Ofsted’s careers guidance boss has called for “flexibility and functionality” in English and maths GCSEs.

Karen Adriaanse, the education watchdog’s national lead for careers guidance, told MPs on the House of Commons Business, Innovation and Skills Select Committee how she thought the government could improve adult literacy and numeracy.

“One of the things that government could do, and certainly has started to do, is to raise the profile nationally of English and maths across the board,” she said on Tuesday, March 18.

“I think talking about basic and skills in literacy and numeracy is not necessarily helpful, but talking about English and maths almost instantly raises the profile.

“We also need to diminish the stigma through things in everyday life, even in things like and soap operas and films, so people understand that this is a problem that anybody can have, and also then celebrating when it makes a difference.

“What there still isn’t in this country is a strong culture that teaching English and maths to adults who haven’t been able to succeed in class is a difficult thing to do and it needs to be recognised as a high professional career with postgraduate qualifications, and support to make sure that they really have the expertise to motivate.

“I know the government is revising GCSE qualifications in English and maths, and it’s important that this isn’t just seen as a qualification for schoolchildren. It is a qualification for adults, too, but there needs to be flexibility and functionality — flexibility in assessment procedures and functionality in content.”

The committee, which was holding its second session on adult literacy and numeracy, also heard from Skills Funding Agency executive director of funding Keith Smith, who defended qualifications from suggestions they put off adult learners.

He said: “What’s important when you’re putting investment into such an important area is that we’re clear about the standards we expect to be achieved and qualifications are a measure of that and it’s vitally important that qualifications that people study are the right ones.

“I think that’s very much been the discussion over the last couple of years. That was certainly the debate around the investment that went into adult literacy and numeracy pre-Functional Skills — that it wasn’t making people progress — therefore the qualifications were made more rigorous through Functional Skills and that’s obviously being looked at again through GCSE reforms.”

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