The Open University, working with Further Education Colleges, is extending its Functional Skills free course materials to include Level 2 Maths and English. With flexible study options on the OU’s free OpenLearn platform, the courses give an applied and everyday approach to learning these core skills which can have a real impact in getting people into work or apprenticeship schemes. Already, 12,000 people have accessed the OU’s Level 1 Functional Skills free course materials in Maths and English; and an initial survey of some of these learners showed 53% were studying to improve their career prospects. 
As one of the projects funded by the Department for Education’s Flexible Learning Fund, the OU is partnering with three colleges in England – Bedford College Group, Middlesbrough College and West Herts College – to deliver the scheme.
People can access the free course materials on OpenLearn at their leisure and study at a pace and time that suits them. Each college supports learners in their area and facilitates exams so that eligible learners can go on to get their Functional Skills qualification if they wish – all for free. The survey of some of the Level 1 learners found that 36% of students did want to gain qualifications.
A vital stepping stone
Andrew Law, Head of Business Propositions at The Open University, said:
“Functional Skills are part of the core skills needed in everyday life and work. For many they are also an essential stepping stone for getting into work or progressing at work and particularly via apprenticeships (in the absence of GCSEs). The Functional Skills courses on OpenLearn use The Open University’s digital learning expertise to offer a free, flexible way for people to really improve these basic skills and their prospects. It’s great to be extending our offering with local colleges to Level 2 Functional Skills – it’s a key way to begin to address the skills gap in the UK, developing people’s abilities and confidence.”
Each of the Level 2 Maths and English courses takes between 40-50 hours of study to complete. There is an Open Licence on the materials, which means that anyone can copy and re-use the course content for their own teaching and learning.
Positive impact in the community
Zoe Lewis, principal and chief executive of Middlesbrough College, speaking of the functional skills courses said: “We’ve already seen the positive impact Maths and English courses from The Open University have had across the community.
“As an inclusive college that is passionate about taking people higher, we’re pleased this fantastic opportunity is being extended to even more people. The courses on offer are ideal for those who are looking for promotion at work, those wanting to support children with homework or to upskill.”
The scheme also involves collaborations with organisations and community groups including Local Enterprise Partnerships, WEA, Unison, Leonard Cheshire Disability and other union and business groups.
The OU is also currently in discussion with Department of Work and Pensions to explore how these Functional Skills courses (and other free employability courses from the OU) could be promoted in Jobcentre Plus centres to help improve job prospects in a number of regions.
Paul Thompson, Employer and Skills Manager at South East Midlands Local Enterprise Partnership, said: “Both basic levels of numeracy and literacy are essential, not just for jobs in the labour market, but in personal life as well especially with developing a financial capability. The extension of the Functional Skills provision by The Open University is beneficial both to local capacity and in providing flexible, easy access for individuals and businesses.”
In parallel with the English pilot, the OU is partnering with colleges in Wales on a similar pilot to deliver Essential Skills in English and Maths. The Welsh pilot is funded by the Higher Education Funding Council for Wales.
Bringing Learning to Life Survey March 2019 (survey of 170 registered FE learners)