School of education and professional development

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This literacy review investigates the benefits of embedding core skills such a literacy and numeracy within vocational subjects, such as hairdressing and building courses. Data was gathered in the form of government reports, books, and newspaper reports. At which point analysis was carried out in order to drawn an overall conclusion.

The overall view from all angles, is that the learners, employers, tutors, and government, seem to agreed that embedding core skills such a literacy and numeracy will a vocational programme is a good idea, will the outcome of benefit to all. However, concerns are highlighted on how these courses will be run and managed, supported and technical issues surrounding exam resolved.

In conclusion, the success of embedding core skills within functional skills is unknown and impossible to assess, until further data and results of achievement are available in the form of data.


This literature review will examine, consider, and evaluate the subject of embedding key skills within vocational courses in Further Education, adult provision. Over recent years, there have been government concerns that learners are not achieving the required level in core subjects such as mathematics, literacy, and information and commumication technology (ICT).

This issue was first highlighted in government reports such as the Moser report (1999) and was followed more recently by the Leitch report (2006). In which it was highlighted that current levels of literacy, numeracy and ICT, where not meeting government expectations or targets and learners were finding it difficult to transfer and use these skills to the work place.

On the back of Moser report (1999) and the Leitch report (2006), new goals were set, with the aim of meeting the needs of the employer and the learners as well as ensuring a hightly effective skills workforce. In the hope that by increasing the populations acedemic levels in these vital areas, would have the knock on affect of enable us as a county to become more competitive in the global markets and help us to meet ecomonic development needs for the future, not to mention the acedemic needs of our learners and prosperaty for all concerned.

This lead to the introduction and idea of embedding core skills such a mathematics and literacy into vocational courses.

Embedded teaching and learning combines the development of literacy, language and numeracy with vocational and other skills. The skills acquired provide learners with the confidence, competence and motivation necessary for them to succeed in qualifications, in life and in work.

Skills for Life Strategy Unit, (DfES) (2003, cited in London Strategic Unit for the Learning and Skills Workforce, (2007),

As the London Strategic Unit for the Learning and Skills Workforce (LSU), (2007), points out, by making core skills subject specfic, learners woulld not only find the subjects more interesting, but would also be able to relate the core skills learnt in lessons to everyday events and work situations. Resulting in learners attending classes regularly and therefore obtaining better overall results. The Department for Children, Schools and Families (DCSF), (2009) identifys with this by stating that "Funtioanl skills in English, mathematics and information and commumication technology (ICT) have been designed to help learners gain the most out of life, learning and work".

However, this meant some changes has to be made to the structure of qualifications and the adult curriculum. There would be an introduction of new diplomas, and the full functional skills qualification in English, mathematics and ICT, would be introduced in September 2010. All of which will have an impact on the learners, tutors, and the Higher Educational system. However, at the same time empowering the learners with vital skills recognised by both future employers and educational establishments. (Qualification and Curriculum Authority, (QCA), (2009)).

Initial evaluation of the literature and summary of findings

The literacy and research carried out in evaluating the benefits of embedding core skills within functional skills seem to back the idea.

All seem to agree from government reports, to tutor and learners that the benefits to the learners are overwhelming. By making courses with one aim and subject specific, they become more relevant to the learner, have the affect of allowing learners to make connection to real life situations and thus achieving better results. (NRDC, (2006) and DCSF, (2009)). Casey (2005) however argues that this idea is just on new name for previous schemes such as 'integrated' or 'linked' or 'contextualised'' learning methods.

It is however very difficult to assess the sucessfullness of embeding core skills within functional skills, as oposed to more traditional routes. Although some research has been carried out by NRDC (2006), Quantative or qualatative data on comparisons seems to be none existent or difficult to find, therefore analysis is imposible, until more date and information is available and functional skills have been deliveried in order to observe results. However, it could be argued that there does seem to be overwhelming support for the idea, with little or no negitive response at this time.

Detailed Review of the literature

Throughout all the literacy gathered and read, about embedding core skills such as literacy, numeracy, and ICT within vocational courses. It was apparent that it is and has become one of the hottest topics being discussed within the walls of education right now.

Recently, concerns where hightlighted that even although some learners may achieve grade 'C' or level 1, they are finding themselves in suitations where they are unable to tranfer thoses core skills learnt in the classroom to everyday situations.

Many learners are finding that they are experiencing problems completing academic work, are being left behind their peers and losing confidence in their own ablities, subsequently finding it difficult to transfer skills to everyday challenges such as getting a job, continuing on to higher qualifications. All of which have a negative impact on the learner, the economy and communities in general. (Department for Innovation, Universities & Skills, 2007)

There are several aspects of perception, which need be taken into account, from the learners perception, will it give them the tools needed to transfer core skills knowledge into the real world and the level of academic qualifications required to progress. The tutor's perspective on the mechanics of how the vocational courses are going to be structured and delivered, to organisational issues, resources, and that of the governments in the way of meeting targets and funding.

