Technical alternatives for those learners who don’t want to choose traditional academic routes are becoming more important than ever and we believe that NCFE is fantastically placed to help learners get the most from technical learning.

Under current guidelines in schools, English and maths GCSE learners are subject to a compulsory re-sit if they achieve a grade 3 (or D under the old-style qualifications). This is proving problematic and leading, in some cases, to learners taking the exam up to 9 nine times in order to pass. Sector leaders within further education have called for more flexibility in the way that English and maths qualifications are awarded and resits carried out, as various research papers and independent studies have shown that in fact many students obtain lower grades in re-sits than they did first taking the exams. Continual assessment in this way can also prove to be not only impractical but also inaccessible to learners, meaning at times, they’ll be unable to re-sit and therefore left without these fundamental qualifications.  Add to this the psychological impact on learner confidence and self-esteem from subsequent attempts failing to improve results, it becomes clear that it really is time to look at what else we can do to ensure that young people achieve these skills in a different way.

Functional Skills qualifications from NCFE give learners useful, transferable skills in English, maths and ICT. Functional Skills help learners to function more confidently, effectively and independently in their work, as well as life in general. We know how important flexibility is to our customers which is why our online assessments are available 24/7 and our paper-based exams can be taken five days before or after the scheduled assessment date. Our customers also benefit from no marking windows, results in 6 days and certificates issued within 24 hours of claiming.

NCFE also offers a huge range of bite-size English and maths qualifications that schools can mix and match to meet their specific learner needs. With no external assessment, these qualifications are low on administration for schools but are a fantastic intervention tool to uplift learner understanding of different topics within English and maths.

We’re also delighted to announce our new Level 3 Certificate in Mathematics for Everyday Life which is open for registrations from 1 September this year. We’ve worked with Professor David Burghes and his colleagues from the Centre for Innovation in Mathematics Teaching (CIMT) to develop this new Core Maths qualification, designed to help combat the issue of poor progression in mathematics from age 16.

David and colleagues have been involved in the Core Maths initiative from the outset and have been able to share their knowledge and expertise of the subject area to enable us to develop a truly innovative qualification that meets the original purpose.

This qualification enables post 16 learners not studying AS or A level maths the opportunity to undertake a Level 3 maths course alongside their main programme of study. It will enable them to retain, deepen and extend their mathematical understanding through using maths to solve meaningful and relevant problems which will prepare learners for university, academic or vocational learning, employment and life.

We’d like to see more access to GCSE and A Level alternatives and a shift from the current situation many learners find themselves in with an inability to progress and move on without achieving the GCSE grade C benchmark widely adopted by HE, FE and employers. These barriers to progression are often unnecessary and if there were more alternative and equivalent options for learners, we’d see improvements in learner wellbeing and pass rates.

We’ve seen the impact in recent years on the early years sector when Functional Skills qualifications were removed as an alternative qualification to GCSE for those wanting to undertake the Level 3 Early Years Educator. This led to huge upheaval in the sector, a shortage in qualified practitioners and many learners unable to progress into their chosen profession. The Save Our Early Years Campaign, led by CACHE, was set up and supported by thousands of childcare organisations, concerned parents and educators from across the country calling for one thing: a level playing field so that Functional Skills was accepted as an equivalent to count in the ratios for Level 3 Early Years Educators. Thanks to their hard work, Government policy was changed and Functional Skills reinstated but the upheaval could have been avoided if attitudes to technical alternatives were different in the first place.

We are doing all we can to shift perception and champion the importance of technical alternatives and vocational education full stop. Learners are at the heart of everything we do at NCFE and we want to ensure that every young person has the ability to reach their goals and aspirations in life.

If you’d like to find out more about the work we do and the qualifications we offer, please visit our website:

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  1. Functional skills could easily fit into a portfolio of qualifications leading to graduation at 16. The emphasis on GCSEs, particularly the so-called ‘good’ passes, now subdivided into ‘standard’ and ‘strong’, should be lessened and not, used to judge schools. Exams should be recognised for their value to young people who take them and not as a way of making schools ‘accountable’.