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Preparing for success: transforming the Functional Skills experience for learners

Vicki Dobney Vicki Dobney Teacher and Project Manager at Runway Training

Like most other teachers and tutors, I’m always reflecting on my professional practice – even after working within education for the past 14 years, my internal monologue seems to never take a breath. How can I balance my workload so that I’m doing what is best for learners and myself? How can I effectively meet the individual needs of all my learners? How can I improve my practice when I don’t have time to finish my coffee without having to microwave it several times, let alone dedicate time to additional CPD?  

The 'M' word’s impact on educators and learners  

All of us within the sector know that marking is among the top negative influences on workload1 (thanks Ofsted for reminding us!) We know we need to provide the best quality of provision, but being outstanding within all facets of teaching can be challenging to achieve, especially when the right systems and processes aren’t in place. 

At Runway Training we help thousands of learners, aged 16 through to 72, to gain their Functional Skills qualifications.  

Most Functional Skills exams are completed online, and in our 13 years of delivery, we’ve often encountered learners being entered into their final Functional Skills exam with insufficient exam practice and knowledge gaps, or without practical application deficiencies being accurately identified and addressed.  

We’ve found a significant challenge in many providers having their learners take practice exams on paper because the online capability isn’t there. This often involves taking screenshots and photos of paper tests and emailing them to tutors for feedback. It’s costly, time-consuming, doesn’t simulate the final exam experience and it’s not exactly hitting green targets.  

Furthermore, we’ve found that it limits the capability of quality, effective and timely marking and feedback that is so needed at the end of the Functional Skills learning journey. 

This challenge made us ask questions. How can Functional Skills learners be truly ready and not be overwhelmed by exam anxiety if they haven’t experienced practice exams in the same online format as the final exam? And how can tutors be better supported through the digital technology that’s available and changing the education system daily?  

Beyond paper trails: an online solution for exam practice 

In answer to these questions, we’ve invested in the development of an online practice paper solution for our Functional Skills learners. It’s fully accessible online with no need to download software, and learners can practice their final exams in a real exam condition.  

The online practice paper solution includes an online timer, onscreen calculators, question flagging buttons, and graph drawing. We’ve removed the need for our tutors to mark paper-based practice exams while keeping the quality and effectiveness of marking and feedback. Tutors can focus on course delivery and CPD, areas which for most tutors, can be neglected due to mounting workload2. This supports their work-life balance and wellbeing, without compromising the robust exam preparation that their learners need.  

How our digital solution is enhancing learning  

Using our online practice paper solution, not only do our learners gain vital exam experience, but our tutors can rest assured that their learners are in the safe hands of our independent and rigorously trained markers. The markers provide learners with transparent marking according to exam board guidance, using NCFE, City and Guilds and Pearson/Edexcel exam papers so that learners can understand how best to demonstrate the skills they have learnt during their course, in their exams.  

The detailed feedback enables the learner to digest and understand their areas for development, as well as reflect on their strengths.  

By being given the opportunity to take practice exams that simulate the final exam experience, our tutors and learners have been able to gauge exam readiness confidently and we’ve seen an increase in our first-time pass rates. In the academic year of 2022/23, our first-time pass rate stands at 86%. 

The pilot phase: putting our solution to the test 

I’m proud to have been key in the development of this solution for Functional Skills learners and tutors. Our learners and tutors, not to mention our accounting department, have experienced the solution as a reliable way to ensure that learners are more likely to pass final exams first time, with confidence and a hunger for further learning. 

However, we want to prove that the system we’ve developed can increase Functional Skills exam first-time pass rates on a wider scale.  I’m excited to be guiding external tutors through our user-friendly platform in our pilot as part of the NCFE Assessment Innovation Fund.  

Survey data collected during the pilot will allow us to quantify the impact of our solution for a variety of learners on different learning journeys. At Runway Training, we’ve seen a change in our learners and tutors and we’re confident that our online practice paper solution is going to have a lasting impact on the future of assessment.  

Calling all innovators: join the pilot to shape the future 

You can now take part in our pilot for free, where a sample of your Functional Skills learners can use our online practice paper solution to support their learning and exam prep. By taking part, we’ll provide continued support and guidance in accessing our user-friendly and secure system that will help you save time on marking while supporting us with quantifying the impact of our solution.   

Contact me between now and 13 October 2023 to register your interest in taking part for free at [email protected]

Runway Training is a specialist provider of online Functional Skills and Leadership and Management training. Delivering training nationwide, we support thousands of learners a year to achieve nationally recognised qualifications. Offering a flexible approach to learning experience with online, classroom and onsite training available. 

By being given the opportunity to take practice exams that simulate the final exam experience, our tutors and learners have been able to confidently gauge exam readiness and we’ve seen an increase our first-time pass rates. In the academic year of 2022/23, our first-time pass rate stands at 86%. 

Vicki Dobney, Teacher and Project Manager, Runway Training
Find out more about the Runway Training pilot
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1. Ofsted (July 2019) ‘Teacher well-being at work in schools and further education providers’ Available:

2. Roberts, J., (May 2023) ‘Ofsted: Workload a major barrier to teacher development’ [online article]. Available:

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