Key Skills Qualification

Key Skills Qualification

The Key Skills Qualification [] is a frequently required component of 14-19 education in England, Northern Ireland and Wales. The aim of Key Skills is to encourage learners to develop and demonstrate their skills as well as learn how to select and apply skills in ways that are appropriate to their particular context.

It is generally available in schools (alongside GCSEs, A-levels or other qualifications), Further Education colleges (alongside NVQ, as part of Apprenticeship training or other equivalent vocational or academic courses) and other places of learning (sometimes alongside other qualifications and sometimes independently). The qualifications can be taken at levels 1-4.

The Department for Education and Skills in England and the [ Department for Children, Education, Lifelong Learning and Skills] in Wales define Key Skills as "a range of essential skills that underpin success in education, employment, lifelong learning and personal development". The DfES website states that the Key Skills Qualification is offered as a response to concern from employers about lack of essential skills in young recruits and as part of the response to the 1996 Dearing Report. Key Skills qualifications at levels 2-4 attract UCAS [ Tariff points] for University admissions. However, many universities do not accept Key Skills level 2 in place of a GCSE at grade C, as was intended, it is therefore advisable that students check with the admissions tutor of their chosen university to ensure acceptance. The UCAS tariff is a points system used to report achievement for entry to higher education (HE) in a numerical format.


Key Skills Qualifications are offered in six areas. ;Communication: speaking, listening, reading and writing skills;Application of Number: interpreting information involving numbers, carrying out calculations, interpreting results and presenting findings;Information Communication Technology: finding, exploring, developing and presenting information including text, images and numbers;Working with others: includes process and interpersonal skills to support working cooperatively with others to achieve shared objectives, work cooperatively and have regard for others;Improving own learning and performance: developing independent learners who are clearly focused on what they want to achieve and able to work towards targets that will improve the quality of their learning and performance. The standards include process skills, e.g., target-setting, planning, learning, reviewing and interpersonal skills, e.g., communicating own needs, accepting constructive feedback, negotiating learning opportunities and support;Problem solving: encouraging learners to develop and demonstrate their ability to tackle problems systematically, for the purpose of working towards their solution and learning from this process. Three types or combinations of problems are dealt with: diagnostic problems that depende primarily on analysis to arrive at conclusions, design problems that depend mainly on synthesis to create a product or process, and contingency problems that typically involve resource planning and gaining the cooperation of others, eg when organising an event

The first three Key Skills are sometimes referred to as the 'main' Key Skills. They incorporate the basic skills of literacy and numeracy. The remaining three are often referred to as the 'wider' or 'soft' Key Skills.

Assessment arrangements for Key Skills vary between England, Wales and Northern Ireland (see below). Key Skills may be examined in a variety of ways including internal, external or set tasks. Internal assessment means the production of a portfolio of work demonstrating satisfaction of the Key Skills targets. The Internal assessment (portfolio) must be internally verified and externally moderated. External assessment consists of a test or examination in the subject, often in formal examination conditions. Set tasks are similar to portfolios without the flexibility of the latter.

Levels and progression

The Qualifications are offered over four levels: level one, two, three and four. These levels correspond to the levels used for other qualifications within the national qualifications framework. Progression to a higher level is characterised by:- greater autonomy from the individual in deciding how they will apply their skills to suit different tasks and problems
- greater demands made by the situation in which the skills are applied
- use of a wider range and more complex techniques.

Key Skills Level 1 helps candidates to develop the basic skills that are important for key skills competence, and recognises their ability to apply these skills in meeting given purposes within routine situations. Level 1 is broadly related in terms of level of demand, to GCSE grades D-G or National Curriculum level 5.

Key Skills Level 2 builds on level 1 by requiring candidates to extend their basic skills. It recognises their ability to take responsibility for some decisions about how they select and apply these skills to meet the demands of largely straightforward tasks. Level 2 can be broadly related, in terms of level of demand, to GCSE grades A*–C.

