Functional Skills first reveals just 63pc achievement

Nearly 40 per cent of under 19 Functional Skills (FS) enrolments at general FE and tertiary colleges and independent learning providers (ILPs) failed to achieve their qualification last academic year, it has been revealed.

The figure is based on the Skills Funding Agency success rates tables, published this month, which for the first time included FS data.

It has prompted a call from a range of academics for the government to provide added support for FS teaching to boost 16 to 18 success rates from 64.3 per cent for general FE and tertiary colleges and 52.9 per cent for ILPs (see page 7 for more FS provider type success rates).

The combined FS success rates for colleges and ILPs was 62.9 per cent, with 203,680 enrolments out of 323,320 achieving their learning aims — meaning 119,640 did not.

University of Wolverhampton education lecturer and researcher Dr Matt O’Leary said: “I don’t think these success rates are lower than might be expected — that’s not to say they shouldn’t be higher, but in order to improve them then there needs to be recognition on the government’s part that they have a responsibility to invest in adequate resources to enable the FE sector to staff these courses with specialist teaching staff.”

He added: “Given the manner in which functional skills were foisted upon the sector by former Skills Minister Matthew Hancock, and how little or no regard was given to how these new programmes would be resourced, or to staffing implications, I think providers have done well to produce the results they have.”

Professor Ed Sallis, whose Education and Training Foundation review of non-GCSE English and maths provision, including FS, concluded last month, agreed.

“I believe the results show lecturers and trainers need more practical support and training to deliver FS successfully and that more work needs to be done on developing the pedagogy of vocational maths and English,” he said.

Paul Grainger, an Institute of Education academic, highlighted Professor Sallis’s report and the importance it had placed on FS. The results “could be better,” he said, but argued the qualifications were performing better than GCSEs post-16.

“You have to consider that most candidates will have failed at GCSE the year before,” he said.

“The pass rate for GCSE maths retakes is 5 per cent, so FS are working in a way that retakes are not,” he said.

The success rates for all institutions’ provision of level one 16 to 18 FS was higher than level two — at 66.5 per cent of 258,660 enrolments resulting in an achieved learning aim, compared to a 53.5 per cent success rate out of 92,020 enrolments.

English level one 16 to 18 provision for all institutions had a success rate of 65.5 per cent, while for level two it was 59.1 per cent. For maths, the level one success rate was 52.5 per cent, while for level two is was 45 per cent.

David Corke, Association of Colleges director of education policy, said: “Colleges are performing above average in successfully delivering FS courses but their efforts are hampered by the fact there is a shortage of specialist maths teachers to teach these courses.

“The ETF is right to offer bursaries to attract more specialist teachers to the sector and we are keen to see the outcome of this scheme.”

Association for Employment and Learning Providers chief executive Stewart Segal said: “We believe that the success rates will improve given that FS are only two years old and providers are still building staff capacity.”

He added: “Much of ILP provision in English and maths is outside apprenticeships and traineeships and therefore it is about helping the hardest to help including those who aren’t attending college or are long term unemployed.

“We should also bear in mind that among the unemployed who don’t complete are many who will secure a job as a result of the learning.”

More success rates analysis


Editor’s Comment

Hoping for a Functional Skills funding achievement

It’s quite a statistic that more than one in every three under 19 Functional Skills enrolment in general FE colleges and independent learning providers (ILPs) fails to result in achievement.

Taking into consideration the well-intentioned drive to increase the country’s numeracy and literacy skills by getting more people back to the classroom until they get a grade C or equivalent in maths and English and you can’t help but fear that could rise this time next year, when the current academic year’s success rates come out.

Behind the problem, as the sector will tell you, is the need to staff the growing number of aforementioned classrooms with adequately skilled English and maths teachers. And this is proving an issue.

It’s an issue that is already affecting the sector’s Ofsted ratings, as exclusive analysis by FE Week revealed back in January when a growth in grade three and four ratings from the education watchdog was laid bare.

Appropriate financial support from government to help develop, attract and retain the right calibre of teaching staff is the easy answer. The harder question is whether that’s likely from the next government, whatever colour the party in power.

