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 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?

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.

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 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 :)

I definitely think that they should add in how the subjects the students are taking will benefit them in the future. They need to know what jobs they can apply for with such skills and why they are important. I'm glad they are bridging the gap as some students won't know the reasons behind what they are doing. Students need life skills and I do think that in their exams they should have some kind of question that relates to the real world. When I was at school, in a piece of drama coursework we had to say 'If we had all the money in the world how we would we change the set and lighting etc. To me that isn't helpful at all a better question would be about how to budget and not have a dream scenario as it isn't practical.

Hi Aimee

I definitely think that there is a need to extend 'Functionality' across all subjects. I also think that teachers need to be re-educated to understand that 'Functional English' or 'Functional Maths' are not stand alone subjects and that it is the functionality element that needs to be worked on to meet the needs of everyday life and the skills required for employment. Exam boards will need to build in more functionality into their exams if this is ever to work effectively. Maybe collaboration between core skills teachers and subject/vocational teachers could be a step in the right direction? In other words working together to design schemes of work that include the 'functional' use of the core subjects and maybe team teaching? What do people think?

Unfortunately work places hire from CVs that are laden with content, yet they fire when that employee does not possess the skills that are paramount to surviving and excelling in the workplace. A good school or teacher will ensure that students are continually coached in using the skills needed to survive in the 21st century, these being collaboration, cooperation, commitment, self-management, research skills, resilience etc. Just like skills in sport, these life skills need to be taught and revisited daily. Of course content is needed, but when a child is taught the fore mentioned skills from an early age, success at school and in real life situations should follow.

Hi Aimee,


This has been one of my greatest frustrations since entering work (all those years ago....) and even more so since beginning teacher training.


I moonlight as a chef during evenings and weekends (and whenever else there is a spare minute), and the young adults that we employ to represent the restuarant, on the front lines with customers, have such a lack of skill it is so frightening, Like you say, basic functional skills such as communication - i.e, in my line of work, simply answering a phone seems to leave these guys in a state of panic. The fact that they do not know how to deal with with people asking them questions proves there is something seriously wrong with the enducational system they have been spat out from.


"Hello, how can i help you?" "Is everything alright with your food?" "How else can i assist you today?"


Basic communication skills that allow you to deal with day to day life both in work and in domestic life as well.


I am a firm believer in the work experience idea. When kids are about 14/15 (I think), in my town they are put on a placement in some sort of work establishment. We often get them at the resturant. But lets face it, being a pot wash kitchen skiv isn't everyone's idea of a "fun" or "useful" work experience. But i think if the emphasis was to be put more on the skills they would learn - people skills, communication skills, organisation skills - they could be very effective. And why not carry this idea on through post 16? Aim the work experience (to the best of ones ability) in a direction realted to the subject and carry on these useful, practicial, applicable skills that will help kids get through life?!?!


Gina :-) x

Hi Aimee,
I think it is difficult to encorporate this within more vocational subjects, as it is generally viewed that learners within a more practical subject base may not be as stong academically. I feel the problem stems from school, as all learners embarking on an FE course must have a certain amount of GCSE grades to be enrolled within a course. Therefore, this must be enough to enable learners to work successfully in a workplace, as minimum core within FE courses should technically just be refreshing the knowledge of learners (of course this is not always the case.)

 Hi Aimee,

I agree that some subject areas focus learning on unnecessary facts and methods that learners struggle to find use for in the future. I think some vital areas are overlooked in the process.

For example, in English lessons I recall studying poems and plays, and I was taught how to go about writing them (a skill really useful for a future Musical Theatre student) but realistically not useful for the entire class (say, a mechanic?). There are relatively easy ways in which an exam could be adapted to suit the ‘real world’.  A comprehension essay, for example, could consider a topic that would have an effect on the learner, e.g. low employment rates or increasing University tuition fees. Getting learners to think about the bigger picture rather than just comprehension?

I think that embedding key skills into the subject matter is vital. In college our key skills lesson was in an entirely different area of the college with a teacher of which we had never met and the attitude towards the subject was negative, even in the view of the teachers (it felt). Perhaps it could somehow be arranged so that the regular subject teacher takes key skills lessons, either by involving them within other lessons or as a separate class. This will offer learners familiarity and confidence within the environment that they may lose in the current situation.

It sounds very easy, perhaps to easy, but wouldn't it be wise as a starting point to ask popular employers of each subject area what they want from an employee...


Drama - A casting agent or a director. Technique, confidence, commitment so on and so on - and an exam should tick those boxes.

Maths - An accountant, ... Personally I don't know what they would need but do you see where I'm going with this?



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