Welcome to the second article focusing on our new reformed Functional Skills. In this article we take a closer look at the research that has underpinned our approach in developing our new Functional Skills qualifications.
When the reform of Functional Skills qualifications was announced, the Department for Education (DfE) stated that ‘Functional Skills qualifications should provide reliable evidence of a student’s achievements against demanding content that is relevant to the workplace. They need to provide assessment of students’ underpinning knowledge as well as their ability to apply this in different contexts’. The DfE also underlined the need to provide a foundation for progression into employment or further technical education and develop skills for everyday life.
We have listened to feedback from our centres and understand that contexts can significantly impact on the accessibility of questions. This can affect how students are able to demonstrate their knowledge and understanding of English and maths. With this in mind, we felt it was extremely important that we understood more about the role context plays in these qualifications.
As an organisation, we are well placed to access research expertise and use it to inform our development of new qualifications. OCR is part of Cambridge Assessment and we were able to work with Cambridge Assessment’s Research Division (ARD) to undertake research and gain a deeper understanding of the effect of contextualisation. For the development of the new Functional Skills qualifications, we examined ‘purposeful contextualisation’, what that means, and which contexts can be described as purposeful.
According to the research, purposeful contexts are those that are meaningful to students. The ‘meaningfulness’ is only achieved when the context used in a question links what the student is expected to do in the question with what they are expected to do outside of the classroom. The link between these two worlds, the question paper and the outside world, should be explicit and obvious to the student. There needs to be an incentive for performing the task other than passing their functional skills qualification.
For example, the question ‘Kim has lots of heavy suitcases. She wants to know how much they weigh. Which bags weigh more than 20kg?’ lacks a purposeful link to the real world. However, with a small tweak, ‘Only suitcases weighing up to 20kg are allowed on the plane. Which suitcase can Kim take on the plane?’ the context becomes meaningful and there is an explicit link between the purpose and the context.
Another outcome from the research was the use of ‘universal’ contexts. The students taking Functional Skills qualifications are varied in many respects, age, cultural background, life experiences and professional aspirations. For this reason, the contexts used should be as ‘universal’ as possible. This will ensure that a sub-group of students are not disadvantaged. For example, a lot of ESOL students (English for speakers of other languages) take Functional Skills qualifications and we want to ensure that our assessments do not present additional barriers for them.
The importance of having a balance of contexts that cover everyday life and workplace-relevant scenarios was also highlighted in the research. The DfE’s outlined purpose for the qualification is that it should be relevant to the workplace. We will therefore be ensuring that our assessments have a good balance of real-life and workplace relevant contexts. This will support students in their future aspirations and also make explicit the link to their outside world.
We considered the outcomes of the research, and worked hard to ensure it has been incorporated into how we create assessment materials for the new Functional Skills qualifications. In doing this, we have done our best to ensure our assessment contexts are as accessible as possible and allow students to demonstrate and apply their knowledge into contexts that mean something to them.
In addition to the research we have undertaken, we have also looked at how we can ensure our assessments are generally accessible e.g. font style, language used. We will provide an in-depth look at what we have implemented soon, so keep an eye out for our upcoming assessment story.
In our next article, we’ll take a closer look at maths and introduce our Subject Advisor for maths, Neil Ogden.
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If you would like to talk with one of our Subject Advisors, you can email us at English@ocr.org.uk or firstname.lastname@example.org or call 01223 553 998.
Caroline Chessum - Deputy Head of Vocational Products
Caroline Chessum joined OCR in 2015 having worked within Further Education for over 13 years. She joined OCR’s Assessment Standard’s team as Chair of Examiners in 2015 and in 2018 moved to Product Management where she is now Deputy Head of Vocational Products.