The paradox of BKSB assessments and functional skills: the experiences of ‘disengaged’ youth on an employability course in a further education college

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Self-governance and responsibilisation are integral to Basic Key Skills Builder (BKSB) assessments and Functional Skills qualifications. However, very little is known of its neoliberalist effects and the governance practices of tutors teaching disengaged youth taking Functional Skills as part of the overall employability certificate. Adopting a case study approach within a large further education (FE) college, qualitative research was conducted over two academic years (2013–2015) with tutors and students enrolled on the Level 1 Achieving Skills Course, an employability course designed as a Raising of Participation Age (RPA) re-engagement provision to engage former NEET and disengaged youth in FE. Drawing on Foucault’s theory of governmentality for analysis, key empirical findings revealed chaos, controversy and contradictions inasmuch as exposing the problematic ways in which course tutors implemented BKSB assessments and Functional Skills. Evidently, BKSB and Functional Skills operated as powerful, governance mechanisms of management ordering students according to their capabilities whilst simultaneously bringing students face-to-face with their individual shortcomings. The paper concludes that although in principle the participants were positioned in a setting which could ideally offer them a through-way from pre-vocational studies to university or apprenticeships, in actual reality this opportunity was not granted for many participants. This was exacerbated by the fact that this qualification held lowered academic status. It is on this basis that I argue for a revamp and restructure of the educational framework so that it integrates and position pre-vocational courses as the first formal rung of qualifications.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1411-1423
Number of pages13
JournalJournal of Further and Higher Education
Issue number10
Early online date29 Jun 2021
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2021


  • Functional skills
  • BKSB
  • further education
  • disengaged youth
  • neoliberalism
  • employability

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