Spelling it Out, Making it Count: Functional Skills in vocational training

31 January 2024 Kate Bines

Delivering vital qualifications results in large losses for training providers according to new report

Spelling it Out, Making it Count: Functional Skills in vocational training

New research published by the Association of Employment and Learning Providers (AELP) reveals that up until the end of 2023, the delivery of a Functional Skills qualification for those in apprenticeships could incur as much as a £440 loss per individual.

The report Spelling it Out, Making it Count, shows that apprenticeships are the only vocational qualification that have literacy and numeracy qualifications as an exit requirement. Yet the content of Functional Skills – now almost indistinguishable from GCSEs following reforms in 2019 – mean that there is no widely effective means of learning and evidencing these skills in an applied context. Furthermore, their lack of viability and the perceived difficulty of them amongst learners with more practical approaches to learning, mean that Functional Skills qualifications are reducing overall apprenticeship achievement rates. Given the government’s stated desire to raise this from the current 52% to 67% by next year, this is clearly a key concern that requires urgent attention.

Looking in depth at delivery costs, the report finds that even given the recent changes to funding, losses will continue to be incurred at a time when the training infrastructure is already in one of its most perilous positions ever. Overall, the prospects for social mobility that vocational skills training can offer are being undermined by qualifications that bear increasingly little relation to the workplace, and are in any case markedly underfunded.

The report makes seven recommendations that could make a rapid and significant impact on success rates and viability:

1.     Ensure the differentiated purpose of functional skills is maintained in practice. 

2.     Increase exam question contextualisation.

3.     Review the structure and spread of level 2 functional skills maths questions.

4.     Promote diverse assessment methods and improve recognition of partial success.

5.     Incorporate English and maths components of apprenticeships into the off-the-job apprenticeship training definition.

6.     Consideration should be given as to the role functional skills qualifications should play in the award of apprenticeships.

7.     Uprate funding for functional skills qualifications by at least 10%.

The assessment of functional mathematics is a barrier for young people developing the mathematical skills the economy needs. It’s vital that all apprentices, and others, are given the opportunity to improve and demonstrate their mathematical ability, but in their current form, Functional Skills aren’t delivering. We look forward to working with AELP and others to ensure that in the future the Functional Skills qualification is fit for purpose: contributing to the success of all apprentices, and in turn, the wider economy
Daniel Sandford Smith, Director of Programmes, Gatsby Charitable Foundation

Download Spelling it Out, Making it Count: Functional Skill qualifications and their place in vocational training:

Full report [PDF]

Executive Summary [PDF]

The Association of Employment and Learning Providers (AELP) is a national membership body, proudly representing its many member organisations. AELP members support thousands of businesses and millions of learners in England by delivering a wide range of training, vocational learning, and employability programmes.







Spelling it Out, Making it Count: Functional Skills in vocational training