Functional skills qualifications were first introduced in 2007 as part of a three-year pilot programme to develop qualifications that would be suitable for all students. More than 3,000 centres, including schools and colleges, work-based learning centres and adult community learning centres have been involved in piloting these new qualifications. The three-year functional skills pilot ended in summer 2010. The functional skills pilot qualifications have therefore been withdrawn and new accredited functional skills qualifications are now available. The Qualification and Curriculum Development Agency (QCDA) commissioned Tribal Education Limited (Tribal) to undertake an independent evaluation of the functional skills (FS) three-year pilot. QCDA published the FS pilot evaluation report on their website on 11 March 2011.

Functional skills qualifications determine whether students can reproduce what they have learned (in English, mathematics and ICT), but also how well they can extrapolate from what they have learned and apply that in novel settings and contexts. For example, students would have to demonstrate that they could use accurate spelling, grammar and punctuation to produce good quality correspondence or use their understanding of area to make an accurate value for money comparison.

The assessments are available from entry level (1, 2 and 3) to level 2 in English, mathematics and ICT through a variety of awarding organisations.  This ensures that the assessments are sufficiently flexible to meet the needs of a wide range of organisations including schools, colleges and organisations offering apprenticeships.

Functional skills assessments must

  • provide realistic contexts, scenarios and problems
  • specify tasks that are relevant to the context
  • require applications of knowledge, skills and understanding for a purpose
  • require problem solving
  • assess process skills and the outcome of their application in different contexts.