Maureen’s Blog – November 2013

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FUNC.SKILLS_Numbers1This month has seen the clocks go back and the autumn is well and truly upon us. And so what can we look forward to?

Focus on English and maths continues to hit the headlines. The OECD report, published this month, had some interesting findings that were not always picked up by the press. We continually highlight how many adults are not proficient in literacy and numeracy and yet England was the only country surveyed where the oldest group (55-65) has a higher level in literacy and numeracy than the youngest group (16 to 24). Moreover, this survey was not focused on qualifications, it was focused on proficiency. How confident and competent are adults with dealing with maths and English problems? That’s what was tested…and guess what they weren’t very good! And of course we know that. Functional skills were introduced to try and address the balance between pushing young people through GCSEs to achieve school targets and ensuring that they have the maths and English skills they need for life and work!

Another interesting finding only 42.5% of 16-24 year olds in England and Northern Ireland were proficient at level two or three in ICT compared with the average of 50.7% of the participating countries…so look out..ICT is likely to be back on the agenda again in the near future.
AELP and others continue to ask the question. How can over half of school leavers not be able to achieve a Level 2 after five years of full time secondary education, with dedicated subject specialists? And if schools cannot achieve this, can we really expect the post-16 sector address the issue with much less time and far less funding!

And so what is happening in schools to address the issue?
Details of new GCSEs for maths and English have just been announced. They will be introduced for first teaching in 2015. A key aspect of the reforms is that there will be less coursework, allowing for more time to teach the learners. So good news there…but then we heard the details. For English there will be much more emphasis on ‘traditional’ teaching, which means English will have more poetry, more Shakespeare and less functionality. And there will be terminal assessment and so can we expect the model to be: first attempt at getting the qualifications at 16…another at 17, another at 18?

And there is even more to think about. There has been announcement about Apprenticeship frameworks that has been largely overshadowed by other news. The mandatory inclusion of functional skills in apprenticeship frameworks is to be replaced by GCSE from 2017. Goodness knows why this government thinks understanding Shakespeare is a more appropriate qualification for work-based learners that will need to structure letters, emails, articles and reports! We have got time, we can lobby and let’s hope some sanity returns in the time we have to plan and implement the proposed changes.

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