A scheme by The Open University to provide free online functional skills courses has been extended to level 2.

Pilots offering the English and maths programmes up to level 1 got under way in February and have been accessed by 12,000 people already, according to the university.

Funded by the Department for Education’s flexible learning fund, the scheme currently offers the qualification at three local college partners: Bedford College Group, Middlesbrough College and West Herts College.

It is now being rolled out at level 2.

“Functional skills are part of the core skills needed in everyday life and work,” said Andrew Law, director of open media and informal learning at The Open University.

“For many, they are also an essential stepping-stone for getting into work or progressing at work and particularly via apprenticeships.

“The functional skills courses on OpenLearn [the OU’s public learning platform] use The Open University’s digital learning expertise to offer a free, flexible way for people to really improve these basic skills and their prospects.

“It’s great to be extending our offering with local colleges to level 2 functional skills – it’s a key way to begin to address the skills gap in the UK, developing people’s abilities and confidence.”

The government announced in March 2018 that 32 projects would share £11.7 million from its flexible learning fund to help more adults back into the classroom.

Under The Open University scheme, learners can access course materials for free online, and can learn at home or receive support and careers guidance from their local college.

When the scheme was launched Law said he was hoping to reach up to 30,000 learners a year via the university’s OpenLearn platform, which he explained is specifically designed to cater for people with “low confidence, or barriers preventing them from getting into education”.

There is an open license on the materials so that others can copy and reuse the content for their own teaching and learning. The courses take between 40 and 50 hours of study to complete.

Zoe Lewis, principal and chief executive of Middlesbrough College, said her college has “already seen the positive impact The Open University maths and English courses have had across the community”.

“As an inclusive college that is passionate about taking people higher, we’re pleased this fantastic opportunity is being extended to even more people,” she explained.

“The courses on offer are ideal for those who are looking for promotion at work, those wanting to support children with homework or to upskill.”

As well as the three colleges, the scheme involves collaborations with organisations and community groups including Local Enterprise Partnerships, the Workers’ Education Association, Unison and Leonard Cheshire Disability.

Paul Thompson, employer and skills manager at South East Midlands Local Enterprise Partnership said: “Basic levels of numeracy and literacy are essential, not just for jobs in the labour market, but in personal life as well, especially with developing a financial capability.

“The extension of the functional skills provision by The Open University is beneficial both to local capacity and in providing flexible, easy access for individuals and businesses.”

The pilots will run until July 2019, at which point they will be reviewed before being made accessible “for the foreseeable future”

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