Emily Hughes - Freelance Educational Consultant and Partnership Development Manager Bishop Grosseteste University

With the rapid development of the higher and degree provision across England there has been a significant number of new University providers entering the apprenticeships market.

Universities have extensive experience in developing, delivering and awarding a range of qualifications and awards across level four to eight.

However, the apprenticeship standards bring opportunities and challenges with regards to the requirements of Functional Skills qualifications.

Sub-contract or direct delivery?

As Universities are unable to award Functional Skills qualifications there is a requirement to work with an awarding organisation or sub-contractor. This sees the first challenge for a University as they decide whether to undertake delivery and examination administration directly or to sub-contract the Functional skills requirements.

For those looking to sub-contract there are opportunities for providers (usually local colleges or independent training providers) to develop a partnership, however, this brings challenges for both parties. These can include the required due diligence, quality assurance and management elements for the University and the coordination of delivery and assessment requirements to complement the wider apprenticeship provision for the partner.

Working with an awarding organisation

For those Universities looking to undertake the direct delivery, they will need to navigate the awarding organisation market and identify the most appropriate one for their needs and then complete a centre approval process. The centre approval process in many ways will mirror similar approvals a University is required to complete, however, rather than policies and processes relating to their own awards they will need to be reflective of working with an external awarding organisation. The signoff of revised or new policies can be a time challenge for a University, due to the significant time this can take due to the schemes of delegation and required committee signoff process, alongside the requirement for staff to understand the different requirements for working with an external awarding organisation.

Once approved for delivery of the Functional Skills qualifications the University will need to develop the delivery model and resources for this element of the apprenticeship standard. This could take a number of forms, but would usually, be through stand-alone study activities and assessment, or through the integration of delivery into the wider programme elements. This allows further development and enhancement of literacy and numeracy skills for all apprentices on the apprenticeship, not just those with the need to complete the qualification, with the examinations then undertaken within the University in line with awarding organisation requirements.

Wider opportunities for functional skills delivery beyond apprenticeships

Alongside Higher and Degree Apprenticeships, many Universities offer Foundation programmes to support students into higher education and to develop widening participation activities. Many of these students may be returning to education following a career break or work. The opportunity to refresh or further develop numeracy and literacy skills and gain a recognised qualification at Level 2 will provide an opportunity to consolidate knowledge and skills that will inevitably support post-graduation employment opportunities for those that may not have previously achieve these or are unable to access certification of this achievement. This additionality can be a significant benefit and opportunity for students and can also support wider implementation of the Functional Skills delivery within university life beyond that of apprenticeship programme delivery.

So, whilst Functional Skills qualification delivery may be a new venture within a University portfolio it could bring with it a wealth of opportunities that can not only benefit those apprentices with a requirement for the qualification, but also the wider apprenticeship cohort and the wider University student population.

Emily Hughes - Freelance Educational Consultant and Partnership Development Manager Bishop Grosseteste University

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