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Frequently Asked Questions:

Functional Skills and GCSEs

What is the difference between Functionals Skills and GCSEs?

Functional Skills are designed to equip learners with the knowledge and skills that will enable them to operate confidently, effectively and independently in life, education and work. They teach practical skills in English, maths and ICT that are often taken by learners studying vocational qualifications. Functional Skills form part of many apprenticeship frameworks in England and are also widely accepted as an alternative to GCSE qualifications by employers and educational institutes. Study towards Functional Skills can be started at any time and the exam taken when you are ready.

GCSEs are widely recognised qualifications that are most commonly sat during secondary school and are seen as more academic qualifications than Functional Skills. GCSEs are available post-18 as a one year course, normally with a start date in September and exams in May/June the following year. The technical skills required by GCSE are far wider and more complex than those needed for Functional Skills.

For learners without a GCSE grade 4-9 (C to A*) Functional Skills can provide an appropriate alternative. They can be studied in the classroom or online with the support of a distance learning tutor, enable you to access University or employment opportunities and can be completed in a relatively short amount of time. The training is centred on applied skills that help to use English and maths in real-life scenarios.

What are Functional Skills?

Functional Skills qualifications develop vital skills for learners in maths, English and ICT and are regulated by the government. They have been an essential part of all apprenticeships since October 2012.

Studying Functional Skills enables students to develop confidence and fluency in maths and English. It equips students with the practical skills to get the most out of education, work and everyday life and helps them function more confidently, effectively and independently. Functional Skills are useful for college courses and relate to many work areas and sectors, such as accounting, business, childcare, education and hair and beauty.

What levels are there?

There are Entry Levels 1-3, and Levels 1 and 2. Level 1 Functional Skills is equivalent to a GCSE Grade 2-3 (D-E), and Level 2 Functional Skills is equivalent to GCSE Grade  4-9 (C-A*). Entry levels give learners the basics in maths and English that you would use in everyday life. Entry levels might also work as a good refresher course if you find maths or English difficult.

Who should take Functional Skills?

Functional Skills qualifications are ideal for people who did not have a minimum grade 4 (or a C) at GCSE and who want to gain a nationally recognised qualification. 

Are there any age limits on learners taking Functional Skills?

There are no set age limits for taking Functional Skills tests.

Why do employers like Functional Skills?

Employers like Functional Skills because they help you to solve problems that arise in business. Whether you are a hairdresser, a beauty therapist, a construction worker or support in a school, an up to date Functional Skills qualification demonstrates that you have effective maths and English skills for the workplace.

Why are they so popular?

Over three million students have chosen to study for Functional Skills since they began in 2014 and their popularity is rising. It is easy to see why they are Ofqual’s most popular qualification after GCSEs. They offer applied skills that employers look for in employees, as well as building your own confidence in everyday life and work. Functional skills offer a flexible delivery model and exams can be taken throughout the year, when you are ready.

How are Functional Skills taught?

Functional skills can be taught in small groups in a classroom, online or a mixture of both. You will be taught the skills you need before taking practice assessments to ensure you are ready for your exam. If you have additional support needs, or need special considerations for your exam, we will support you with these.

Will Functional Skills be accepted by the university I want to go to?

Most universities will accept Functional Skills, but you should check first with each university.

How long will it take for me to do Functional Skills?

Each level contains approximately 45 hours of learning. If you are learning online at your own pace, the length of time it takes depends on how many levels you need to study and how many hours per day or week you spend on it. If you are working to a particular goal e.g. application to university, your tutor will be able to advise how long you may need to study by taking certain factors into account, such as your initial starting point. 

How are Functional Skills assessed?

English has two exams (reading and writing) and a speaking and listening assessment. Maths has one exam. These take place a number of times throughout the year.

Where do I take the Functional Skills exam?

You will sit an exam at one of our centres across Dorset. Your tutor will book your exam after a discussion with you to identify a day/time and venue to fit in with your other commitments. 

When will I get my results and certificate?

The length of time taken to receive your result will vary, subject to time of year and the awarding organisation, although you will usually be notified within 6 weeks. Once your certificate has been received it will be sent out in the post. 

Functional Skills and Apprenticeships

Functional Skills have been an essential part of all apprenticeships since October 2012. 

Whatever apprenticeship you are completing, attainment of approved Level 2 English and maths qualifications is a mandatory requirement of your apprenticeship programme.  

Before starting your apprenticeship we will assess your starting point for English and maths attainment and you will need to provide certificated evidence that you have already achieved maths and English at Level 2 – for example a relevant GCSE or Functional Skill qualification.  

If you have other maths or English qualifications they may be able to act as an equivalent and the Government has provided a list of acceptable current or prior equivalent qualifications for English and maths which we will refer to. However, if you do not have evidence of qualifications that satisfy the English and/or maths requirements you will need to work towards Level 2 in these subjects before you can proceed to End Point Assessment stage and complete your apprenticeship.

If you experience difficulties achieving your Level 2 English and/or maths, arrangements can be made to provide you with additional learning support. In some circumstances achieving Level 1 and attempting Level 2 may be sufficient, but is not guaranteed.

Apprentices on Level 3 or higher apprenticeship programmes should hold or achieve an approved Level 2 in both subjects before they can successfully complete the apprenticeship.

You can check the level of English and maths needed for your apprenticeship by looking at the Standard.