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Knowsley takes a Hands On approach

Hands On is a functional skills assessment package that is being developed for use by vocational learning providers in the Knowsley Work-based Learning Programme.

It is a practically-based package that will give providers a clearer picture of a learner’s level in relation to the mathematics and English skills required in different vocations. This package will also provide a framework for producing Individual Learning Plans, and thereby a means to monitor functional skills development.

Aiming for skills

The Knowsley programme is financed through European Social Fund, LSC and schools’ contributions so that up to 430 year 10 and 11 learners can choose one or two activities/subjects from a range of vocational courses, including:

Animal care
Business admin
Child care
Life skills / key skills
Performing arts
Sport leadership
Uniformed service
Young women`s programme

As part of the induction process for this programme, all learners complete a Basic Skills Agency Basic Skills initial assessment. The aim of Hands On is to supplement the data gained from this assessment, giving a clearer picture of the learner’s capacity to use and apply the skills needed to complete specific work-based tasks.

Approaching assessment

A number of different approaches to the assessment of functional skills have been trialled on the programme over the past two years. This has mainly taken the form of online and paper-based initial assessment and diagnostic tests. Although the results from these tests have proved useful in providing an overview of a learner’s level of functional skills and specific areas of need, they have not provided specific information about the 'hands on' functional skills a learner has. It was therefore decided to further expand the content related to embedding functional skills in vocational programmes and develop a more practical assessment package.

The project consists of three phases. The initial phase involves working with two of the learning providers in the areas of construction and hair dressing to:

  • identify key practical tasks from their vocational area
  • identify underpinning functional skills needed to complete these tasks
  • develop practical activities that a learner can carry out in order to demonstrate whether they are able to apply the functional skill or skills.

Phase two involves taking each of the more general tasks identified and identifying the specific level of functional skill required to complete them, and developing a series of more refined activities linked to this task, at specific levels of functional skill. This phase also involves developing tasks and materials for a wider range of vocational areas such as land-based studies, sport, and motor vehicle maintenance. Support materials for this package will include guidance on encouraging learners to explain how and why they would apply a specific functional skill.

The third phase involves revision of the embedded functional skills materials developed over the past two years and collating published materials in order to link them to the activities identified and developed in phases one and two. These materials can than be used by providers to support learners in developing the functional skills needed for specific vocational tasks.

Signs of success

Providers are very positive about the development of this package. They feel that rather than having just generic information about a learner’s level of function, it is useful to have information that is directly linked to the skills learners need in a particular vocational area. They feel that this assessment package will help them to gain a clearer understanding of the learner’s true level, which in turn will enable them to develop more relevant and useful Individual Learning Plans.

This project is still in the early stages, but there is agreement among all involved that such a package is valuable. It is the practical approach that has made the greatest impression on the learning providers. This is perhaps because they too are hands-on people - possibly a key reason why they are so successful with the young people on the programme.

The following gives a snapshot of how the skills of literacy/numeracy are embedded in the students’ vocational learning and the baseline Knowsley is using for developing the Hands On package.

Sharon is now in year 11 and is working towards Level One hair and beauty. She liaises with customers in a salon (SLlr/L1.2, SLlr/L1.3, SLlr/L1.4)* and takes bookings over the telephone (SLlr/L1.1, SLlr/L1.5). In her video presentation, used as evidence for her BTEC, she narrates the process of washing hair and adding a colour (SLc/L1.1, SLc/L1.3, SLc/L1.4). She also completes a write-up of the process and provides evidence of written planning (Wt/L1.1, Wt/L1.2, Wt/L1.3, Wt/L1.4, Wt/L1.5, Wt/L1.6, Ws/L1.1, Ws/L1.2, Ws/L1.3, Ww/L1.1, Ws/L1.2).

* Core curriculum elements for literacy and numeracy.

Last modified: 29 Mar 2010