What are Functional Skills?
Functional Skills (FS) are qualifications in literacy, numeracy and ICT that equip learners with the practical skills needed to live, learn and work successfully. They are suitable for learners of all ages and are a mandatory part of all Apprenticeship Frameworks in England.
They are available across five levels (Entry 1 to Level 2), and are embedded into GCSE English, Maths and ICT. FS are also available as stand-alone qualifications which can be completed in college, community and work-based settings. They can enable learners to progress to full GCSEs and are assessed via a pass/fail test. Learners do not revise for an exam, instead they are expected to demonstrate a practical application of the skills in hypothetical scenarios.
Functional Skills in FE
FS are central to core Further and Adult education teaching and values. According to the FE Week newspaper, more than 45 percent of learners entering the sector do so without having achieved Maths and English GCSEs at grades A-C. Therefore, many learners entering FE will be looking to acquire practical literacy, numeracy and ICT skills in order to enter employment, an apprenticeship scheme or progress to achieving level 2 qualifications. Effective FS teaching is essential in helping learners achieve their academic and employment goals.
As a Functional Skills teacher (also known as Basic Skills or Skills for Life teacher) your role will include:
- Teaching individual and group lessons
- Working with students to design a tailored Functional Skills learning plan to suit their individual needs
- Carrying out skills assessments
- Preparing innovative teaching materials
- Using teaching resources, worksheets and IT to get the best out of learners
- Working with support staff to ensure learning objectives are met
- Carrying out marking, administrative tasks and keeping accurate records
- Providing pastoral support to vulnerable students
FS teachers work with a diverse range of young people and adults who wish to improve their skills in reading, writing, numeracy, ESOL (English for Speakers of Other Languages) and ICT. The right candidate needs to be calm and supportive, as you will often be teaching young people and adults who have low confidence levels and who are nervous about returning to a learning environment.
You may also be working with adults with learning difficulties so some specialist knowledge and qualifications in this area are desirable. You will need to be a patient person who gets on well with people of all ages, backgrounds and abilities in order to understand their needs and learning goals.
The minimum requirement is a Level 3 qualification in the subject area you wish to teach (English, Maths or ESOL). For many FS roles you will also need a Level 5 Diploma in Teaching with specialist pathway in English (Literacy), English (ESOL) or Mathematics (Numeracy) in the Lifelong Learning Sector (often known as an 'integrated DTLLS'). If you have a degree, you may be able to take a Postgraduate Certificate in Education (PGCE), which would also qualify you to teach in schools or a Postgraduate Graduate Diploma in Education (PGDE) in teaching disabled adults, literacy, ESOL or combined literacy/ESOL or numeracy.
These qualifications may be required prior to starting an FS teaching role, or your employer may be willing to let you train on the job (only if you have a minimum Level 3 qualification in your subject area). You can find more information about FE teaching qualifications here.
FE teachers can work full-time or part-time. Full-time posts usually comprise 37 hours per week with around 25 contact hours.
Salaries depend on whether you work for an FE college, private training provider, charity or community learning initiative. However, a full time FS teacher can expect to earn between £17,000 and £26,000, depending on qualifications and experience.
For a hands-on look at FS teachers, why not read our interview with Neil Barton, a Functional Skills Maths teacher here
Types of Employer
FS teachers are in high demand and there is a wide variety of jobs available. The post 16 education and training sector is much wider than provision offered by FE colleges alone. It includes all forms of adult and continuing education, offender learning, work-based learning and many disparate community providers, training companies and charities. Functional Skills are key to all learning provided by these organisations.
Many teachers work ‘on the road’ by visiting learners in their work or community environment. To find out more about private and charitable FE training organisations in your area consult the Association of Employment and Learning Providers (AELP) or HOLEX a network of community learning and skills providers.