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Ofqual’s Assessment Review of Reformed Functional Skills in English and Maths

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Functional Skills qualifications in English and maths have recently gone through big changes. The Department for Education (DfE) made new rules for these qualifications, and they started in 2019. Alongside this, Ofqual made specific new rules too and has now looked at how well these qualifications are working.

To do this evaluation, Ofqual talked to many people in the education sector, like those who give out the qualifications and others like teachers and students. Ofqual is grateful to everyone who shared their thoughts – it was really important and helpful to learn how these qualifications are working for people.

The evaluation looked at important issues about how these qualifications are tested. It carefully considered different aspects, and while it doesn’t say that the whole testing system needs to change, it did find some things that need attention from those who give out the qualifications. It also found areas where more exploration is needed.

Overall, the level of difficulty in the new assessments seems right. When they compared the old and new Level 1 and 2 maths tests, they found them to be very similar in difficulty. A review of the maths tests during the evaluation also showed that the difficulty matched what the Department for Education had set.

However, some people feel that the new qualifications are tougher than the old ones, especially in maths. Ofqual looked into this and found a few possible reasons:

  1. Changes in Content: The Department for Education made changes to what is taught, like moving some content down a level (for example, from Level 2 to Level 1).
  2. Non-Calculator Assessment: The new tests don’t allow calculators, and they also test some basic skills.
  3. Time to Adapt: It took time for teachers and others to get used to the changes, especially with all the disruptions caused by COVID-19.
  4. Changes in the Type of Students Taking the Tests: The group of students taking these qualifications may have changed.

Specifically for maths at Level 1 and 2, Ofqual found an issue related to problem-solving questions. When reviewing the tests, they noticed that how questions were set might have made them harder to understand. Ofqual is now researching how to improve how problem-solving questions are assessed in maths. If they find issues with how the qualifications are given out, Ofqual will make sure they are fixed.

In summary, the evaluations show that the new Functional Skills qualifications are on the right track, but there are some areas that need attention. The difficulty level is okay, but some changes and challenges have made some people feel it’s harder. Ofqual is now working to make sure any issues are fixed, and they are doing more research to improve how problem-solving is assessed in maths.

Read the full review here.

Sector Response

AELP’s Chief Executive Officer, Ben Rowland said:

“AELP very much welcomes the much-anticipated publication of Ofqual’s evaluation review of functional skills qualifications (FSQ) which complements the findings in our own recent report, Spelling It Out, Making It Count. In particular, we are pleased to see that the issues around maths FSQs raised by Ofqual will be followed up with awarding organisations. 

Thanks to AELP lobbying, we have seen some progress in this area over the last couple of years with changes to requirements at level 2 and below, the LLDD pilot and most recently a 54% uplift on FSQ funding. However, there is still a long way to go. We must broaden the list of exemptions to focus funding on those who really need it – and remove FSQs as an arbitraryexit requirement. The current policy is increasingly acting as a blocker to occupational competency resulting in reduced social mobility, and creates a disparity with T Level and A Levels where there’s no such exit requirement.”

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