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  • England

Functional Skills are applied qualifications which enable students to demonstrate real-life skills in English, mathematics and ICT.

Students demonstrate the skills through real-life assessments set in every day contexts.

They are recognised as gateway qualifications, used in many existing apprenticeships and by students who may not yet have achieved a GCSE grade C or above; they are widely used in adult education.

In a consultation held by Ofqual in 2014, 70% of employers said that the qualifications assessed the skills employers need in the workplace.

Education context

Functional Skills were developed following a 2006 government White Paper: they were piloted extensively in 2007-2010.

They were fully implemented in 2009 for first teaching from September 2010.

Numbers taking the qualifications have increased year-on-year since their introduction.

Over a million Functional Skills qualifications were taken in 2014; outside GCSE, Functional Skills are the highest volume qualification regulated by Ofqual.

English and mathematics qualifications attract significantly more entries than ICT.

They have now replaced predecessor qualifications, e.g. key and basic skills qualifications, which have been phased out.

Functional Skills were reviewed by Ofqual in 2014, with improvements implemented from first teaching September 2015. Key improvements are:

  • the quality of assessment materials
  • reducing the risk of malpractice and maladministration
  • strengthening standard setting procedures
  • better evaluation of how far the qualifications are meeting user needs.

The Education and Training Foundation has been commissioned by the government to lead a reform of Functional Skills in English and mathematics working alongside Ofqual. The intention is for new qualifications to be available in 2018.

Awarding organisations
  • 1st4sport Qualifications
  • AIM Awards
  • AQA
  • Ascentis
  • City & Guilds
  • Excellence, Achievement & Learning Ltd
  • Gateway
  • HABC
  • NCFE
  • NOCN
  • OCR
  • Open Awards
  • Skills First Awards Ltd
  • WJEC

Functional Skills qualifications are available in English, mathematics and ICT.

They are available at Levels 2 and 1, and entry levels 3, 2 and 1.

Each qualification is separate and assessed independently.

Functional Skills subject criteria specify the skills, standards, coverage and range for each subject and level.

Mathematics and ICT each comprise a single component.

English has three components: reading; writing; speaking, listening and communication.

Subject areas
  • English
  • Mathematics
  • ICT

There are separate qualifications at Levels 2 and 1, and entry Levels 3, 2, 1 of the Regulatory Qualifications Framework.

Level 2 is at the same level of the RQF as GCSE grade C or above (existing GCSE qualifications) or Level 4 or above (reformed GCSE qualifications). Whilst the level of the qualification is the same as that of a GCSE, the breadth of content is narrower.


There are separate qualifications at Levels 2, 1 and Entry Levels 3, 2, 1 of the Regulatory Qualifications Framework.

Level 2 is at the same level of the RQF as GCSE grade C or above (existing GCSE qualifications) or Level 4 or above (reformed GCSE qualifications). Whilst the level of the qualification is the same as that of a GCSE, the breadth of content is narrower.


Pass or Fail


Assessment must be consistent with the levels set out in the skills standards and with the coverage and range specified within the criteria.

Assessments must provide realistic contexts, relevant tasks, and require problem solving and application of knowledge, skills and understanding for a purpose.

Assessment must be designed to assess a single level.

Assessment must be entirely or predominantly open response.

At Levels 2 and 1, assessment is externally set and marked except for the speaking, listening and communication component of English.

The assessment methodologies used by different awarding bodies vary.

Assessment is often flexible, can be on-demand, available online and at any time. Some awarding bodies set assessment windows that may last several days or weeks.

Assessments are delivered partly through controlled assessments.

Contribution of assessment components to overall grade

In English only, all three components must be passed in order to achieve a pass in the subject.

Mathematics and ICT have only one component.

Resit arrangements

Multiple resits of components are permitted.

Guided/notional learning hours notes

Functional Skills are assigned 45 guided learning hours.

UCAS size bands

Not yet available.

UCAS grade bands

Not yet available.

Key issues for UK HE admissions

The market is dominated by City & Guilds and Pearson; which between them administer 80% of the qualifications.

Note: other awarding organisations have previously offered these qualifications

The number of Functional Skills qualifications achieved has increased from just under 300,000 certifications in 2010-11 to just over a million in 2013-14.

This volume of Functional Skills qualifications being taken suggest that they will be presented by applicants to HE.

Some applicants may hold Functional Skills qualifications together with GCSEs in English, mathematics or ICT.

Other applicants may present only Functional Skills qualifications; these applicants are likely to be progressing through an apprenticeship route, or as adults.

Timing of assessments/results for learners

Assessment can take place at various times throughout the year. Assessment windows are very flexible.

Results are generally available between seven and 28 days after the assessment; certificates are generally issued two weeks later.

Reporting and certification information

A Functional Skills pass certificate is issued if a student’s performance meets the level requirements; no grades are awarded.

Certificates also report the assessment components that have been passed to achieve the qualification.

For English only, a formal statement of results is also issued; this indicates the level at which each assessment component has been achieved.

Further information

In apprenticeship frameworks in England, both GCSEs and Functional Skills at the appropriate level are accepted as acceptable level of achievement in English, mathematics and ICT.

Link to Ofqual report Improving Functional Skills Qualifications January 2015

Links to qualification criteria for Functional Skills and subject criteria for Functional Skills English, mathematics and ICT.…