Key Skills Level 3 marks a shift from straightforward tasks to being capable of responding to the demands of more complex activities. Candidates need to demonstrate more explicit reasoning ability and personal responsibility in making decisions about how tasks are organised. Level 3 can be broadly related, in terms of level of demand, to an A grade at A level

The higher levels, levels 4 and 5, describe those skills relevant to technical and professional situations and higher level study.

Key Skills Level 4 requires candidates to have substantial autonomy and responsibility for managing activities and for identifying how the key skills relate to their situation. It recognises ability to develop a strategy for using key skills over an extended period of time, monitor and critically reflect on progress and adapt strategy, as necessary, to achieve the quality of outcomes required.

At Key Skill Level 5, there is a single standard (personal skills development). This standard requires candidates to apply their key skills in communication, working with others and problem solving, in an integrated way, in order to improve their own learning and performance in managing professionally challenging work.

Source: QCA (Qualifications and Curriculum Authority) [ The Key Skills Qualifications Standards and Guidance, 2004.]

Key Skills Awards

According to the UK National Statistics office, up to September 2006, almost 2.2 million Key Skills qualifications had been awarded. There were 692 thousand awards of Key Skills qualifications in 2005/06 alone. 522 thousand of all Key Skills qualifications were for main Key Skills, up 19 per cent on the previous year. 170 thousand of all Key Skills qualifications were for wider Key Skills, up 61 per cent on the previous year.

The most popular key skills continue to be communication awards (206 thousand awards in 2005/06 compared to 150 thousand ICT awards. Application of Number is still the fastest growing main Key Skill qualification, up by 27 per cent on the previous year to 166 thousand Since their introduction as a Qualification in 2004, the wider key skills continue to grow. Between 2004/05 and 2005/06, there was an increase of at least 60 per cent in the number of awards for each of the wider Key Skills such that wider Key Skills accounted for almost a quarter of awards of all Key Skills qualifications in 2005/06, compared with around afifth in 2004/05.

Source: [Department for Education and Skills] [ AWARDS OF KEY SKILLS QUALIFICATIONS: 2005/06 SFR 14/2007.]


Schools generally determine the level of entrance dependent on past achievement. Those who achieved under grade C at GCSE in the corresponding subject (English, Mathematics or Information Technology respectively) are asked to take the corresponding level two Qualification. Those who achieved over grade C at GCSE are recommended to take level three or four.

Those who take the corresponding subjects at AS/A-level (or equivalent) are generally excluded from the external assessment in that subject, as the completion of the corresponding subject certifies the academic achievement required.

By 2010 the main three key skills will be replaced by Functional Skills in England, which will form part of the new Specialised Diploma Framework. The wider key skills will continue to be accredited.


Students with a GCSE (or equiv.) up to grade D in the subject associated to the Key Skill (i.e. IT, English or Maths) are exempt from taking the test for level 1 and can be entered for a proxy, this means that only the portfolio need be completed. The same applies to level 2 Key Skills if the student has a GCSE (or equiv.) grade C or above.

The exception to this is Key Skills ICT where a proxy makes the student exempt from both the test AND the portfolio. It is important to establish the correct level to be aimed for initially, especially when it comes to ICT.


In Wales Key Skills can be achieved through the medium of Welsh [] or English. The Key Skills are embedded within Welsh educational initiatives including the 14-19 Learning Pathways, Welsh Baccalaureate and the Skills Employment Action Plan. Key Skills results in Wales have continued to show consistent and substantial growth each year. 85,294 Key Skills qualifications were awarded in Wales between October 2004 and September 2005; this is an increase from 30,786 awards in 2003/04. []

Key Skills are included within the Learning Core of the 14-19 Learning Pathways in Wales. The Learning Core states that all 14-16 year olds in Wales are expected to develop all 6 Key Skills (or follow appropriate entry/pre-entry level programmes for learners working below level 1 in the National Qualifications Framework) at the level appropriate to the learner. Post age 16, students should accredit communication plus a minimum of 2 other Key Skills (or appropriate entry/pre-entry programmes).

