I have spent half of this week telling level 1 students how great Functional skills is. I have spent the other half telling Level 2 and 3 students why it is much better to do a GCSE. I don't like being a hypocrite but since I am being ordered to teach these qualifications, I have to 'sell' the concept. However, which is better to have, Functional Skills or GCSE?
Functional Skills- positives
Functional skills looks at the reading and writing of learners. It doesn't include literature or looking at poetry. It involves writing letters, emails and reading text for meaning. In this way it is much more relevant to learners who don't want to do a degree. Despite common misconceptions, it is NOT easy to pass, but with one-to-one coaching most learners find it achievable at their designated level. However, those learners that got a G or F at GCSE aren't likely to pass a Level 2 qualification without some serious work and coaching and a desire to learn. It is much more suitable for a lot of learners, and the ability to achieve a Level 1 doesn't automatically instill in learners that they have failed to get a good grade in something, rather that they have achieved something.
Functional Skills - negatives
We teach on the Edexcel exam board and as far as I am aware, they have fewer issues than many exam boards. However, some questions are worded confusingly. It also doesn't teach learners ways to research or write a convincing argument in the same way that GCSE might. This could be seen as a positive for those that don't want to complete these tasks, but for those progressing it came miss out on skills they need to learn. Also, many Universities and employers don't accept Functional Skills, a massive drawback for some learners. The issue with changes to qualifications such as Adult Numeracy or Adult Literacy is that they are continuously changing and becoming outdated, which means learners are wasting their time completing them if nobody recognises them.
GCSE - positives
Everyone has heard of a GCSE. Employers know what it is. It shows a standard of education that should reflect a learner's ability. It involves learning about our heritage by studying Shakespeare and poets (the GCSE English I teach has some literature and some language). It introduces the arts to learners. It allows learners of different ability to gain different grades to reflect their amount of input.
If learners aren't able to achieve a C, they seem to be unable to access education, employment and study in many cases. What about the people aren't able to achieve that level of writing? Also, learners who have not achieved a D aren't able to retake GCSEs as retake courses tend to require you have a D originally. This means many young people aren't even given the opportunity of improving those grades. GCSEs are also subject to bending of the rules - students receiving back coursework 10 times to make improvements. With learners having 2 years and the opportunity to redo coursework, studying it in one year with fewer teaching hours and one chance of completing their assessments mean grade improvement is highly unlikely.
Having the opportunity to complete Functional Skills or GCSE is important for learners in post-compulsory education. However, I think the organisation of this in many places (where I work included) is causing issues to the success of these courses. My Functional Skills lessons and GCSE lessons are both 1.5 hours a week once a week. This is far too long for Functional skills: after an hour of percentages learners are exhausted. This is way too little time to study GCSE: they need to look at 2 books, poetry and write 3 assignments in this time, teaching included. If only the managers would listen to the teachers now and then!!!