How to create a ‘fast track’ L2 FS English curriculum model, with positive impact on attendance and achievement rates

North Lincolnshire Council Adult Education and Community Learning

This project allowed our service to evaluate and revise the way that we design and deliver our English Functional Skills, Level 2 curriculum. We are now able to successfully provide a condensed, intensive, and fast track English curriculum for individual learners who can complete the full Level 2 qualification in a total of 17 weeks.

You can download a PDF of this report on the Excellence Gateway (link pending).


Before starting this project, the Senior Lead Tutor had conducted research into how other adult education and community learning (AECL) providers deliver ‘Fast Track’ English courses. Historically, North Lincolnshire Council AECL has only provided a very traditional approach to delivering Functional Skills (FS) English at Level 1 and Level 2, in the form of a programme running from September to July, with learners completing all exams and assessments at the end of the academic year. Increasingly, tutors within the English department were finding that more academically able Level 2 learners were being ‘held back’ by this delivery model. Similarly, tutors were becoming increasingly concerned about allowing learners onto courses towards the end of the academic year when the course had been running since September.

A university centre opened in Scunthorpe in September 2018 and over the past 2-3 years there has been an increase in the aspirations of the local area, as adults can now progress without having to travel further afield, fitting in with work and family life. After IAG with the university, learners are being referred to AECL, as entry requirements include Level 2 FS English. This often occurs later in the academic year, so we recognised the need to revise the programme to enable learners to achieve their English qualifications by the University’s September intake.

In addition, the pandemic has prompted a lot of self-evaluation for people who have reflected on their personal and work lives, and now want to develop themselves. However, many jobs and qualifications have a minimum requirement of Level 2 FS English. As a result, some adults have been frustrated and do not want to wait a full year to gain a qualification, which is ‘just’ a steppingstone to their future goal. An example of this is from one of our September 2021 intake,

“I’ve been in aviation for 30 years but my passion is the ambulance service. I applied for the Yorkshire ambulance service, got through all testing but was denied the post due to education history and no English GCSE.”


Examples from learners who started the qualification in February 2022 and needed the English qualification before September include:

“I want to go back to college in September to do Level 3 in Engineering. I need this qualification before September.” (Jake)

“I need to achieve a higher English grade so that I can progress to University in September.” (Natalie)

“I already work as a social worker but need the Level 2 FS English qualification to secure my job in the sector. I need the qualification quickly as I am also going to University in September.” (Shandel)

The focus of this research project has been to investigate and evaluate whether NLCACL can successfully deliver a condensed version of the English Functional Skills curriculum, to allow specific learners to progress quickly onto their chosen next steps and meet their personal goals and aspirations.

Other Contextual Information

Our action research was part of the Education and Training Foundation’s OTLA 8 Programme, the action research taking place in the English department of our Adult Education section. We worked with two different cohorts of Level 2 learners to explore and evaluate the success of a 13-week, ‘Fast Track’ English Functional Skills curriculum. Because of the intensive nature of the programme and the time commitments expected of learners during the course, the first cohort of learners was selected by academic ability assessed through initial and diagnostic assessment.

On reflection, we identified that we needed to take a more holistic approach to the selection process and consider the learners’ motivation, time factors, commitments, IT skills and ability to learn independently. This was recognised when learners expected the tutor to be available at all hours. As part of our destination collection, one learner gave feedback

“You should have someone on hand throughout the week. As it is a fast track course it would be better to have someone available full time in case we have any questions.”


Networking with other AECL providers to research current methods of ‘Fast Track’ delivery:

  • Senior Lead Tutor set up networking meeting with seven other AECL providers, prior to undertaking project.
  • Research undertaken to investigate the varying ‘Fast Track’ models and to evaluate the most suitable.

