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The DfE is conducting a review of the primary and secondary National Curriculum.
This site contains the statutory programmes of study for National Curriculum subjects which maintained schools must follow until a new curriculum is in place.

Functional skills


What are functional skills?

Functional skills are those core elements of English, mathematics and ICT that provide individuals with the skills and abilities they need to operate confidently, effectively and independently in life, their communities and work.

The functional skills standards are embedded in the revised programmes of study for English, mathematics and ICT. However, functionality within the curriculum is not limited to these subjects. The curriculum opportunities in the programmes of study for all subjects encourage working beyond the school and making links with other subjects and many key processes have the potential for functional skills development.

Principles of functional skills

Functional skills should be integrated into the curriculum. To be effective, functional skills teaching must be relevant and allow learners to engage with real situations in the real world.

Learners need opportunities to:

  • apply their skills in plausible contexts or use their skills for real purposes

  • engage with the world beyond the classroom

  • integrate learning by linking knowledge within and between the functional areas

  • spend time planning and developing their work

  • make choices and decisions, think creatively and act independently

  • experience success in real situations as a result of using their skills effectively.

Functional skills in the curriculum

Functional skills are embedded in the revised programmes of study for English, mathematics and ICT. In addition, all subjects provide rich opportunities to develop functional skills.
However, individual subjects by themselves are unlikely to provide the complete range of experiences and practical opportunities learners need. The wider school curriculum provides functional skills opportunities, for example:

  • going beyond lessons and building on learners’ wider experiences

  • working across subjects, linking elements from the three core functional subjects.

All learning experiences should be part of a coherent set and functional skills objectives should be identified for each activity. To have a meaningful impact, the curriculum should encourage learners to use skills in an integrated way. For example, in English, it is likely that most real-life contexts to solve problems or take action would involve a combination of reading, writing, speaking and listening rather than dealing with each area in isolation.

Functional skills and English, mathematics and ICT

The revised programmes of study for English, mathematics and ICT embed the knowledge, skills and understanding necessary to develop functional skills (level 1 at key stage 3 and level 2 at key stage 4).

The key concepts in these subjects underpin the functional elements including: competence (English, mathematics) and capability (ICT); critical understanding (English, mathematics) and critical evaluation (ICT). The key concept of creativity (English, mathematics) also has an important role to play in developing the aptitudes, attitudes and behaviours that enable young people to play a full role in the workplace, in education and in their wider communities. In its widest sense, creativity is concerned with flexibility of thinking, responsiveness to unfamiliar situations and ideas and the ability to use skills and critical thinking in appropriate ways.

Functional English skills

Individuals with functional English skills are confident and capable when using the skills of speaking, listening, reading and writing. They are able to:

  • communicate effectively, adapting to a range of audiences and contexts

  • explain information clearly and succinctly in speech and writing

  • express a point of view reasonably and persuasively

  • use ICT to communicate effectively

  • read and understand information and instructions, then use this understanding to act appropriately

  • analyse how ideas and information are presented, evaluating their usefulness, for example in solving a problem

  • make an oral presentation or write a report

  • contribute to discussions and use speech to work collaboratively to agree actions and conclusions.

More about functional skills in English at key stage 3

More about functional skills in English at key stage 4

Functional mathematics skills

Individuals with functional mathematics skills understand a range of mathematical concepts and know how and when to use them. They:

  • have the confidence and capability to use mathematics to solve increasing complex problems

  • are able to use a range of tools, including ICT as appropriate

  • possess the analytical and reasoning skills needed to draw conclusions, justify how these conclusions are reached and identify errors or inconsistencies

  • are able to validate and interpret results, judging the limits of the validity and using the results effectively and efficiently.

More about functional skills in mathematics at key stage 3

More about functional skills in mathematics at key stage 4

Functional ICT skills

Individuals with functional ICT skills are confident and capable when using ICT systems and tools to meet a variety of needs in a range of contexts. They are able to:

  • use ICT to find, select and bring together relevant information

  • develop, interpret and exchange information for a purpose

  • apply ICT safely to enhance their learning and the quality of their work.

More about functional skills in ICT at key stage 3

More about functional skills in ICT at key stage 4

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