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Invigilating reformed Functional Skills Qualifications

Posted by: , Posted on: - Categories: Functional skills, Vocational and technical qualifications

Ball-point pen lying at an angle across a set of equations printed on a sheet of paper.

Reformed Functional Skills Qualifications (FSQs) in English and maths have been in the market for a few weeks now and schools, colleges and training providers are getting to grips with them.  At present, qualifications from nine awarding organisations, across the five levels, have passed through our Technical Evaluation process and are now available for delivery (as listed here).

FSQs are important, high-value qualifications, taken by a large and varied cohort of learners including apprentices and many 16 to 19 year olds; they will be used in the new T Levels.

It is essential that those who rely on new FSQs can have confidence that learners who pass have appropriate skills and knowledge, and that this is underpinned by robust approaches to exam delivery, as in other high-stakes qualifications, such as GCSEs.

Some previous practice was felt to be too open to malpractice and other risks to security and integrity, and we have taken the opportunity of the introduction of new qualifications to tighten this up. This includes invigilation arrangements.

Working with awarding organisations, we have agreed a common minimum approach to administration and invigilation of FSQs at Levels 1 and 2.  In the interests of fairness for all learners, we believe subject tutors should not be involved in the invigilation of that subject, even if they have not taught the learners in question.

This mitigates the risk of a potential conflict of interest arising because the tutor has a personal interest in their students passing the exam, and also the risk of tutors having access to question papers which may lead to them “teaching to the test” for future learners.

It is, however, important to emphasise that, while this is a general position which we would expect to apply in the majority of cases, we have carefully considered how these qualifications operate, and we recognise that exceptions to this approach may be necessary in some circumstances.

In light of feedback about the challenges of the new approach for particular subsections of the sector, we have discussed with awarding organisations what specific circumstances this might include.  Awarding organisations will decide where particular circumstances mean it is reasonable to allow exceptions. Together we have agreed that this may include:

  • restrictions within the centre on the grounds of security or safeguarding; or
  • where an assessment is conducted at the candidate’s workplace and an assessment centre is not available locally; or
  • the remote location of the candidate’s workplace/assessment location; or
  • as part of a reasonable adjustment request for a specific learner.

Any exception on grounds such as these is at the awarding organisation’s discretion, and needs to be agreed by the awarding organisation in advance.  This is to ensure that the awarding organisation has a thorough understanding of the particular circumstances arising, and is able to put in place appropriate additional risk-based measures to ensure the security of materials, and monitor the situation appropriately.

So what does this mean in practice?  Let’s look at a possible case study – one illustrative example.

A provider delivers English and maths training to one or two apprentices at a time, alongside their main vocational training, using solo tutors visiting apprentices in their workplaces.  When the time comes for apprentices to take their FSQ exams, it would be ideal that, if possible, they take them in an exam centre where the usual invigilation arrangements can apply. 

In a case such as this where there is no local centre, or other member of provider staff to invigilate the exam, the only practical approach might be for the awarding organisation to grant an exemption to the provider so that a Functional Skills tutor can invigilate. 

However, since there are multiple tutors at this centre, the exemption would require that this should not be the same person who has been delivering training to the individual apprentices concerned (i.e. the provider sends a different tutor). 

In order to mitigate the risks and maintain compliance with our rules (including on managing conflicts of interest), the exemption might require that assessments could only be on-screen, and the awarding organisation might choose to conduct unannounced monitoring visits to that provider to check that the exemption (and invigilation) was being operated properly.

Our aim is that the common minimum approach sets the bar appropriately high, while allowing awarding organisations to give sufficient flexibility for particular cases.   We stand ready to support awarding organisations in assessing their response in these cases to ensure consistency and that public confidence is appropriately maintained.

We recognise that there will be some work to do to put exemptions in place, but hope that the new arrangements will settle down reasonably quickly.  However, we will continue to listen to awarding organisations and the wider sector and we will consider all available evidence to ensure the right balance is struck between providing flexibility and minimising risk in the delivery of these important qualifications.

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  1. Comment by Janet posted on

    Teaching to the test is the only time efficient way to get many apprentices through these tests. Often apprentices are only doing these tests because they have lost their certificates. It is time that the whole smoke and mirrors approach to FS and the subsequent waste of public funds is properly addressed.

  2. Comment by Lesley posted on

    Well said Janet ??

  3. Comment by Bill posted on

    Some realism is required here. Further Education, including private providers (who still deliver the majority of apprenticeships!), are expected to resolve 11 years and goodness knows how many hours of failure to achieve basic educational subjects of Math’s and English in 55 hours for an absolute pittance.

  4. Comment by Mark Johnson posted on

    Is this a new rule? Can a subject tutor who has taught a student still invigilate their exam at level 2 on the legacy paper (3748) if it is at a remote site and there are no other invigilators available?

    • Replies to Mark Johnson>

      Comment by Ian Dexter posted on

      Thanks for your comment. The common minimum approach to invigilation arrangements between awarding organisations was developed as part of the reforms to Functional Skills. For legacy qualifications being assessed in the remaining period before they are withdrawn, awarding organisations may choose to tighten up if relevant, or to continue with arrangements already in place. In any case, all awarding organisations must remain compliant with our General Conditions of Recognition, which require them to put in place arrangements to ensure that potential conflicts of interest are managed.

      It is good practice for centres to notify awarding organisations when there is the possibility of course tutors also acting as test invigilators. Doing so means that awarding organisations can take the necessary steps to ensure that the assessments remain secure and valid.

  5. Comment by Debbie posted on

    The provider I am currently working for expects us to deliver maths and English level 2 in just TWO days!
    Is this really achievable, how do they think this is part of the Reform?

    • Replies to Debbie>

      Comment by Ian Dexter posted on

      Thank you for your comment. All reformed Functional Skills English and maths qualifications are developed by awarding organisations to have 55 guided learning hours. This is a government expectation and our rules require the qualifications to be developed to be this size. If you’re concerned that you’re being asked to deliver them in less time than this, you should speak to your employer or contact the awarding organisation in the first instance. You’re also welcome to contact our Public Enquiries team for more guidance – their email address is

  6. Comment by Amy McTaggart posted on

    Can I please ask if there is a specific invigilators qualification that should be completed please? We have 2 admin staff that have never taught any forms of English or maths and they are based in our centre.

    We are looking to have them invigilate all online testing but need to know if they should be qualified in any way

    Kind regards

    • Replies to Amy McTaggart>

      Comment by Ian Dexter posted on

      We wouldn't expect invigilators to have completed a formal qualification before taking on the role. However, schools, colleges and training providers should assure themselves that anyone acting as an invigilator is fully aware of the job's requirements and adequately trained to provide them. Awarding organisations are able to produce details of their requirements for invigilators, and you should contact them in the first instance.

      • Replies to Ian Dexter>

        Comment by Gaz posted on

        Is the tutor actually allowed to mark entry level 1,2 and 3 and can they invigilate speaking and listening ?

        • Replies to Gaz>

          Comment by Ian Dexter posted on

          Our rules don’t prohibit centres from marking components at Entry Level, including speaking and listening in English, as long as there are appropriate controls in place. Awarding organisations that offer Functional Skills at Entry Level have all chosen to allow centre-level marking.