Recruit learners for new course:

  • Create promotional material regarding new course type (see Appendix 2)

Ensure learners are appropriate candidates:

  • More robust initial and diagnostic assessment used
  • Step 1: ‘in house’ initial assessment to gauge rough level and assess personal commitment and motivations
  • Step 2: attend ‘Preparation for Online Learning’ workshop and complete more detailed and level specific ‘My Dynamic Learning’ initial assessment which generates percentage score.
  • Step 3: complete ‘My Dynamic Learning’ diagnostic assessment to identify existing knowledge and skills gaps (appendix 3)
  • Step 4: if learners score above 80% in initial assessment, then offer place on Fast Track course.
  • Step 5: Reflection and evaluation of the programme after the first cohort
  • Step 6: Revise the initial assessment process to include a more holistic approach

Decide on timings/ structure of course:

  • Previous networking revealed that the average length of a ‘Fast Track’ course was 13 weeks.
  • Decision to start with the reading unit first, as this knowledge needed to be secure before starting the next units. Six weeks were spent on this with a mock exam paper used as a summative assessment.
  • Speaking and listening was delivered second, for a total of two weeks including the assessment. This was because the tutor decided to run the assessments during the half-term break in October. Doing it this way allowed the learners to apply their reading skills orally before moving on to the writing unit.
  • Writing was delivered last, with a delivery time of 5 weeks. This was the final component of the course as the learners had to thoroughly understand and evaluate the varying reading techniques and skills, before beginning to apply them within their own writing.

Review and plan delivery of curriculum:

  • Originally, the speaking and listening component was due be delivered after the completion and achievement of the reading unit. However, this was brought forward into the middle of the reading unit, as learners felt confident completing this sooner.
  • Data collected from initial and diagnostic assessments was analysed to make informed decisions about how long to spend on each topic and which method of delivery was going to be used. This has now been evaluated and revised to include more holistic information. For the second cohort we have taken into consideration the learners’ overall commitment and motivation for completing the course in a short timeframe, as this will have an impact on their success.

Plan contingency for exam failures:

  • If learners failed exams, plans were put into place to provide a one-to-one tutorial-style delivery to provide personalised support in their areas for development.

Outcomes and Impact

As a result of the action research project for cohort 1:

  • 5 learners enrolled on the course
  • 100% of learners who took their exams passed (4 out of 5).
  • All learners passed the speaking and listening unit.
  • All learners passed the reading unit
  • 4 out of 5 passed the writing unit
  • 1 learner didn’t take the writing exam due to extenuating personal circumstances

Cohort 2 started in February 2022:

  • 7 learners enrolled on the course
  • All learners have passed the speaking and listening unit
  • All learners are making good progress and will take the reading exam on 26 May 2022 and have passed 2 practice papers
  • The writing exam is due to be completed by the end of June 2022

Although the intensity and length of the course cannot be directly linked to the success of the learners, they are now able to apply for their university courses and sustain employment and progress towards their goals and aspirations as a direct result of the Fast Track delivery model. For example, one of learners gave the following feedback:

“Completing the course has helped me gain the level of qualification that was required for the job that I want to do.”


Feedback from the tutor indicated that, due to learners’ personal and work commitments, the intensity of the course has meant that they retained knowledge and addressed misconceptions more effectively. Learners have given feedback, in their tutorials, that they would have struggled with this over a longer 36-week period.

This project has allowed our service to provide a more challenging, intensive and personalised programme to a specific group of learners which has never been done before, carefully considering and heavily weighting personal motivation and commitment to the course.

It has allowed both tutors and senior management to review the current delivery model to ensure that it is appropriate, challenging, and timely for learners to complete the relevant qualification. By completing this project, tutors have been able to review and evaluate the structure and sequencing of the Level 2 curriculum to ensure that no learner is held back in their progress towards achieving the qualification due to time constraints, e.g. waiting until the end of the academic year. Due to the success of the project, tutors are now discussing whether this delivery model can be replicated for level one English learners and also maths learners.

Teaching, Learning and Assessment

As a result of undertaking this project, teaching, learning and assessment has been heavily reviewed. Historically, a Functional Skills level 2 course at North Lincolnshire AECL has been delivered over an average of 36 weeks in the academic year. The tutor delivering this new ‘Fast Track’ course has had to meticulously reflect upon, review and evaluate the structure and sequencing of the curriculum and teaching activities to ensure that it can be effectively condensed in to 13 weeks, carefully planning and scheduling assessments and relevant exams. As part of this process, the course delivery model will be extended to 17 weeks in the Autumn Term 2022. This will allow for more tutorial time, in response to learners’ feedback, such as:

“One to one tutorials were very helpful and more of these would be useful in the future.”


Furthermore, the tutor has reflected that speaking and listening assessments needed more tutor-led input to strengthen these skills for learners to be more competent. Another key factor that has led to lengthening the fast-track model is because the first cohort were required to attend their assessments out of term time, which caused issues for some learners around childcare, and tutor workload.

