HE Exams Wiki

What are Functional Skills?[]

Functional Skills are UK recognised qualifications in Maths, English language, and ICT. Their focus is on problem-solving in real-life situations, skills you might use in everyday life and the workplace.

Functional Skills can be taken as stepping-stones to GCSE, or in some circumstances as an alternative to GCSEs. They are especially useful if you're doing an Apprenticeship.  


Functional Skills Level 1 is pitched at the same level as a GCSE grade 3-1 (D-G) while Level 2 is aimed at GCSE grade 9-4 (A*-C). This infographic from the UK Qualifications and Credit Framework explains what the levels mean.

The tests are taken at a Functional Skills test centre, under exam conditions.  They can be on paper, or on-screen. They don't have set exam dates, so you can take them whenever you're ready.

UCAS says :

Functional Skills are applied qualifications which enable students to demonstrate real-life skills in English, mathematics and ICT.

Students demonstrate the skills through real-life assessments set in every day contexts.

They are recognised as gateway qualifications, used in many existing apprenticeships and by students who may not yet have achieved a GCSE grade C or above; they are widely used in adult education.

In a consultation held by Ofqual in 2014, 70% of employers said that the qualifications assessed the skills employers need in the workplace.

Are Functional Skills Level 2 equivalent to a GCSE?[]

Not quite. Functional Skills Level 2 are accredited at Level 2, ie the same difficulty as GCSEs grade 9-4, but they have a much narrower content.

The size of qualifications in the UK is normally explained in terms of Guided Learning Hours. A GCSE is accredited at 120 Guided Learning Hours, while a Functional Skills Level 2 is 45 Guided Learning Hours. Thus, a Functional Skills Level 2 is worth less than half of a GCSE.

Have Functional Skills Become Harder to Pass?[]

The newly reformed Functional Skills exams may be more rigorous than before. This was a possibility, at least prior to the pandemic. Article from 2019. Functional skills passes fall by almost 20%

Maths and English Requirement for College at 16-19[]


Updated guidance on Maths and English condition of funding at 16-19, regarding Functional Skills Level 2.

As of 13 February 2019, people who got GCSE grade 2 or below in maths and English (or no GCSEs in those subjects) can study for Functional Skills Level 2 at college and don't need to resit the GCSEs once they've passed the Functional Skills.      

Those with a grade 3 in GCSE will still need to resit with the aim of achieving a 4 at GCSE.      

Education and Skills Funding Agency: Maths and English conditions of funding      

What about if you have no GCSE but have already passed FS Level 2?[]

It's unclear how this will work out as the change in guidance is very recent. There may be clarification issued later for students who arrive at college with a FS Level 2 pass but never having taken the GCSE. In the meantime, it will be up to each college to make a decision on whether they require you to continue studying towards a GCSE.

There are good reasons to try to get the GCSE if you are able, as it is a 'gateway' qualification for many jobs and courses later on. If college offers you the opportunity to take maths and English GCSEs, for most people it would be sensible to try to get those qualifications.

Why take Functional Skills?[]

  • You can take the exams on-demand at a test centre.  The tests can be taken all year round, not just during the exam season. As soon as you're ready, you can take the exam.
  • There is a real-life focus in Functional Skills testing, so they have value to employers and many will accept Level 2 Functional Skills as an alternative to GCSEs .
  • It shows ability at Level 1 or Level 2, which may get you onto college courses, even if you might have to keep studying for a GCSE while you're there. The fact that you have FS maths Level 2 shows you can probably get a good pass at GCSE, too, in time.
  • Apprenticeships - Functional Skills meet the English, maths and ICT requirements. You need to have a qualification in English, maths, and for some jobs ICT by the time you finish an Apprenticeship. You don't need to have it when you start. Functional Skills Level 1 meets the requirements for Intermediate (Level 2) Apprenticeships, and FS Level 2 meets the requirements for Advanced Apprenticeships (Level 3 Apprenticeships). This means that if you already have FS Level 1, you don't need to be sent on classes for those subjects during your apprenticeship.  This may make you a more attractive prospect to an apprenticeship employer. Many apprenticeship adverts state that having GCSE or FS English and maths is an advantage. Read more about Apprenticeships.
  • Good confidence boost and an introduction to taking qualifications.
  • Many online courses available, or self-study, or you may be able to get free classes at a local college.

What Functional Skills DON'T do[]

Functional Skills Level 2 is not the same as a GCSE as it has only around half the content, and the focus is different. Many jobs and university courses specify that GCSEs in maths and English are required. While some will accept Functional Skills instead, it's best to check some course and job requirements for yourself to see if these qualifications will take you where you want to go. As these requirements are entirely up to the university or employer, and situations change, we can't generalise here. Here are a couple of examples, though:      


You need GCSEs in maths and English to become a teacher, even if you already have a degree.      

Childcare (Early Years Educator) Level 3 Requirements[]

Functional skills do not meet the requirements for Level 3 Early Years Educator qualifications. Many are lobbying for this to change, but at present, you would still need to work towards GCSEs.   

See more:   

Childcare sector calls for return of Functional Skills as an entry option - from FE Week   

Functional Skills campaign to stave off 'Catastrophe' of GCSEs - Nursery World   

How do I find a Functional Skills test centre?[]

Search for "Functional Skills private test centre" plus your area name.

Check our 'Finding an exam centre ' pages to see if there is one already recommended by home educators in your area.

You are more likely to find a commercial test centre / private exam centre to do this, than a school.

List of centres being updated!


UCAS explanation of Functional Skills qualifications

Association of Colleges: GCSEs v Functional Skills

FE Week Article: on Functional Skills v GCSEs at 16+

CGP Books Functional Skills workbooks

Trades Union Congress: Understanding Functional Skills, for Union Learning Reps.