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The importance of English and maths in the skills system

Mark Dawe Chief Executive, AELP

The legacy of the recent policy approach to English and maths is grim and employers constantly complain about its impact.  9 million adults have literacy and maths levels below that of an 11 year old, so there needs to be a reintroduction of proper funding and support for maths and English for all post 18 learners that require it.  Only 21% of parents are proud of their children doing well in maths, compared with 50% for reading.  Parents’ lack of confidence in their own ability in the subject is proving to be a major factor in the lack of support that children receive when doing maths homework.  Once upon a time, maths and English was a facilitator in education and training; now it is becoming a barrier.  

But there are grounds for optimism that we can turn things around. Ofsted has given us a great starting point with the new Education Inspection Framework focusing on the quality of education and the curriculum.  Data will provide inspectors for monitoring purposes rather than being a large factor in determining the inspection grade outcome.  In my view, institutions and providers are leaving themselves open to criticism for not having a learner focused programme if they are blindly following the resits policy.

Instead they should adopt a policy of ‘Intent, Implement and Impact’. In short, this means:

  • Intent – conduct an initial assessment and plan the appropriate English and maths provision for the individual learner. The initial assessment is now as important as the whole programme;
  • Implement – deliver, monitor and be ready to act; and
  • Impact – record the outcome and progression. It doesn’t have to result in a qualification as long as good progress can be evidenced.

The next thing is that core maths should be a universal requirement between ages 16 and 18.  Then if we all recognise that the GCSE resits policy is a failure, the Spending Review must address the fact that functional skills within an apprenticeship receive only half the classroom funding rate when the curriculum and assessment is about to become harder. 

It is a growing concern that some apprenticeships are requiring the prior attainment of functional skills before the apprentice can start the programme, which acts as a barrier against social mobility.  T levels too will require level 2 maths and English for entry rather than their teaching during the programme.   We must also confront the barmy requirement that every apprentice should have to sit level 2 functional skills in a level 2 apprenticeship but without the need to pass.

I strongly believe that maths, English and digital form the core work skills which vocational education should be addressing, especially when only 60% of school pupils are leaving statutory education with full level 2.  But not surprisingly for a chartered accountant, my view is that functional maths is the most important.  At the moment, all we are doing is disadvantaging the already disadvantaged, leading to exclusion from decent career prospects.  The problems are solvable but we need some plain common sense to sort them out.   

Find out more about our #FullyFunctional campaign for a level playing field for English and maths including fair access to alternatives for young people so they can get on in life.

Fully Functional

About AELP 

The Association of Employment and Learning Providers (AELP) is a national membership organisation which acts in the interest of its members by effectively lobbying on their behalf to government departments and agencies. AELP works with its members, the government and employers to support the development of policies that deliver high quality, learner-centred, skills and employability services.

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