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  1. Hardly surprising when those taking functional skills will have been the ones who have failed to achieve grade C or above for maths and English while at school. We all know in the sector that there is a chronic shortage of maths (in particular)and English teachers. However, just look at the statistics for schools (despite Mr Cameron continually telling us that schools have never been better every day as election banter). The national average for pupils gaining 5+ A*-C GCSE grades including English and Maths GCSEs in 2014 was 53.4% with girls outperforming boys by almost 14 percentage points. If that was the figure for any FE provider Ofsted would be giving 3s or 4s yet schools get 2s? As a matter of urgency Ofsted should be completing a survey to identify and share some of the good practice that I am aware of that is in the sector. Their good delivery is essential to raise the skills of the UK workforce. It would also be good for Ofsted to apply the same standard of judgements with what is currently described as a ‘Common Inspection Framework’ so that politicians realise that FE is doing a good job with the learners who have been let down by their schools.

  2. FE Lecturer

    In some countries around the world this statistic would be seen as evidence that the qualification is credible and worthwhile. In those countries the students (and parents) recognise that students need to study hard outside class in order to achieve success. In the UK the lecturers /teachers are blamed for low results and the students expect to be fed the answers with little effort on their part.

    • Denise Mennim

      To make a comment on that scale, Paul you are obviously able to demonstrate a proven track record in the delivery of all three functional skills, Maths, English and ICT from Entry level through to Level2. If this is the case, then what are your statistics for achievement.

  3. A few things to be aware of with these figures. This does show that Functional Skills has rigour and isn’t an easy option.

    Firstly, learners are almost always entered at the level above that indicated by an initial assessment so 63% clearly shows progression.
    Secondly, the GCSE re-sit pass rate for the same group of 16-19 year olds is about 7% – so 63% shows a significant improvement.
    Thirdly, unlike GCSE which has just two windows of opportunity per year, 63% is the first time pass rate, I believe the stats show that this increases to more than 80% when further attempts are included.

    And we know that ETF Functional Skills is the qualification of choice for employers.

  4. Kevin Cleaver

    If you get down to basics, FE institutions are expected to correct what 11 years of schooling has failed to deliver in 36 weeks, with forever reducing funding. Should be easy really!! Its time learners progressed through levels by ability not age.

  5. We have 100% pass rate at Inclusion Hampshire and we are a Charity. We have dedicated tutors, some of whom are ‘unqualified’ but have the best teaching skills i have ever seen. It is all about the teaching and relationship with pupils, there is no excuse for failure. It’s a disgusting reflection on colleges and providers who receive far more funding than charities can hope for.

    • Caroline Fosbury

      Unfortunately in most Colleges we have much larger class sizes with a similar range of abilities and educational barriers to the ones tutors who work in the charitable sector have. If I could do 1:1 with all of my learners I am certain I could increase the success rates. I cant however work miracles when we are teaching in groups where the size is over 16 and sometimes even over 20 with a mix of E2 learners up to L1 learners.

  6. Dave Greenhalf

    Well Cheryl I would like you to come and teach my group of 28 learners with 6 E3s, 14 L1s and 8 L2s effectively. This is what I have had to deal with and if you think you can do better, I am willing to listen. Somehow though I don’t think you will have had similar groups.

  7. david.greenhalf

    I wonder what size groups you teach Cheryl. I have 28 in one group with 6 at E3, 14 at L1 and the rest at L2. If you could get 100% with this group I take my hat off to you. I suspect though you deal with much smaller numbers.

  8. Jane Fraser

    I think that as a dedicated, and fully qualified, Tutor of both maths and English, we should be given a decent contract, not zero hours, and not be expected to pull a rabbit out of a hat after a few sessions!! I have had 14 mixed ability learners earlier this year, (E3 – L2 maths) for 2 hours at a time over 12 weeks, and had 90% achievement, but that was so hard. OFSTED graded the observed session as Good with elements of outstanding…still on a zero hours contract though! Organisations should take it seriously and hire appropriate staff or train up tutors and involve them in the planning, delivery and assessment – use their skills to help everyone!