Due to such an intensive programme, teaching, learning and assessment has become more rapidly responsive to learners’ gaps in knowledge and emerging needs (see Appendix 3.1). This was to ensure that misconceptions or misunderstandings can be swiftly dealt with and support mechanisms put into place effectively by the tutor in a very short time frame. The data collected at the initial and diagnostic assessment processes was key when prioritising certain learning outcomes and skills areas. It was appropriate for some learning outcomes to be omitted from face-to-face teaching activities and substituted with online learning using our chosen platform: learners had already shown strong skills within these areas, only needing a knowledge recap on their understanding. Using this platform allowed the tutor to provided differentiated resources according to learners’ abilities. After further reflection from the tutor, a new self-study area will be added to Google Classroom. This will provide learners with a wider range of learning resources for each topic that will lead to more opportunities for independent study, for example, You Tube links, websites, example banks, bite-size tutor instructional videos etc.

In addition to the above, tutors are currently working on creating a discussion board for each topic to promote learners to discuss their dilemmas with peers. The expected impact of this will be to enable learners to seek peer as well as tutor support. This will also help develop study skills to support their future progress and personal goals.

Similarly, the tutor had to carefully plan and appropriately schedule key assessments to ensure that learners’ understanding, knowledge and long-term retention was evident, throughout the three main components. The completion of such assessments allowed the tutor to tailor and adapt her teaching activities accordingly, to ensure learners were fully prepared and ready to complete their exams. It was crucial that the tutor knew her learners and their abilities well so that she could support and challenge each learner individually. Additional time was given to the tutor delivering this course to ensure that all learner work could be marked promptly and teaching activities adapted within a very small time frame, as at least double the amount of topics and learning outcomes were delivered each week compared to a ‘normal’ Functional Skills Level 2 course.

Organisational Development

Working practices were developed within the English subject area due to the large-scale review and evaluation of the curriculum that was undertaken. Regular meetings were crucial to review and evaluate the progression of learners and to problem-solve any arising issues promptly. As a result, the project lead had a close oversight of how the project and the learners were progressing. Learners were heavily involved in ongoing course evaluation as the tutor regularly collated learner voice to evaluate the delivery of the course. Learners knew that they were the first cohort of Fast Track learners and, therefore, an open and reflective culture was created by the tutor to encourage their reliable and valid feedback.

Learning from this project

Our main learning point has been that we, as a service, are able to provide a successful offer to a particular group of learners. Previously, a very traditional approach was taken towards delivering Functional Skills English. However, we now have confidence in our ability to provide a differentiated offer, more responsive to the needs of our learners.

After evaluating the availability of a second cohort for the project, it became evident that six out of seven learners could attend as one group on an evening. The seventh learner, who was of very high ability, has a young child and could only attend in the day. For this reason, we chose to create a more holistic approach. We are now delivering one fast-track class in an evening, and a tutorial-based session during the daytime for the other learner. This tutorial-based method of delivery will facilitate a flexible roll-on, roll-off programme.

(For further learning and reflection on adaptations in teaching and learning approaches, and marketing see Appendix 7)

Professional Development

Using the ETF’s Professional Standards for teachers and trainers. Please note, this report refers to the 2014-2022 standards.

  • 15. Promote the benefits of technology and support learners in its use.

    Both learners and tutor have relied heavily on the online learning platform to support activities. An informed decision was made by the tutor to omit some topics from face-to-face teaching and substitute these with the online learning platform which has played a large role in progression and achievement. However, feedback from learners has led to further evaluation and therefore tutors are exploring other online options to support self-study.

  • 17. Enable learners to share responsibility for their own learning and assessment, setting goals that stretch and challenge.

    More emphasis has been placed on learner’s personal motivation, commitment, and responsibility for their own learning. A proactive culture has been created whereby learners have taken this responsibility very seriously to ensure that they are progressing well towards achievement.

  • 18. Apply appropriate and fair methods of assessment and provide constructive and timely feedback to support progression and achievement.

    Our project has allowed us to review and evaluate the most appropriate and fair methods of assessment for such an intensive course. The tutor has had to provide timely and highly effective feedback to support learner progression and achievement due to the shorter, more intense timescale of the course.