Functional Skills qualifications podcast on the work we’re doing

We’ve put together a short podcast about the reform work taking place for Functional Skills qualifications for English and maths. Hear from Sarah Pearson and Ailith Morrey in our Strategic Relationships and Policy teams for vocational qualifications about the work that’s going on to regulate the new assessments

A collection of documents showing how Ofqual is currently reforming Functional Skills qualifications.

Functional Skills Qualifications (FSQs) in English and maths are being reformed. Here we explain what’s changing and why. You can also find up-to-date information on the progress reformed qualifications have made through our technical evaluation process.

You may find it useful to read our blogs on the reform of Functional Skills qualifications in English and maths and setting standards in the new Functional Skills qualifications. You may also want to read a letter that we sent on 30 August 2019 to Responsible Officers at awarding organisations that offer the reformed qualifications.

What’s changing and why

The government has introduced this reform programme to improve the rigour and relevance of Functional Skills, and to ensure that these qualifications better meet employer needs in terms of the knowledge and skills that learners achieve. Ofqual will regulate the new FSQs.

Many aspects of current FSQs are being retained. So, for example, the qualifications will remain graded on a pass/fail basis, questions will often continue to be based on everyday contexts and scenarios, teaching and assessments can still be delivered flexibly, and teachers will still be able to mark assessments for Entry Levels and the speaking, listening and communicating component of English.

But there are some important changes. In particular, there is much more specific common content. This should help to increase comparability between awarding organisations’ qualifications. The content also reflects the Department for Education’s curriculum intention that reformed FSQs should include assessment of underpinning skills.

  • For English, this means a focus on spelling, punctuation and grammar without dictionaries or computer aids; and at Entry Levels there are now detailed reading and spelling expectations based on the structured teaching of phonics.
  • For maths, this means more of an emphasis on the underpinning knowledge and skills required to solve mathematical problems. This includes using times tables and working with and without a calculator.

In light of the reforms and changes to content, the Department for Education has decided that the Guided Learning Hours for FSQs will increase from 45 to 55 hours.

What do individuals with an English or maths Functional Skills qualification have to offer?

With employers in mind, reformed English and maths qualifications have been designed to better equip individuals with the skills required to succeed in the workplace. Feedback from employers was taken on board by the Department for Education as part of their consultation on the proposed subject content. As part of this, they have introduced more of a focus on spelling, punctuation and grammar without dictionaries, using times tables and working with and without a calculator. These changes will empower learners to use English and maths more confidently in the workplace. Functional Skills often contextualise maths and English which helps learners apply these skills in real life work settings.

Functional Skills level 2 qualifications are at the same level as a grade 4 or C and above at GCSE.

Opening up job opportunities to individuals with a Functional Skills level 2 as well as GCSEs means that employers can widen their pool of applicants and increase their options.

Progress so far

The Department for Education confirmed the FSQ subject content for English and maths in February 2018. In July 2018, we published the rules against which we will regulate the reformed qualifications. Awarding organisations have been developing their qualifications since then.

All new FSQs will go through our technical evaluation process before being made available, to ensure they are high quality and support consistent assessment and awarding. Using a combination of subject experts and Ofqual assessment experts, we review the materials submitted by each awarding organisation against our rules. These materials include the specification and the sample assessments. We consider issues such as their level of demand, coverage of the Department for Education subject content, and the quality of the questions and the associated mark schemes. We also review the awarding organisation’s assessment strategy, the key document in which they explain the approach they are proposing to the design and delivery of their qualification.

The window for technical evaluation opened in September 2018. We are committed to ensuring that the new qualifications are high quality, and that schools and colleges have adequate time to prepare for first teaching in September 2019. The last date for new starters on the current qualifications is 31 August 2019, to ensure that learners benefit from the changes made to Functional Skills as soon as possible. Learners registered on the legacy qualifications will have a maximum of 12 months to complete their qualifications before they are withdrawn, depending on the approach taken by their awarding organisation.

