Should exam content be changed to be more in line with what is needed for the workplace?

There is a current view that there is a gap in a learners knowledge between what they learn at school and what they need in the workplace. For example, they come out of school with an English qualification but are they equipped for using English in the business world? Do they have the ability to write a report, a business letter, hold a conversation with a client and take part in meetings? To bridge this gap functional skills in the core subjects (English, Maths and I.C.T.) are being gradually introduced into the school curriculum. However, to make this really effective and benefit all learners, shouldn't functional skills be embedded across all subjects and exams modified, to reflect these changes in order to meet the needs of employers?

Tags: Curriculum, business, content, exam, functional, skills, workplace

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Hi Aimee

A great point that I think has caused issues for employers for a long time now, and i believe that courses need to be more in line with job opportunities and basic requirements needed to perform a vast range of jobs effectively. I also think this will improve the learners job prospects by giving them transferable skills in a number of different areas via having good functional skills. How do you suggest a way of bringing these changes in without affecting the specific subject orientation itself? or maybe what Ken Robinson said about specific subjects not always being ideal, is the way forward.....?

Hi Sam,
yeah I see where you are coming from. It would take a massive commitment from the Government and exam boards to re-design each subjects syllabus to embed functional skills into what is already being delivered, but I believe it is possible. For example, functionality is not a subject it is a process and all about applying your learning to everyday life. One idea might be with A level music for example, rather than paper based exams where you look at an anthology of music and then answer questions, why not have the scores as pdf files on computer and students following the score by listening to ipods rather than off a cd player and then answering the questions online. This would allow each student to go at their own pace, would also benefit visually impaired students, they could alter the colour of the screen or have software that speaks to them. In today's age this is much more user friendly for the students. Downloading music could also be included in the exam such as they need to download the piece that they need to listen to etc. This is only an example and there are far reaching implications, but hopefully you can see from this how it could be done in other subjects. How do you see it working in sport?

Regarding your comments about Ken Robinson. I think that yes we should be learning in a way that incorporates everyday life, current trends and development and preparing young people for their place in society and the job market (obviously we still need to include the core subjects). It would make more sense to use the current environment to build their learning rather than ignoring it and trying to use irrelevant techniques. So yes I tend to agree with Ken Robinson and not have specific subjects. However, this can't be changed overnight and I think putting functional skills into each subject is a step in the right direction. Would you agree?

Hi Aimee
Well looking into sport I find that setting a specific research project where the learners have to use the Internet for information and right their results as if it were for a client is a good use of ICT and literature, as for numeracy when planning diets there is a significant amount of calorie and energy conversion equations which they may require to know, by doing this I feel the learners are encorporating functional skills but at the time time it can be subject specific and can still be a form of summative assessment. It also means there's no real label to the learners of 'functional skills' which as will all know can have a negative effect.
As for putting functional skills into every subject I really believe its a great idea and can work. Although I do think that teachers need to be careful it doesn't out weigh the subject knowledge itself in relation to grade weighting, or do you not see this as a problem?

Hi Sam,
providing the Government and exam boards take the time to re-write the syllabi and they make sure that there is an equal weighting between specific subject knowledge and functional skills, I don't see this as being a problem for the teacher.

Yes, I remember having 'Key Skills' sessions and dreading them as I knew they were going to be boring and I probably set myself up to be disengaged from the start. Minimum core is embedded into the course I teach on my placement and it does seem to work. The students also have a collaboration module where they have to work with an outside individual or agency to complete a piece of work. I attended the university and course that is now my placement for my PGCE, and the collaboration module really stuck out to me as being relevant and I was determined to give it my all. It did indeed help me in becoming an artist after the course was complete. This is true of sandwich degree courses, that have a year in the middle of the course to work on placement to gain the relevant experience needed to enter that profession.

That Industry year sounds like a good idea Hannah. Do you think it could be possible for all degree courses to have an element of work experience. They probably all couldn't be a year because of cost, but maybe one module on industry experience or maybe a week every month allocated to actual work in the chosen industry?

Hi Alex,
I totally agree with your comment about having separate functional skills lessons will in fact disengage the student. I believe it is much more important to get them working functionally across the whole curriculum in order to move forward. Do you have any ideas as to how this could be done?

Thanks Alex the points you have made are very useful :-)

I'm a trainee art teacher, and based on my education and experiences so far within my placement area, one very simple step forward would be in how the teacher delivers the session and explains how these skills are transferable in the workplace. It is not going to solve the issue, but it may clarify these questions to learners. For example, one of the groups I work with on my placement were taught how to make a negative space drawing and one way to enlarge a drawing, but there was no indication of how these skills would be used in the workplace and why they are relevant. Students enjoyed the session because the tutor made it fun, however they became disruptive because it seemed to have no purpose or importance to them. On the other hand the emphasis cannot be put upon teachers to make this change, and I agree with your statement regarding the modification of exams.

The amount of experience required for a post is one of the issues graduates face upon completing their courses and seeking employment. After a minimum of three years completing a degree, graduates are still not equipped to enter into their chosen career path. Could this frustrating situation be changed with more appropriate content and assessment in the lifelong learning sector?

Hi Hannah,
exactly my thinking! Maybe as part of a teaching qualification teachers could be taught how to show the relevance of what they are teaching to the students. Obviously existing teachers would need to go on courses to gain this knowledge. Perhaps part of their cpd? (Continuing professional development) Also as you suggest maybe in the lifelong learning sector and at university functionality should be inbuilt into these courses. As Ken Robinson stated in the 'changing education paradigms' video you aren't guaranteed a job in your chosen career at the end of your degree.

Hi Aimee

I am based in graphic design where functional skills play a huge role. As a graphic designer you will constantly liaise with clients, and eventually pitch ideas and concepts to them. In order to do this effectively you must have clear communication skills, because it is your job to convince the client that your idea is better than rival companies who are also pitching ideas. Communication skills are often assessed in job interviews as your prospective employers want to establish whether or not you will fit into the work place and team. You could be the greatest designer the world has ever seen, but if you cannot interact with clients and colleagues you will not be a successful designer.

ICT skills also play a huge part in the graphic design industry, because not only are clients paying for your creativity but also your up to date knowledge of computer programmes.

Finally basic numeracy skills are vital as designers will need to set the sizes for various print documents, here the measurements need to be exact to avoid any print problems. As you can imagine if a company is wanting ten thousand booklets printed and the size of the document is not set up correctly then that's going to waste a lot of money.

By ensuring that students have a basic understanding of these areas aswell as a good sense of design you can be confident they will succeed in industry.

Jo :)

Thanks Jo. Some very interesting points here that promote inclusion of functional skills which I think can be transferred across all subjects :-)


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