There has been a lot of talk lately about the standard of English and maths, not only in young people, but also in adults. If you are a teacher or trainer, there will be opportunities to help improve these skills, along with those of information and communication technology (ICT). This article will give you some ideas of how to embed these skills during your sessions, rather than treat them as separate subjects. You will find some useful web links at the end, which offer free access to courses and resources.

Terms have changed over the years; there has been Basic Skills, Skills for Life, Core Skills, Key Skills, Essential Skills and now Functional Skills. There is also the Minimum Core of literacy, language, numeracy and ICT, which is included in the teacher training qualifications. The Functional Skills of English, maths and ICT are embedded in 14–19 learning programmes and apprenticeships, and are available as stand-alone qualifications for adult learners. Whatever term is used, the purpose is the same, to enable people to function confidently, effectively and independently in life and at work.

You shouldn't have to be highly qualified in English, maths and ICT, but know enough to make it relevant to the subject you are delivering. For example, maths doesn't have to be about using complex equations, it can be about using numerical skills. For example, planning a household budget, working out the cost of items on a shopping list, calculating the amount of paint needed to decorate a room, or comparing gas and electricity prices.

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However, you might feel your own skills do need improving; therefore, you could partake in further training yourself. There are some free online programs you could access which are listed at the end of this article. If you are not competent, you will not set a good example to your learners. If you spell words wrongly in a handout, have difficulty making calculations or can't use a computer, your learners may lose confidence in you.

Often, the opportunities to embed skills will occur naturally, for example:

Cookery:

  • English – reading recipes, researching and reading healthy eating magazines and books, planning a menu and writing a list of ingredients, discussing recipes, talking, listening and asking questions.

  • Maths – calculating weights and costs of ingredients, measuring amounts, estimating calorific values, cooking times and temperatures.

  • ICT – using a word processor to create a menu, researching relevant websites, e-mailing other learners, creating and giving presentations using an electronic whiteboard, creating a podcast, making videos and taking photos of finished products and uploading them to a virtual learning environment, website or electronic portfolio.

Plumbing:

  • English - talking to customers and suppliers, reading manuals and writing lists of materials.

  • Maths - measuring pipes, calculating the amount of materials to use and working out invoices.

  • ICT - researching materials via the internet, e-mailing suppliers, word-processing invoices, using a spreadsheet for products and prices, creating a website and taking digital photos before, during and after jobs to add to it, and maintaining an electronic diary.

When embedding the skills during sessions, you need to ensure they are realistic and relevant to enable your learners to engage with real situations in the subject area. More opportunities seem to arise in practical subjects. Theoretical subjects might be more difficult, particularly regarding embedding maths skills, therefore you will need to be more imaginative, and perhaps even asking your learners how they feel the skills could be used for the subject.

During sessions, you need to be careful that learners are using technology appropriately, i.e. not accessing unsuitable websites or checking e-mails and social media. Agreeing ground rules should help. If you don't have access to computers in the learning environment, you could ask your learners to bring their own devices e.g. laptops, tablets, smartphones and e-readers. This is known as BYOD – bring your own device. The recent FELTAG report Paths forward to a digital future for Further Education and Skills (2014), recommends an increase in the use of technology, and for students to take responsibility for their own learning.

You could encourage your learners to carry out activities in their own time to help improve their skills. There might be free courses in your area or via the internet that they could take. You could give your learners an activity to carry out, either individually or in groups. They could produce a short presentation on a relevant topic, a blog, a wiki, a podast or a video, and then present this during the next session. This could involve English with communication skills, maths with working out how long activities will take, and ICT with the use of technology.

Ann Gravells is an author, writer of teacher training resources and an education consultant 

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Useful weblinks with free courses and resources

Dropbox file sharing – www.dropbox.com
Embedded learning - http://rwp.qia.oxi.net/embeddedlearning/index.cfm
English and maths support – www.move-on.org.uk
Functional Skills resources from the Excellence Gateway - http://www.excellencegateway.org.uk/node/20280
Functional Skills resources from NIACE - http://shop.niace.org.uk/catalogsearch/advanced/result/?name=functional+skills&author=&subject=&type=&year=&search.x=27&search.y=4&search=Search
Functional Skills good practice resources from Ofsted - http://www.ofsted.gov.uk/resources/good-practice-resource-functional-skills-dv8-training-ltd
Online presentations – www.prezi.com
Open Office computer software - https://www.openoffice.org/download/
Teacher training videos for using ICT – www.teachertrainingvideos.com/latest.html
Using computers and technology – http://digitalunite.com/
Using Microsoft programs – www.reading.ac.uk/internal/its/training/its-training-index.aspx
Using the apostrophe - http://writing-kit.com/apostrophes/index.html
Using VLEs – www.ofsted.gov.uk/resources/virtual-learning-environments-e-portfolio
Video e-mail – http://mailvu.com/

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