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John Pallister :: Blog :: Functional Skills, Independent Enquirers and ePortfolios

December 07, 2008

I spent some time last week planning an introduction to Functional Skills for our Year 8 students. I delivered a presentation to the Year group last Friday. http://www.slideshare.net/jpallis001/functional-skills-year-8-introduction-presentation  All went well. As I did my thinking I found myself reinforcing my  belief in the importance of  independent learning.  My thinking …

Functional Skills are being marketed as  ‘… the core elements of English, mathematics and ICT that provide an individual with the essential knowledge, skills and understanding that will enable them to operate confidently, effectively and independently in life, education and work.’. Functional Skills are required for, and should be embedded in all learning pathways (including GCSEs, Diplomas, foundation learning tier and apprenticeships). They are free standing qualification; they are part of the National Qualifications Framework and are available at Entry Level, Level 1 and Level 2. Level 3 Functional Skills are ’under consideration’.


There is an expectation that most ‘young people’ will achieve Level 2 Functional Skills in English and maths, and possibly ICT, by the age of 16.


The emphasis of Functional Skills is on the development of skills that the learner can select and apply in a range of different contexts. Having developed the skills they demonstrate mastery by being able to ‘transfer’ and apply them in a wide range of different contexts. They need to be aware of the skills, they need to practise and develop the skills and need to be able to select and apply them ‘independently’.


The ‘Level’ of the Skill that the learner has ‘mastered’, will be determined by the complexity of the problem that they have shown that they can solve; the technical demand of the solutions that they devise; how familiar they were with the situation/problem and how ‘independently’ they worked while tackling the problem.


The learner will need to be able to tackle and solve problems with different degrees of complexity.


The Functional Skills Standards define, for each of the Levels, what the learner must be able to do if they have ‘mastered’ each of the Skills.  



Skills Standards

Speaking and listening




Use ICT Systems

Find and select information

Develop, present and communicate information

 Process Skills

Representing (making sense of situations and representing them)

Analysing (processing and using maths)

Interpreting (interpreting and communicating the results of analysis)


We do not know, at this stage, what form the assessment will take.  Developing the assessment model is part of the pilot.  We know that it will not require a portfolio; that it will be task-based, have questions based on scenarios; will be of a limited duration, and will be delivered in a controlled environment.


The scenarios that are presented to learners will provide them with opportunities to show that they have mastered a Functional Skill at a particular Level. They will be drawn from a wide range of ‘real life’ contexts/situations. Some situations/contexts will be familiar to learners; others will be less familiar to them. The solutions that learners develop will offer varying degrees of Technical Demand and varying degrees of complexity.  The level at which the learners operates will be determined by the familiarity, the complexity, the technical demand and the level of independence at which they operate. This will take some sorting out/getting used to!


It is also likely that the assessment model that does evolve will allow on-demand testing and as such is likely to be screen-based.


To equip/prepare our learners so that they can demonstrate that they have mastered a particular Functional Skill at a particular Level, we will need to provide them with opportunities to practise and apply their skills in a wide range of ‘real life’ contexts', before we assess them. Learners need to learn the skills, then practise applying them (in a range of different contexts/situations), before they can be assessed. That is really the challenge, to integrate these opportunities into out curriculum.


Functional Skills will require learners to have the opportunity to work independently in problem solving situations. As we move away from portfolio/course work as an assessment vehicle, we need to retain the best of the process if we are to provide the opportunities that learners will need to develop, practice and demonstrate mastery.


14 – 19 Diploma students could be expected to demonstrate their mastery of Functional Skills in a situation more familiar with Hairdressers, perhaps calculating the ratio of hair colorants/chemicals etc. They need to be able to transfer and apply their skills in a wide range of different situations, which really means that they need to practice applying their skills in a wide range of situations, out side of their principal learning


Starting in 2010, students will need to have achieved Functional Skills at Level 2 before they can achieve a GCSE in Maths or English. Any students who follow Diploma Pathways will need to achieve all three Functional Skills at Level 1 if they are on a Foundation Diploma and all three Functional Skills at Level 2 for Higher and Advanced Diplomas. Functional English, Mathematics and ICT will need to be embedded in the Diploma delivery programme, a programme that will be running across a number of partner providers. There will be a need for a common, and an agreed understanding of Functional Skills; and an agreement on who delivers what, when, and what opportunities are provided when and where for learners to develop, practise and apply the Functional Skills.


All students, teachers and parents aware of Functional Skills, what they are, why they are so important and what students will need to do. We need to integrate/embed Functional Skills into the curriculum so that it provides learners with the required opportunities to develop, practise/apply and demonstrate mastery of Functional Skills.


We need to somehow encourage, support and provide opportunities for our learners to operate as independent learners. We need them to take responsibility for their own learning, to manage their own time and to become reflective learners. Independent Learning, action planning, problem solving, opportunities to work with vocational professionals and common standards for communication etc have become important again.


We need to provide a range of real life problems and the time for our learners to try to solve them.

Independence. Functional Skills are not just a Maths/English/ICT challenge; they are  major whole school issues that will affect school performance data 5 A* -C (inc Ma/En)  2012+.


So, to achieve Functional Skills learners need to develop independent learning skills. Its back to Personal Learning and Thinking Skills, the Independent Enquirer skills set becomes important. Then the old chestnut, to operate independently the learner needs to be a Reflective Learner. The ePortfolio Process supports Reflective Learning. But?


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Posted by John Pallister


  1. John

    This was a really interesting and useful post for us here at the UKAN-SKILLS Project at Uni Teesside. I wonder if you fancy coming down for lunch sometime (we do good vegetarian as any JISC-funded organisation should) and can even offer a carparking space. Our work on online curriculum mapping for skills development for 18+ students could draw very nicely on what you are doing

    Paul M


    Paul MayesPaul Mayes on Monday, 08 December 2008, 12:06 UTC # |

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