Learners frequently don’t understand why they have to carry on studying maths and English after leaving school; this is nothing new. With functional skills it is relatively easy for teachers and trainers to contextualise teaching to learners’ vocational studies to make it meaningful, and in some cases even embed functional skills qualifications within vocational learning. GCSE maths and English, however, are primarily academic qualifications and it is much more difficult for teachers to deliver the content in relevant contexts. Other approaches are therefore required – particularly those that focus on GCSEs as a route to employment and higher education.

Listen to how Walsall College have been up-front in getting the message across to their learners.

1. The employer message
Employers increasingly demand high levels of maths and English from employees. GCSEs are the most widely recognised – and the ‘gold standard’ to most. Learners need to get this message loud and clear – ideally directly from employers.

2. Initial advice & guidance
In some organisations, learners have already enrolled and embarked on their courses before they are even aware that they are required to study maths and English. The requirement for maths and English needs to be made loud and clear from the start – at open days and recruitment events, and followed up during enrolment and induction.

Learners are likely to be more engaged if organisations are open and honest from the start. Learners also need to be informed of the importance of maths and English to them – how these skills are valued by employers and universities – and not just that it is a government requirement.

3. Vocational teachers
Even if they are not directly involved in delivering maths responsibilityand English qualifications, all teachers and assessors have a role to play in promoting and developing learners’ maths and English skills within their courses. Vocational teachers and assessors can also play an important role in promoting the value of GCSE maths and English for employability and progression to gain learner buy-in. Vocational teachers are likely to be the staff that learners look up to and model themselves on – so what vocational teachers say and do can make all the difference!

Vocational teachers need to reinforce the message about the importance of maths and English to learners’ future job prospects – and not dismiss this as a ‘requirement’. It is important that vocational and maths/English staff liaise on course planning – to look at opportunities for where maths and English can be contextualised or embedded, and to ensure that both sides have the bigger picture with regards to learners’ progress and achievements.  In many providers, responsibility for maths and English is devolved to vocational teams so that they take ownership rather than seeing it as someone else’s job.

The Education and Training Foundation offer maths and English vocational revitaliser CPD modules which introduce techniques that vocational teachers can use to support their learners’ maths and English skills in a vocational context.  Mathematics in Education & Industry (MEI) have produced a Contextualisation Toolkit which supports teachers in developing and using  contextualised resources.

Getting message acrossDownload a PDF version of these questions here.

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