Functional skills and Foundation Learning

Why are these necessary?

It is essential that every young person, no matter what their ability, should have the basic knowledge needed for life and to help them obtain work. It is so  much better if a young person is happy, motivated and has a real sense of achievement than always feeling inadequate.

Young people and adults with a poor grasp of the basics struggle to progress in learning and hence also struggle to find work. When and if they do find employment the pay is so low it is demoralising and can lead them to experience health and other social problems. 

It is so necessary for young people and their future employers that the government continues to transform standards of education.

This can be done by:

  • freeing up the curriculum at key stage 3 to make space for extra help and support in English and maths for those who need it
  • toughening GCSE by incorporating functional skills so that, a grade C is a guarantee that young people have the functional skills they need
  • introducing a new General Diploma to recognise the achievement of those who achieve 5 good GCSEs or equivalent - including English and maths
  • introducing specialised Diplomas that have English and maths at their core
  • raising the bar by introducing changes to the 2006 Achievement and Attainment Tables so they include English and maths

Every one is working together to this same aim. This includes employers, higher education, education professionals and the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority who define functional skills.

General diploma/ Changes to GCSE

The GCSEs are improving by:

  • Incorporating functional skills in English, maths and ICT
  • a new General Diploma for national award from 2011 will be Introduced to all young people who achieve the equivalent of 5 A*-Cs including English and maths
  • The range of Vocational GCSE subjects will continue to expand and may be taken as part of a specialised Diploma or alongside other GCSEs:
  • Pilots of Applied Performing Arts and Applied French began in September 2004.
  • Applied PE began in September 2005
  • A new Applied GCSE, Agriculture, Land and Environment, will be available for teaching from September 2006
  • From September 2008 there will be GCSEs in Construction and the Built Environment, and Hospitality and Catering. We expect all these subjects to be available for teaching by September 2009.
  • Reviewing coursework - the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority is currently undertaking a review of coursework across subjects, looking at whether it is the most appropriate method of assessment or whether more skills and knowledge could be assessed by an exam. QCA will complete its review by Easter 2006.

What are functional skills?
Functional skills are those core elements of English, maths and ICT that provide an individual with the essential knowledge, skills and understanding that will enable them to feel confident and work effectively and independently in life and at work.

Whatever the age of the person who possess these skills they will be able to participate and progress in education, training and in employment. They will develop and secure the broader range of aptitudes, attitudes and confidence to enable them to make a real contribution to the communities in which they live and work.

In the case of English this means that:

  • Each individual is confident and capable when using the skills of speaking, listening, reading and writing and is able to communicate effectively, adapting to a range of audiences and contexts. This will include being able to explain information clearly and succinctly in speech and writing, expressing a point of view reasonably and persuasively, using ICT to communicate effectively. 
  • In life and work each individual will be able to read and understand information and instructions then use this understanding to act appropriately and to analyse how ideas and information are presented, evaluating their usefulness, for example in solving a problem. They will be able to make an oral presentation or report, contribute to discussions and use speech to work collaboratively in teams to agree actions and conclusions.

In the case of maths this means that:

  • Each individual has sufficient understanding of a range of mathematical concepts and is able to know how and when to use them. For example, they will have the confidence and capability to use maths to solve problems embedded in increasingly complex settings and to use a range of tools, including ICT as appropriate.
  • In life and work, each individual will develop the analytical and reasoning skills to draw conclusions, justify how they are reached and to identify errors or inconsistencies. They will also be able to validate and interpret results, to judge the limits of their validity and use them effectively and efficiently.

In the case of ICT this means that:

  • Each individual is confident and capable when using ICT systems and tools to meet a variety of needs in a range of contexts. For example they will use ICT to find, select and bring together relevant information and use ICT to develop, interpret and exchange information, for a purpose.
  • In life and work each individual will be able to apply ICT safely to enhance their learning and the quality of their work.

Specialised Diplomas

Specialised Diplomas are new qualifications for 14-19 year olds that will provide a broad programme of applied and other learning underpinned by essential skills. They will be available at levels 1, 2 and 3 in subjects covering broad economic areas. The first Diploma courses will be available in 2008.

Specialised Diplomas will provide young people with the skills and knowledge they need to progress into employment, training and further or higher education and a qualification which is recognised and valued. 

Employers will know that a young person with a Diploma has mastered essential skills in English, maths and ICT and other sector-related subjects, can apply these in work situations and has the kind of attitude to work which should make them successful.

 Higher education institutions will know that a young person with a level 3 Diploma should be capable of undertaking a degree course.   

Specialised Diplomas will provide young people with opportunities to experience different styles of learning and learn in different settings, and will help them make informed choices about what kind of work they want to do.

Free 14-19 year planner available

The 14-19 year planner has been designed to assist you in identifying key dates for the 14-19 changes.

The planner has been produced in response to research carried out on behalf of OCR in which teachers stressed the usefulness of timelines, wall planners were the preferred media for this kind of information.

You can order your free year planner with key dates related to the 14-19 changes from the OCR website.


Foundation Learning
A national programme mainly for students at entry level or level 1, either taken at school or college. The length of time will vary, but Foundation Learning will cover vocational or subject learning to help young people develop the skills they will need for work, education and their personal and social development.
By giving students a tailored route through education, Foundation Learning can have a positive impact on engagement, motivation and attainment of the students participating on the programme.


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