Scales (2008), DfES (2001) and National research Development Centre for Adult Literacy and Numeracy (NRDC, 2006) all point out that is seem to be the consensus that embedding is the way forward. Agreeing that by embedding core skills such a literacy, numeracy, and ICT, learners are able to develop, become more confident and can accomplish a higher competence level in order to achieve. In addition, NRDC (2006) goes one step further by acknowledging that by making literacy and numeracy more interesting and relevant to learner's vocational qualification leads to better retention and subsequently betters achievement and results. As QCA (2009)

There however, seems to be no negative opinions or literacy available at this time opposing or expressing a negative opinion that functional skills are not a good idea. Recent studies carried out by NRDC (2006) show that learners on embedded courses achieved better results than those on non-embedded courses in both literacy and numeracy. This is corroborated by The Department for Education and Skills (DfES) now known as BIS (2003) and LSC (2009), reports which agrees that by embedding core skills within vocational study, is away to help, improve and incentive learners to improve their literacy, numeracy, and ICT skills.

Lee (2009) highlights, however the extent to which learners engage in vocational qualification and recruitment in foundation and advanced levels remains low. This could arguably be due to the cost involved should as course fee, accommodation fees and experience occurred as part of university or higher education. Alternatively it could be put down to the simply fact that learner feel that they do not have the skills set, for example academic writing skills to continue there learning development.

As Quality Improvement Agency (date unknown), (QIA), highlights, one of the key areas of debate is how we teach core skills, either as stand-alone modules or as integral learning, within and as part of vocational qualification. There has been a vast amount of research carried out into what approach works best in delivering core skills, such a front-end approach and discrete. A study carried out by the National Research Development Centre for literacy and numeracy (NRDC, 2006), highlighted empirical data that back the benefits of embedding core skills. In that by having more than one learning aim with a programme, leads to higher retention and success rates, with learners overall achieving higher achievements.

However, it was difficult to find actual quantitative data that gave the precise facts and figures in order to make personal judgements or analysis as to whether embedding gave learners better overall knowledge of using core skills such as literacy and numeracy within the work place or everyday challenges. Although, it would seem vocational qualification and apprenticeship programmes do contribute to a rise in achievement.

Challenges however, seem to exist for the providers in the form of funding, qualifications and organisational issues. Scales (2008) and NRDC (2006) identifies that overall there seems to be a consensus that there is a need for both vocational and skills for life tutors to work together closely in order to plan, deliver and create suitable resources. Casey (2005) also points out it is not necessary for vocational staff to become skills for life tutors, but they need to be aware of learners development needs. Whilst, skills for life tutors need to understand the context of the vocational qualification in order to support learners.

However, NRDC (2006) and QIA (date unknown), however also have concerns that if one tutor has responsibility for teaching both the vocational subject and the core skills than the probability that learner with successfully achieved the desire result in both literacy and numeracy is not as lower. With research indicating that, it is more beneficial for learner to have the experience and expertise of several members of staff. QIA (date unknown) also highlights "this might come as something of a relief to vocational teachers, who, understandably, prefer to teach within their areas of expertise. In the same way, literacy and numeracy teachers would feel out of their depth if they tried to teach a vocational skill they are unfamiliar with."

In order to provide a high quality service to learners in 2007 the level 4 subject specialist diploma in literacy, numeracy and ESOL where introduced in 2007, and update in 2010 to level 5. As the Learning Skills Council, (LSC), (2009) identifies "prior to the review A Fresh Start (DfEE, 1999), there were no formal requirements for tutors of numeracy, literacy and ESOL to be qualified in the same way in which teach of other subjects are".

Research carried out by NRDC (2004, cited in LSC, 2008) suggests that a "high proportion of Skills for Life tutors are qualified to Level 3 or 4 and that only a small proportion have no qualification at all". However, The Times Educational Supplement (TES), (2004 cited in LSC, 2008) and Adult Learning Inspectorate (Ali), (2004 cited in LSC, 2008) contradict this by highlighting that some tutors where not qualified and suggested that in particular few where trained in numeracy skills. Therefore as NRDC (2007) and LSC, (2009), point out there is a need to improve training for tutors in order to meet target, guarantee a quality service and ensure that there is more numeracy tutor in order to met demands.

Lee (2009) identified that at the moment there seems to be a "lack of co-ordination" and differences in the quality and variety in which courses are delivered.

Another concern highlighted by Mansell, W. (2007) is the functional skills tests, which have been delayed due to confusion about assessment, technical difficulties with how they will fit in with the current GCSE's. Mansell, W (2008), it that GCSE pass in core skills is likely to decrease.


Having reviewed large amounts of documentation regarding the impact and the suitability of embedding key skill within vocational subject, it seem to be the opinion of most of the organisations that it is general a good idea and will benefit not only the employers, the country as a whole but also the learners.

However, time will tell as at this stage of development there is not enough conclusive data or experience managing these courses to have a true understanding of the impact. What is clear and indicated by organisation such as NRDC (2006) and QIA (date unknown), is that it is essential that tutors, organisations all work together in communicating and supporting each other within the team in order to delivery a high quality course and get the required results.

The successfulness of the functional skills qualification, structure and delivery of is difficult to assess at this time to the lack of data and results. However, as the courses develop and are run a conclusion will no doubt come to fruition and at that point a more in-depth analysis of is success will come to light.