Functional Skills (Literacy and Numeracy) in 14-19 (Vocational) Education

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(Written 2012)

Teenagers can be ill equipped for challenges in life because they lack skills in English and maths. Young students’ well being and their future prospects are made from them achieving required skills to help them to push forward in their chosen career. As of October 2011 the Functional Skills component, including literacy and numeracy, of vocational courses started to include these vital skills in the new model to take over from the old Key Skills qualification. Equipping students with these vital skills highlighted the Government’s measure for success of five GCSEs for any student which means GCSEs at least at grade A*-C – including Maths and English. Therefore, the provision of functional skills in young students’ vocational subjects is the route to achieving literacy and numeracy; being essential for the Government’s reforms of 14-19 education. Thus, what follows is this written report that will discuss literacy and numeracy which in vocational courses were, as mentioned, called Key Skills and their modern equivalent Functional Skills. The development, difficulties and the future of these skills for students will be discussed showing it to be a pressing problem under debate by past and present governments (and the opposition) with their policies and initiatives. Focus will be put on vocational/technical courses. Mentioned also is a time frame from 2001 to present day. Moreover, I will show that for the future of any student with skills in English and Maths including technical knowledge gained from their vocational course will develop each student to a better future; not only in education but also their career path.  Additionally, a key underlying theme throughout this report acknowledges students ‘achieving economic well-being, making a positive contribution and enjoying and achieving’ that encapsulates Every Citizen Matters initiative to show the value of achieving functional skills. I will also take into account my own role in teaching functional skills that stresses the implementation of English language.

To begin with, looking over a period from 2001, the British Government has tried to instil literacy and numeracy into students. In 2001, for the Labour Government’s ‘Skills For Life’ strategy, there was an impetus at improving literacy and numeracy. In 2007 and having had an expenditure of £5 billion results still showed a large demographic with an inability to read or write simple sentences  or a basic knowledge of mathematics (House of Commons Public Accounts Committee, 2008, pg. 3). For example, in 2006–07, 51,000 school leavers left without Level 1 Maths and 39,000 without level 1 English (House of Commons Public Accounts Committee, 2008, pg. 5). Targets have now been set for the Government’s World skills in literacy and numeracy for 2020 which were agreed in July, 2007 to make the UK a world leader. The value of acquiring these skills cannot be underestimated. The advancement beyond the basic measure of success in literacy and numeracy skills can be shown to be strategic for students. For example, Alison Wolf reported that advanced level 3 is a valuable qualification and helps in the progression of work while she described the level 2 (minimum measure of 4-5 CSE grade A* to C) as “the staple offer for between a quarter and a third of the post-16 cohort is a diet of low-level vocational qualifications, most of which have little to no labour market value” (Wolf, 2011, pg. 7). From the Wolf Report these are contradictory goals for future students. The major goal of any student is that he or she wants a job after their two years when completing an equivalence of at least 5 GCSE A* – C (Level 2) in their vocational course of choosing. The Wolf Report states that level 1 and 2 vocational awards offers poor or even negative returns (Alison Wolf, 2011, pg. 31). Furthermore, the Wolf Report worryingly recognised that less than 50% of school leaving sixteen year old students failed to achieve English and Maths GCSEs grade A* to C (Alison Wolf, 2011, pg. 8). This is where the need for functional skills is that it is for those who do not possess those GCSEs at grade A* – C. There has to be hope that students have the initiative to get these required (literacy and numeracy) skills and pass their vocational course and subsequently go further in education.

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