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The functional skills of English, Maths and ICT are fundamental to people’s ability to get ahead in their working and personal lives. Given they form the basis for success, it is worrying that there are an estimated 9 million adults in England that have low basic skills. An Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) report states there is a growing need “for adults to possess a strong foundation of literacy, numeracy and digital skills on which to build new skills” due to “labour market changes driven by automation and digitalisation”.
This is something the government is keen to address. The white paper entitled: ‘Opportunity for all: strong schools with great teachers for your child’ sets out “how our education system can deliver on the government’s priority to level-up across the country”. A key recommendation in the OECD report is to “strengthen the capacity of further education teachers to deliver flexible and tailored basic skills”.
Functional skills teachers work with both adult learners and young people to help them improve their skills, get a job, or progress in their current role. These essential skills traditionally included maths and English, however, in the digital age, having a good knowledge of ICT is considered to be a functional skill.
Functional skills are targeted at learners of all ages, and can be taught to adults with specific learning difficulties or social barriers to learning. Some teachers can teach English to Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL), which can help to increase self-esteem and social skills in non-English speakers, while simultaneously increasing their chances of getting a job.
It is never too late to learn or get a qualification. Since 2014, teenagers who fail to pass in English and maths at GCSE are required to continue working towards the qualifications as part of their post-16 education and training. However, many adults who left education prior to 2014 have not achieved the necessary qualifications, and many are forced to return to education to enhance their job prospects.
People need basic reading, writing and maths skills to apply for most jobs or to study further. Many reading, writing and basic maths courses are free and there may be no tuition fees for those under the age of 24 and studying for their first qualification equivalent to GCSE or A level.
A higher take-up of apprenticeships, FE and adult education programmes shows that there is currently a crucial need “for further development in both basic and flexible functional skills in English and maths from entry level up to level 2, where valuable skills for work and life are needed now more than ever”.
The most effective FE and adult learning programmes to improve socio-economic outcomes and support social mobility “appear to be those which offer comprehensive support and those that integrate with course curriculum (e.g. embedding basic skills provision in a vocational pathway)”.
Demand for functional skills teachers is high at both schools and FE colleges, but it doesn’t stop there. Lessons can be organised through a private learning provider, or even in a work-based setting. Some colleges offer an Offender Learning Programme, which teaches functional skills to inmates in prisons to help them rehabilitate and re-enter the workforce upon their release.
Functional skills reforms introduced from September 2019 have been at the forefront of improving employability chances of those who lack real-world skills in maths and English. Providing real-world skills, such as focusing on spelling, punctuation and grammar without using a spell-checker, and using times tables and working with and without a calculator, are a key emphasis of the reforms.
Disadvantaged students have been found to be far less likely to get jobs with higher earnings than their non-disadvantaged peers. The Social Mobility Commission recommended in 2020 that the government invest £20m over a five-year period to establish a What Works Centre for FE. Overcoming barriers to learning for disadvantaged groups will ensure that demand for functional teachers remains high over the coming years, forming a key plank of the government’s levelling up agenda.
The Department for Education set out the new national standards for providing essential digital skills in April 2020. These are split into two skills levels: entry and level one. Entry level skills are “designed for adults with no or little prior experience of using digital devices or the internet” and level one skills are “designed for adults with some experience of using digital devices and the internet but lacking secure basic digital skills”.
There is a pressing need for FE functional teachers to help deliver the essential digital skills qualification offer. Adult learners are entitled to full funding under the terms of the offer if they:
The statutory digital entitlement replaces the out-of-date national ICT standards and offers adult learners the chance to gain either an Essential Digital Skills qualification (EDSQ) or a Digital Functional Skills qualification (FSQ).
As a starting point, you'll usually need four or five GCSEs at grades 9 to 4 (A* to C), or equivalent, including English and maths. Those interested in teaching functional skills also need to have qualifications in the subject they’d like to teach. Functional skills teachers do not necessarily need a degree to teach and may opt to take the certificate in education (Cert Ed) or the professional diploma in education (PDE).
A minimum of a Level 3 qualification, which is the equivalent of an A-level, is also required or else you can work towards one. Examples include:
Teachers should also be able to keep their students engaged and interested throughout the lesson, regardless of the age and level at which they are working. This requires excellent communication skills, as well as patience to deal with the different speeds that students learn. For example, tutoring students who have English as a first language will be less challenging than teaching someone who is less fluent in the language.
Another option for entry to the FE functional teacher role is through an apprenticeship. The National Careers website states that you can complete a learning and skills teacher higher apprenticeship, which typically takes around 24 months to complete.
Talent.com has found the median salary for a functional teacher to be £28,760 in the UK with entry level positions starting at £25,098 a year, while the most experienced workers bring home around £44,850 per year.
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