The current spotlight on raising standards and achievement in maths and English includes the drive towards GCSE and the review to strengthen Functional Skills, with a long term aim to improve skills in these subjects for all young people and adults. The desired impact is a nation of people who are able to apply maths in a variety of contexts; have sound verbal and written skills and can confidently read the different types and levels of texts we are all faced with in life and at work. The target sought is improving our results in the next international survey of OECD - The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development countries where England languishes around the bottom for numeracy, ranking 17/24 and not much higher for literacy, where we are currently in 15th position.

At the moment, it's not surprising that levels of maths and English are not as high as we would like for many teachers in further education and training, especially as there are so many different entry routes to teach in this sector. Different entry points into further education teaching – and its popular choice as a second career – is extremely positive and contributes to our vibrant and diverse sector. It means the sector attracts the most vocationally skilled staff with the maturity and desire to pass on their knowledge and experience, but it also means, for instance, that not all of them will be confident in punctuation and grammar or their ability to teach someone who has a shaky grasp of numbers, how to work out area or ratios.

As we place a priority on levels of skills in maths and English for learners, this means we have to do the same for our staff. At the Education and Training Foundation (ETF), our approach to supporting the workforce places equal emphasis on personal skills and teaching approaches. In maths, this is supported by a self-evaluation tool created for us by the National Centre for Excellence in Teaching Mathematics and a similar tool for English is currently under development, led by the Institute of Education. As a commissioning body, we are able to select the very best partners to work with to develop a range of research, training and resources.

We are also developing online modules for maths and English at level 2, with extension activities to level 3 for staff. These will provide support in giving feedback on maths and English skills to learners on vocational courses and apprenticeships. Simple improvements can make a difference. A cross-organisation marking policy, for instance, means that, whatever the subject studied, students have the same expectations for written English, the same feedback on vocabulary, spelling and grammar and receive the same message that these skills are important.

To build capacity, the ETF offers a series of incentives to attract new teachers and an FE Advice Line for those entering the profession. Our continuing professional development (CPD) programme to support teaching approaches offers a range of face-to-face and blended courses for maths, English and vocational teachers as well as leaders and managers. Course fees are subsidised and there is a 25% discount for members of the Society for Education and Training (SET). There are also opportunities to take part in our Joint Practice Development Programme where 25 places are available for maths and English.

Finally, the Excellence Gateway has Exhibition Sites for maths and English to make it easier to locate resources, and new ones are constantly being added such as Strategic Guides, a Health Check, vocational guides and a series of films to support maths teaching. Raising standards and achievement in maths and English doesn't have to be done alone. Draw upon our resources that have been co-created with the sector, and check out what others are doing from our case studies. The Professional Standards provide a useful framework and set out clear expectations of effective practice.

Our Regional Specialist Leads can provide information, advice and guidance on these and any aspect of CPD. They are based in the Centres of Excellence for Teachers and Trainers (CETTs) across England and support professional development in English, maths and SEND. They can signpost you to the activities that best suit your needs.

For further information visit:

To find out more about the FE Advice Line visit: call 0300 303 1877 or email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Sue Southwood is programme manager of professional standards and workforce development at the Education and Training Foundation

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