Sue Southwood is professional standards and workforce development programme manage at the Education & Training Foundation

Following on from the Education and Training Foundation's March 2015 report, 'Making Maths and English Work for All' which reviewed maths and English provision and qualifications in the post-16 sector, the ETF have been tasked by BIS to lead a programme of reform on Functional Skills.

One of the main points identified in the report was that whilst Functional Skills were 'not broken', much could be done to improve them and make them more relevant to those they are designed for.

GCSE qualifications are like passports, allowing entry to jobs, training, further and higher education and learners without 'good passes' in maths and English often find they are shut out of many opportunities. Without these valuable qualifications or a similar qualifications of comparative value, fewer doors are open to them.

But GCSEs, for various reasons, do not work for everyone and this is where the Maths and English Functional Skills Reform Programme offers a unique opportunity to help. Functional Skills allow flexibility in learning maths and English that can be integrated into professional or technical courses as well as family learning or community programmes. They are the most widely recognised and understood qualifications other than GCSEs and provide a different way for learners to improve their skills and gain a qualification that has credibility with employers. In 2013/14 over a million certificates were issued in Functional Skills and they continue to gain widespread recognition across small and large employers.

Of course Functional Skills already exist but this is a chance to improve them; ensure they are rigorously tested and their content is fit for today's and tomorrow's workplace. To do this effectively, we need to consult with a wide range of stakeholders, including employers, in order to improve their relevance and purpose

The first stage of the Reform Programme will result in an updated set of standards to enable Awarding Organisations to develop new specifications for Functional Skills in maths and English. Ofqual expects to approve the first reformed qualifications ready for teaching in September 2018.

Raising standards for learners also means we need to support teachers and trainers to develop their skills, knowledge and teaching approaches. Therefore, another key aspect of the Reform Programme is the inclusion of a continuing professional development programme that builds on our existing Maths and English Pipelines.

Success will be a well-known, well-recognised and well thought-of qualification that learners can be proud of. If we get it right, there could be a two pathways for maths and English post 16 that are equal but different.

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Sue Southwood is professional standards and workforce development programme manage at the Education & Training Foundation

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