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Functional skills reform – employer consultation key findings

Functional Skills
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Skills for Life Network

Functional Skills Reform – employer consultation key findings

Based on detailed consultations and research conducted in 2015, the Education and Training Foundation, with its delivery partners – Pye Tait Consulting and Learning and Work Institute (LWI) – has embarked upon a set of consultations designed to achieve an up-dated set of standards, functional skills subject content and, ultimately, functional skills maths and English qualifications, recognised and valued by employers.

The first stage of the consultation ran from mid-January to early April with employers and other stakeholders in the education and training sector. Employers could respond by phone or via an online survey. During the same period, a number of workshops and meetings were convened with employers, awarding organisations, post-16 learners, training providers, heads of departments and curriculum leaders, specialists, professional bodies and other stakeholders.

During the rest of April and early May, Pye Tait Consulting is conducting the analyses of the employer survey, interviews and events and drafting subject content documentation along with revising the National Adult Literacy and Numeracy Standards. The key findings from the employer consultation were published on the 21st of April.

Employer Consultation – Key Findings

  • Employers need people who can speak confidently and clearly. Additionally, they need new recruits to be able to write without errors and communicate in a style suited to the intended audience (e.g. using formal language and not ‘text speak’). Common issues include the need for better spelling, punctuation and grammar and being able to write and communicate clearly;
  • In maths, employers place particular importance on the basic skills of mental arithmetic, estimating , working out percentages and ratios, and being able to apply these in a business setting such as working out VAT or overcoming a work-related problem to reach a solution;
  • Views are mixed on the importance of digital skills within a maths or English context, with larger employers tending to place more importance on employees being able to use digital tools effectively. In this context one such example was the use of MS Excel and formula when making calculations;
  • In summary, employers would like to see Functional Skills that result in learners being able to apply basic skills more effectively in the workplace, such as communicating well, writing accurately, and being able to perform relatively simple calculations and overcome work-based problems.

What happens next

The second stage of the consultation will be from mid-May until late-June, and this will seek verification from the sector (including practitioners and subject experts) on aspects of the findings and draft outputs from the first stage.

Further events will take place with the purpose of verification, before a final period of analyses and reporting, culminating in the standards, subject content and final report being delivered to the Foundation at the end of August 2016.


The first stage of the Foundation’s wider Reform Programme will be completed by August 2016 and will result in a revised set of National Adult Literacy and Numeracy Standards, content for revised Functional Skills qualifications, and a report with policy recommendations to include:

  • what levels of functional skills are needed for life and work
  • the breadth of skills that the new qualifications should include
  • the number of guided learning hours needed to successfully achieve functional skills for learners on technical and professional programmes of study, including apprenticeships

These collated findings will be used to recommend improvements.

The Foundation will then take forward the next phase of the Reform Programme, which will focus on new core curricula, and building on training materials and CPD for teachers and trainers.

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