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The waxing and waning of functional skills mathematics

Dalby, Diane; Noyes, Andrew


Assistant Professor

Professor of Education


There have been repeated attempts to establish mathematics qualifications for lower attaining students aged 16 years and over on vocational pathways in England. In 2004, the Tomlinson Report proposed Functional Mathematics and this paper examines the trajectory of this qualification (later Functional Skills mathematics) through analysis of policy literatures over the last twenty years and empirical data from two studies in Further Education colleges. For a time, Functional Skills mathematics flourished and was becoming valued by many stakeholders but the privileging of GCSE Mathematics in recent policy has affected its status and uptake. It is important to understand this waxing and waning trajectory if future skills policy is to have better chances of long-term success. Key challenges include the unsuccessful integration of Functional Skills with the established mathematics curriculum, the difficulty of achieving qualification recognition across the vocational-academic divide and the negative unintended consequences of linked policy decisions. Raising the adult skills base is currently a policy priority in England and understanding these challenges to a skills-based qualification that is more aligned to the needs of vocational education than to schools is important.

Journal Article Type Article
Acceptance Date May 25, 2020
Online Publication Date May 31, 2020
Publication Date 2022
Deposit Date Jul 7, 2020
Publicly Available Date Sep 21, 2022
Journal Journal of Vocational Education & Training
Print ISSN 1363-6820
Electronic ISSN 1747-5090
Publisher Taylor & Francis Open
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 74
Issue 3
Pages 434-453
Keywords Education
Public URL
Publisher URL
Additional Information This is an Accepted Manuscript of an article published by Taylor & Francis in Journal of Vocational Education and Training on 31 May 2022, available online:


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