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Why a new online solution could be the key to increasing first-time pass rates in Functional Skills

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In this article the author discusses a digital practice paper that helps learners better prepare for Functional Skills exams by improving accessibility of content and offering tailored feedback and guidance.  

Archaic approaches in an advancing world

For many FE providers, cumbersome practice paper preparation for Functional Skills exams is mainly comprised of printed papers piling up on tutor desks or multiple screen shots of answers flooding tutor inboxes.

It’s an outdated and inefficient way of preparing learners, whilst swamping tutors with marking. This is why, even before the Covid-19 pandemic, we were investing in the development of our online practice paper solution, knowing that to match the expectations of translating learner knowledge in digital formats, we needed to simulate experiences of final online exams.

We all know that marking is among the top negative effects on workload1, leaving tutors with limited time for the development of course delivery and CPD2. Developing an online practice paper solution has facilitated the headspace for our tutors to reflect and improve on delivery and manage their work-life balance, which has in tern seen our first time pass rates increase to 86% in 2022-2023.

This shift in exam preparation has enabled us to take advantage of the benefits of taking final exams online – mainly cheaper costs, quicker results and the ability to allow learners to complete their exams in the comfort of their own home. Being an integral part of the adaptation and advancement in our delivery and preparation is something that I take real pride in; the positive impact it has had on our learners and tutors has been well worth the investment.

Robust preparation acknowledged as vital

Many Functional Skills learners are plagued by a history of falling short in exams, exam anxiety and general aversion to traditional education. They might have obtained the skills they need from their Functional Skills courses, but translating and demonstrating these in their exams is a whole other ball game.

As Chief Examiner reports from the NCFE3 and City and Guilds4 state, to maximise chances of passing Functional Skills exams, learners need to make full use of sample papers to prepare for passing them. If your learners are completing their exams online however, how can you prepare for these on paper? How do you support learners who are being tutored online? How on earth do you tackle the looming anxiety gremlins ready to jump onto the shoulders of learners once the timer starts?

We face a plethora of problems, but at Runway Training, we have found a solution that works for our learners and tutors and are now aiming to quantify the impact it has with backing from the NCFE and their Assessment Innovation Fund.

We have digitalised all of our Functional Skills practice papers, making them as like the final exams as possible, giving learners an authentic simulation of their final exam experience. Our practice paper solution has been developed to provide the following features to replicate their final exams: a countdown timer; no use of spell checker in writing activities; graph functionality without the need to download software; use of flagging function to develop exam strategies and locking out of non-calculator section of maths exams after moving onto calculator sections.

Our independent, moderated markers then mark the practice exams within 48 hours, providing bespoke feedback and revision prompts to learners (and to their tutors), with their score and indication as to whether they achieved a ‘pass’ or ‘not yet a pass’ in their attempt. All of this information is sent immediately to learners and tutors via email, quickly giving learners the praise they deserve for the efforts and achievements, as well as concise feedback regarding revision and gaps in knowledge.

Adapt, evolve and succeed

Digital resources, like ours, are needed and wanted by learners5, but can often be dismissed by providers, feared as ‘something else’ for tutors to do or simply that they lack the budget for digital development.
These resources are important now, more than ever, with Covid cohorts seeing a decrease in GCSE pass rates in English and maths this year6. As Functional Skills can be seen as preferable to endless GCSE resits, there is a need to adapt our exam preparation to evolve to fit the digital age and it’s time we provide Functional Skills learners with the preparation tools to help them confidently approach their exams.
Being part of our pilot for free will give you access to our online practice paper solution. The more providers we can recruit, the more we can quantify the impact for learners and tutors on first time pass rates, confidence and preparation preference. Requirements for tutor input has been streamlined for ease of use and will allow your tutors and learners to adapt, evolve and succeed in their final exam preparation.
For further information, or to sign up to be part of their pilot with the NCFE, contact Vicki Dobney on [email protected] by 13th October.

By Vicki Dobney – teacher and project manager at Runway Training, a specialist provider of online Functional Skills, Leadership in Management Training and Apprenticeships.

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