To help Centres ready themselves for first teaching in September, we wrote to Awarding Organisations in April to ask them to publish draft specifications and sample assessment materials. This will give Centres a broad idea of the overall paper and mark scheme design to allow them to prepare effectively.

The status (as at 18 September 2019) of each of the qualifications currently being developed is as follows:

  L1/L2 Entry L1/L2 Entry
AQA 5 - 5 -
City and Guilds 5 5 5 5
Future Quals 5 - 5 -
Highfield 5 - 5 -
IQ 4 4 4 4
NCFE 5 5 5 5
NOCN 4 4 4 4
OCR 5 5 5 5
Open Awards 5 5 5 5
Pearson 5 5 5 5
Skillsfirst 5 - 5 -


  1. Awarding organisation is yet to submit materials to Ofqual for technical evaluation
  2. Currently undergoing technical evaluation by Ofqual
  3. Has been through technical evaluation by Ofqual and is back with awarding organisation
  4. Resubmitted to Ofqual and undergoing technical evaluation
  5. Has completed Ofqual process of technical evaluation

We will update this table on a weekly basis, so that centres have a clearer idea about when they can expect to receive final versions of materials from awarding organisations.

Published 19 February 2019
Last updated 18 September 2019 + show all updates

  1. Evaluation status updated for NOCN submissions.
  2. Added links to a blog post about maintaining standards in reformed Functional Skills qualifications and a letter to awarding organisations on the same subject.
  3. Updated to describe the value of functional skills qualifications to employers.
  4. Evaluation status updated for NCFE submissions.
  5. Evaluation status updated for Highfield submissions.
  6. Evaluation status updated for Industry Qualifications submissions.
  7. Evaluation status updated for Open Awards submissions.
  8. Evaluation status updated for NCFE submissions.
  9. Evaluation status updated for City and Guilds, NCFE and OCR submissions.
  10. Evaluation status updated for Open Awards Entry Level English submission.
  11. All entries for Highfield changed from 3 to 4
  12. Evaluation status updated for Open Awards submissions.
  13. Evaluation status updated for Highfield submissions.
  14. Evaluation status updated for Future Quals, Open Awards and Skillsfirst submissions.
  15. Evaluation status updated for City and Guilds, Industry Qualifications and NOCN submissions.
  16. Evaluation status updated for OCR.
  17. Evaluation status updated for NCFE.
  18. Open Awards for English entry changed from 3 to 4
  19. Evaluation status updated for Highfield submissions.
  20. Evaluation status updated for City and Guilds, Future Quals, OCR, Open Awards and Skillsfirst submissions.
  21. Evaluation status updated for Future Quals, Open Awards and Skillsfirst submissions.
  22. Evaluation status updated for City and Guilds submission.
  23. Evaluation status updated for Highfield submissions.
  24. Evaluation status updated for City and Guilds submissions.
  25. Added link to the recent blog post.
  26. Evaluation status updated for IQ submissions.
  27. Evaluation status updated for NOCN submissions.
  28. Evaluation status updated for City and Guilds submission.
  29. Evaluation status updated for Future Quals, Open Awards and Skillsfirst qualifications.
  30. Evaluation status updated for Future Quals, Open Awards and Skillsfirst submissions.
  31. Evaluation status updated for OCR and Open Awards submissions.
  32. Evaluation status updated for City and Guilds, Highfield and NOCN submissions.
  33. Added section on publication of draft specifications and sample assessment materials.
  34. Updated the progress of City and Guilds, Future Quals, Open Awards and Skillsfirst qualifications.
  35. Progress table updated
  36. Updates to the status of Pearson and AQA qualifications.
  37. Updates to AQA, City and Guilds and Pearson accreditation status.
  38. Added link to a podcast on our reform work.
  39. Updates to Future Qualifications, Open Awards and Skillsfirst evaluation status.
  40. Added a descriptive video
  41. Updated NCFE evaluation status.
  42. Update made regarding status of qualifications being developed.
  43. First published.

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