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What’s new in the 2019 functional skills reform?

The new Functional Skills qualifications have different modules, assessments and content.

What’s new in the 2019 functional skills reform?

The functional skills qualifications (FSQs) in English and maths have been under reform for a few years now, but the new quals have just been released.

The DfE wanted to update functional skills to bring the qualifications up to date with the modern workplace. They spoke to a wide range of employers about what skills their employees needed to achieve and built the qualifications around this. Learners can take either a paper-based or on-screen assessment.

Learners who registered for Functional Skills before 1st September 2019 will complete the legacy qualification, and learners who registered on or after the 1st September will enroll onto the new version. The legacy quals will only be available during the transitional year – until 31st August 2020. If the learner hasn’t completed by then, they'll have to start again on the new qualification. (The legacy and reformed quals have different modules, so learners can’t transfer credits between the 2 versions.)

What’s new in the reformed qualifications?

Guided learning hours

Guided learning hours have increased from 45 to 55 hours per subject. The increase in hours hasn’t been matched with an increase in funding, which may be problematic for providers.


Learners can no longer mix and match modules from different levels. For example, learners can’t take level 1 speaking and listening, and level 2 writing – they'll have to register and complete each qualification level by level.

Writing & spelling

The entry-level English qualification now includes a writing module. Learners at all levels also have to complete a 10-word spelling test. The words were chosen DfE phonetically, but the test is not phonetically based.


Learners can’t use a dictionary or spell checker on the English writing paper – only on reading and speaking.

Non-calculator tests

Learners now have to take a calculator and a non-calculator assessment at every level. They’ll be part of the same paper, just split into 2 sections. Non-calculator makes up 20% of the time and the marks in the paper.

Underpinning skills

Underpinning skills have been introduced to functional skills maths at all levels to address basic arithmetic skills – around 20% of the calculator and non-calculator papers.

Monitoring visits

Monitoring visits for speaking and listening will now be carried out every year either face-to-face or remotely.

How will the functional skills reforms affect apprenticeship completion rates?

The reformed functional skills shouldn’t affect apprenticeships on the whole – but the transition may impact completion rates. Learners who were registered on the old qualifications and don’t complete them by the 31st august 2020 will have to start their functional skills again. This won't be easy for learners. Even if they complete 2 out of 3 modules on the legacy qualification, they’ll have to enroll on the new qualifications, learn new content and complete all 3 modules again – which could take much longer and have a big impact completion rates.

For more advice about functional skills delivery for apprenticeship providers, download your complete guide to the reforms. Inside, you’ll find out exactly how the reforms have affected apprenticeship providers – including teaching, assessment, mock tests, modules and retakes.

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This article includes research and opinion sourced by OneFile at the time of publication. Things may have changed since then,
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