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OU partners with colleges to deliver sector specific functional skills courses

The partnership between The Open University (OU) and three FE colleges has been extended with the launch of sector specific English and maths functional skills.

Supporting the government’s National Retraining Scheme, several courses are now available with contextualised content, specific to the construction; engineering; health; social care and education. The free courses, available on the OU’s free learning platform OpenLearn, will now include examples, quizzes and videos to further improve the practical application of the learning.

Funded by the Department for Education’s Flexible Learning Fund, the OU is partnering with Bedford College Group, Middlesbrough College and West Herts College to deliver the scheme. Course content has been created by the OU in collaboration with relevant sector experts at the partner colleges.

Flexible study options on the OU’s free OpenLearn platform, gives 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, more than 30,000 people have accessed the OU’s Level 1 and 2 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.

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:

“The OU’s ability to increase productivity and regional skills, promote growth and social mobility is more crucial than ever. Through a flexible approach to learning students can ‘learn and earn’ and many use OU study to re-skill and up-skill. It’s clear that in the future, more than ever, people will need to hop on and hop off their learning journey throughout life. 

 “Lifelong learning is about having more than one bite at the educational cherry. And one way to make this is a reality for many, is to work collectively. This scheme shows the impact that HE and FE partnerships can have.”

 Louise Thurston, Associate Director of Employer Engagement at West Herts College added:

“We’re delighted to have been part of such a rewarding project. This flexible program has provided a valuable opportunity for students looking to upskill in English and maths across the community.”

Supporters of the scheme

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.

Alongside funding as one of the Flexible Learning Fund projects, this pilot is benefiting from a kind donation by one of the OU’s supporters, Dangoor Education.

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.

About Author

Hannah is part of the Media Relations Team at The Open University, working with the Faculty of Wellbeing, Education and Language Studies. With experience both agency and in-house, Hannah has worked on campaigns for a number of large corporate companies and brands, including RBS, NatWest, Travelodge, Audible, AA and the Royal Academy of Dance. She has completed a Masters in Publishing Studies from Oxford Brookes and is currently studying towards a DipHE in Computer, IT and Design. In her free time she enjoys photography, reading and going to the theatre.

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