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Emily Hughes, Functional Skills expert and SDN associate

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Since September 2019, all new apprentices that need to study functional skills have been enrolled onto new, reformed, functional skills qualifications. A change of this kind is never easy to implement, especially with lockdown thrown into the mix, and delivery methods and learner engagement having to change rapidly.

So, a year on from the reforms, now is a good opportunity to take stock, learn from the early delivery results and how you had to adapt through lockdown, and think through how you can deliver functional skills more proficiently to apprentices in the months and years to come.

To help you on your way, Functional Skills expert and SDN associate, Emily Hughes, has summarised her top tips for reviewing functional skills delivery this summer… 

1. Talk about functional skills early and in a positive light

We all know that functional skills are a mandatory part of an apprenticeship programme if learners haven’t achieved (or aren’t able to evidence they have achieved) maths and English qualifications at Level 2. But… do the apprentices know this before they sign-up to the programme?

It can come as a bit of a shock to a lot of apprentices that they have to study functional skills when they find out after initial assessment. This is especially true for those on higher-level programmes or learners that are nervous about taking English and maths again for the first time in years. It can leave some people a little disappointed they weren’t forewarned.

To help your curriculum teams start functional skills delivery on the right note, it’s important to communicate with apprentice applicants as early as possibly that an apprenticeship is not just training for a qualification (if there is one) but an all-encompassing programme that develops new knowledge, skills, behaviours and improves their literacy and numeracy ability.

If you can get literacy and numeracy into those early conversations and explain, before the programme starts, how you’ll deliver functional skills, you are more likely to get the positive buy-in you need. 

2. Consider embedded functional skills rather than outsourcing

Many training providers choose to outsource functional skills delivery or have numeracy and literacy delivered by a separate team. This is a valid and sensible approach to take when apprentices are attending sessions, obtaining the expected results and enjoying their learning.

However, embedding the new reformed functional skills training into the main curriculum does work extremely well when providers get it right. This is especially true in cases where employers request a blended approach or with apprentices that may have been in employment for a while and aren’t used to learning set subjects, as it can feel like they’re back at school again.

It’s also worth saying if you’re still delivering frameworks and looking to switch to standards at the end of the month, there is even more incentive to review your functional skills delivery now…

As you start to develop bespoke curriculums for standards you might find that a holistic approach, where ratios or fractions, for example, are covered by the curriculum team, gives the programme more fluidity and help to contextualise numeracy and literacy for apprentices.

3. Review who awards your functional skills programmes

Whether you’re going to embed functional skills or keep it separate – or if you’re thinking about online delivery becoming more important – it is worth reviewing your options of awarding organisation too.

A year on from the reformed functional skills qualifications going live, some awarding organisations will have made better progress with the resources and learning materials they have produced to support providers, and some will specialise in online content as opposed to paper-based.

It’s also worth understanding your options around remote invigilation and exam flexibilities. With uncertainly in how you might deliver apprenticeship programmes over the coming months, your decision making will need to look beyond just the price or how quickly you will get your results, but on how and when exams can be delivered too. 

4. Stretch and challenge learners to develop numeracy and literacy above Level 2

For higher and degree-apprenticeships in particular, it’s important to stretch and challenge apprentices further than the Level 2 standard required, if they are capable.

From an employer’s point of view, they are commissioning the whole apprenticeship programme and, if the main content is at Level 4-7, they are likely to expect the apprentice to have obtained (by the end of the programme) the required numeracy and literacy skills that go with that level of technical ability.

That’s not to say all apprentices must have Master’s-Degree standard English and maths ability, but building in stretch and challenge for literacy and numeracy that goes further than Level 2 when needed, will really help the apprentice become an all-round, competent professional in their chosen field.

Emily Hughes, Functional Skills expert and SDN associate

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