

Stewart Segal, chief executive of the Association of Employment and Learning Providers, said: “We have to retain Functional Skills. The DfE’s latest GCSE entry requirements for early years’ educators are a major concern in terms of acting as an unnecessary barrier to young people entering the profession. It could be the thin edge of the wedge and we have already raised our concerns with government.

“Employers consistently tell us that they like Functional Skills because it develops skills that can be applied in the workplace.”

But Joy Mercer, director of policy for the Association of Colleges, said: “We remain concerned that GCSE is seen as a standard for competence in English and maths when Functional Skills does the same.

“Colleges are clear what their obligations are within study programmes. Students should be aiming for a GCSE but must be able to achieve a qualification that meets their needs and their future job ambitions.”