What are Functional Skills?Edit

Functional Skills are UK recognised qualifications in Maths, English language, and ICT. Their focus is on problem-solving in real-life situations, skills you might use in everyday life and the workplace.

Functional Skills can be taken as stepping-stones to GCSE, or in some circumstances as an alternative to GCSEs. They are especially useful if you're doing an Apprenticeship. However, they don't exempt you from having to study maths and English if you go to college at 16-19 - see below
Functional Skills Level 1 is pitched at the same level as a GCSE grade 3-1 (D-G) while Level 2 is aimed at GCSE grade 9-4 (A*-C). This infographic from the UK Qualifications and Credit Framework explains what the levels mean.

The tests are taken at a Functional Skills test centre, under exam conditions.  They can be on paper, or on-screen. They don't have set exam dates, so you can take them whenever you're ready.

UCAS says :

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.

Are Functional Skills Level 2 equivalent to a GCSE? Edit

Not quite. Functional Skills Level 2 are accredited at Level 2, ie the same difficulty as GCSEs grade 9-4, but they have a much narrower content.

The size of qualifications in the UK is normally explained in terms of Guided Learning Hours. A GCSE is accredited at 120 Guided Learning Hours, while a Functional Skills Level 2 is 45 Guided Learning Hours. Thus, a Functional Skills Level 2 is worth less than half of a GCSE.

Why take Functional Skills?Edit

  • You can take the exams on-demand at a test centre.  The tests can be taken all year round, not just during the exam season. As soon as you're ready, you can take the exam.
  • There is a real-life focus in Functional Skills testing, so they have value to employers and many will accept Level 2 Functional Skills as an alternative to GCSEs .
  • It shows ability at Level 1 or Level 2, which may get you onto college courses, even if you have to keep studying for a GCSE while you're there. The fact that you have FS maths Level 2 shows you can probably get a good pass at GCSE, too, in time.
  • Apprenticeships - Functional Skills meet the English, maths and ICT requirements. You need to have a qualification in English, maths, and for some jobs ICT by the time you finish an Apprenticeship. You don't need to have it when you start. Functional Skills Level 1 meets the requirements for Intermediate (Level 2) Apprenticeships, and FS Level 2 meets the requirements for Advanced Apprenticeships (Level 3 Apprenticeships). This means that if you already have FS Level 1, you don't need to be sent on classes for those subjects during your apprenticeship.  This may make you a more attractive prospect to an apprenticeship employer. Many apprenticeship adverts state that having GCSE or FS English and maths is an advantage. Read more about Apprenticeships.
  • Good confidence boost and an introduction to taking qualifications.
  • Many online courses available, or self-study, or you may be able to get free classes at a local college.

What Functional Skills DON'T do Edit

Maths and English Requirement at 16-19 Edit

You still have to study English and maths at college if you have Functional Skills level 2.   

Functional Skills don't meet the government's requirements for college at age 16-19. If a child is planning to attend college at 16-19, they will need to either have English and maths at GCSE (or IGCSE) Grade 4 / C or above, or to keep studying towards that alongside their other courses.  This applies even if you have Functional Skills at Level 2.   

However, if you arrive at college with no qualifications in maths and English, or qualifications below a D at GCSE, then the college can put you on a Functional Skills course as a stepping-stone to GCSE.   

In 2016 there was some indication that the government might accept Level 2 Functional Skills as meeting the condition of funding, but this didn't happen.   

More: Decision to retain forced maths and English GCSE resits ‘extremely’ disappointing' - FE Week, 10 April 2017   

Childcare (Early Years Educator) Level 3 RequirementsEdit

Functional skills do not meet the requirements for Level 3 Early Years Educator qualifications. Many are lobbying for this to change, but at present, you would still need to work towards GCSEs.   

See more:   

Childcare sector calls for return of Functional Skills as an entry option - from FE Week   

Functional Skills campaign to stave off 'Catastrophe' of GCSEs - Nursery World   

How do I find a Functional Skills test centre?Edit

Search for "Functional Skills private test centre" plus your area name.

Check our 'Finding an exam centre ' pages to see if there is one already recommended by home educators in your area.

You are more likely to find a commercial test centre / private exam centre to do this, than a school.

Here are some test centres that we know of - please add more in the comments.  Unless stated otherwise, these centres have not been recommended by home educators so we can't vouch for how friendly they are - we've just found them listed online!

Titchfield, Hampshire: Faregos Home Education exam centre. Dedicated not-for-profit exam centre run by home educators, for home educators.

London N1: Intech, London N1

London E1: Excel Tutors

London E15 : ELS 

Reading: Spark Educare

Kent: Runway Training, Tonbridge TN9

Sheffield: Runway Training

Tutors & Exams - branches in Coventry and Bolton Dedicated exam centre for external candidates with lots of experience supporting home-educated students. Languages, ICT, Computer Science and more. Access Arrangements (SEN) friendly.


Association of Colleges: GCSEs v Functional Skills

FE Week Article: on Functional Skills v GCSEs at 16+

CGP Books Functional Skills workbooks

Trades Union Congress: Understanding Functional Skills, for Union Learning Reps.