Key Skills are one of the four Core components of the Welsh Baccalaureate Qualification. The other three components (Wales, Europe and the World, Personal and Social Education and Work-related Education) also offer opportunities to develop and integrate Key Skills in relevant and purposeful contexts. Students are expected to study all 6 Key Skills while achievement varies depending on the level of the Welsh Baccalaureate.
* Advanced Level: Three key skills at level 3, one of which must be from the first three key skills together with the other three key skills at level 2
* Intermediate Level: Four key skills, two at level 2 and two at level 1, including the first three i.e. Communication, Application of Number and ICT. There must be evidence of having pursued all six key skills.
* Foundation Level: Four key skills at level 1 (including one of the main key skills) with evidence of working towards all six. Post-16 learners may follow Adult Basic Skills in numeracy and literary, if required instead of the key skills of Application of Number and Communication.

Assessment of Key Skills in Wales is based on the same standards as in England and N Ireland but is based solely through a portfolio of evidence. External tests discontinued in 2003. Research into the impact of this change found that the discontinuation of tests made a significant contribution to an overall improvement in the attitudes and motivation of learners, teachers and trainers, to engagement and to a substantial increase in numbers achieving the Key Skills qualifications. [] Proxies (except for ICT) do not apply in Wales.

Wales is currently developing a set of converged basic and key skills for literacy/communication, numeracy/application of number and basic and key ICT skills. This will result in a single set of skills based qualifications from Entry Level 1 to Level 4 covering basic and key skills including the wider key skills. These new converged standards are scheduled for implementation in 2010.


Scotland has a separate Core Skills qualification. One of the main aims of Higher Still qualifications in Scotland is to develop the capabilities people need to be responsible members of society. All students at all levels must obtain qualifications in all five Core Skills if they wish to obtain a Scottish Group Award. The Core skills enable people to put their knowledge and understanding into action.

The Five Core Skills:

Communication: Oral and Written Communication

Numeracy: Using Graphical Information, Using Number

Information Technology: Using Information Technology

Problem Solving: Critical Thinking, Planning and Organising, Reviewing and Evaluating

Working With Others: Working With Others

See also

* Welsh Baccalaureate
* Victorian Certificate of Applied Learning

External links

* [ Key Skills Support Programme (England)] The Key Skills Support Programme (KSSP) provides teaching and learning, organisation, and support for key skills and increasingly Skills for Life. From this page you can link to the KSSP websites for schools and colleges and the work based sector.
* [,en/ Key Skills Support Programme in Wales] . DCELLS-Dysg provides awareness raising, professional development, delivery models and activities as well as resources to support the implementation of Key Skills programmes in 14-19 education in Schools, FE Colleges and Work Based Learning
* [ Scotland Core Skills] . Resources for Core Skills are presented in an online interactive format, as downloadable flexible learning materials and as a content package for use in a college virtual learning environment.
* [ Key Skills4U] . A key skills training web-site designed for students to test, learn and practice their Communication, Application of Number and ICT Key Skills at Level 1 and 2. Includes two simulation games: "Symtel" and "The Serpent's Curse"
* [ BBC Key Skills] Student site for information about key skills. Includes activities for all six key skills. Includes interactive quizzes and Island Quest game to practice wider key skills, information for tutors, video clips and extra information. You can also link to the skillswise basic skills site from this page
* [ BBC Raise Your Game] A sports site on BBC Wales that promotes Key Skills by stealth using Sports themes and celebrities
* [ DfES: Key Skills] . Basic information about Key Skills including what are key skills, FAQs and links
* [ Directgov: Key Skills qualifications]
* [ Edexcel: Key Skills]
* [ schoolzone: What are key skills all about?]
* [ Skills Links: A growing directory of key skills resources]

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