Information for parents: Foundation learning

Foundation learningFoundation learning is a programme to help students in the 14 to 19 age group progress from entry level or level 1 courses onto other courses, apprenticeships or jobs. It can also help them to build the skills they need to live independently away from home.

Foundation learning in a nutshell

  • Programme designed to help young people move on to an apprenticeship, college course or employment
  • Designed to suit individual needs so students can progress and achieve
  • Made up of a package of qualifications – including vocational subjects like bricklaying or childcare and personal and social development
  • Includes the opportunity to gain English, maths and IT qualifications
  • Awards certificates for all the qualifications young people gain on the programme
  • Includes lots of support and advice before and during the programme


What is Foundation learning?

Foundation learning is a programme to help students in the 14 to 19 age group progress from entry level or level 1 courses onto other courses, apprenticeships or jobs. It can also help them to build the skills they need to live independently away from home.

A Foundation learner could be a school or college student between the ages of 14 and 19 or an adult. Foundation learning is designed to help learners progress to level 2 where this is appropriate. Foundation learners have special educational needs in the form of a learning disability which can range from moderate to severe.

The programme is personalised which means it is put together to match the needs of each learner. Personalised learning programmes are created by putting together a tailor-made package of qualifications.

Functional skills

All 14 to19-year-old learners will undertake all three functional skills (English, maths and IT) except for a minority of learners with special education needs or learning difficulties and/or disabilities working at the lower end of entry level 1, for whom alternative provision may be more appropriate.

Personalised foundation learning programmes may be offered alongside other provision. For example, a learner’s overall programme might include additional and specialist learning to support progression on to a diploma or GCSEs.

So, if they were studying GCSE art and design but needed extra help with their maths, they could take a level 1 award in functional skills in mathematics as part of their foundation learning programme.

Programmes are put together to suit the student’s needs and the way they prefer to learn, based on things like:

  • their skills and abilities
  • the subjects they are interested in
  • their future career plans


Programmes can include lots of different ways of learning, for example:

  • one-to-one tuition and small classes
  • group activities and discussions
  • work-based learning with employers
  • volunteering
  • social and sports activities
  • online learning
  • projects


What could my child study?

There are lots of different things one can study on a foundation learning programme. They are based around three main areas of learning:

Vocational or subject understanding covers the skills and experience they will need for a particular area of work or to study a subject at a higher level.

Functional skills in English, maths and IT are the everyday skills they will need for any type of course or job. These are sometimes called key skills.

Personal and social development includes skills like working with other people, timekeeping and communication, as well as activities like sports, art or drama.

There are lots of different subjects they could choose to study, including childcare, construction, cookery, creative arts, hair and beauty and motor vehicle studies.

They can also do general qualifications that can prepare them for work or study, like English, maths, health and safety or skills for working life.

The subjects available will depend on what is offered by the school, college or work-based learning provider they choose.

What qualifications could they get?

On a foundation learning programme they will have a chance to gain qualifications starting at entry level and going up to level 1 (equivalent to GCSEs at grades D-G).

What could foundation learning lead to?

When they start their programme, they and their tutor will agree what they want to achieve when they finish. For example, they may want go on to a particular course at college, or work towards a level 2 qualification.

Depending on the qualifications they achieve on their foundation learning programme, they may be able to progress to:

  • a further education course – for example a level 1 or level 2 course like a BTEC award or GCSEs. This may eventually lead on to level 3 courses like A-levels, or even higher level courses
  • an apprenticeship – on completing foundation learning, they may be able to start a pre-apprenticeship programme called a traineeship which would prepare them to move on to an apprenticeship.


What is a Traineeship?

Traineeships are for young people who do not have a job and who need to gain experience in the work place. They are a new unpaid work experience programme for young people who need extra help before moving on to an apprenticeship or employment. Traineeships are aimed at young people aged 16-24 with limited exam results who have the potential (given the right support) to succeed in an apprenticeship.

They last anything from six weeks to a maximum of six months with the content tailored to the needs of the individual trainee.

The main elements of a traineeship are work preparation training, English and maths for those who need it, and a high quality work experience placement with the aim of giving young people the skills and experience that employers are looking for.

What are the benefits of a traineeship?

  • Involvement in the programme will put the young person in a better position to compete for an apprenticeship or other job
  • Basic work preparation training ensures they are ready and have the confidence to take the first step in their career
  • The opportunity to build their CV and get vital work experience which provides insight and experience of the world of work
  • Improving their English and maths skills will boost their chances of getting a job and improve their long term career prospects
  • Employers are at the centre of traineeships to ensure trainees gain the skills they need to secure a job and succeed in it
  • At the end of the work experience placement trainees get a job interview with the company if a role becomes available or a reference and exit interview


Are trainees paid?

Work experience placements are unpaid but employers are encouraged to support expenses such as transport and meals and depending on their circumstances the trainee may be able to access financial support from their training provider through the 16-19 Bursary Fund or the 19+ Discretionary Learner Support Fund. Trainees continue to receive child benefit and all training costs are funded by the Government.

Is a traineeship right for my child?

Traineeships are an ideal opportunity for young people who are motivated to get a job but who lack the skills and experience that employers are looking for. If they have been unsuccessfully applying for apprenticeships due to a lack of skills and experience then they might be a good candidate for a traineeship.

Your child could be suitable for a traineeship if they:

  • are unemployed (or work less than 16 hours per week) and have little work experience
  • are motivated to work
  • are aged 16 – 18 inclusive and are qualified below level 3 OR are aged 19 – 23 and are qualified below level 2


A traineeship is probably not right for your child if they:

  • already have the skills and experience needed to find an apprenticeship or work
  • are aged 24 plus
  • are already in a job


More on traineeships

  • Traineeships in your local area are advertised on the national Find a Traineeship website
  • Encourage your child to talk to a careers adviser
  • Contact your local college or training provider to see if they are offering traineeships
  • If your child is  in receipt of benefits they should speak to their Jobcentre Plus adviser


How to apply for foundation learning

Foundation learning courses are on offer at schools, colleges and with work-based learning providers. To find out which courses are available locally, use this search tool or search the UCAS Progress courses database or just get in touch with local further education and training providers and ask what they have available. You can also contact your local careers service office. If you don’t know how to do this then ask at your local library or council office. They will be more than happy to help.

Many colleges have a special course information phone number staffed by people who know all about the various courses on offer.

Some learning providers have regular open days, where you can find out more about programmes and meet tutors. Phone the provider or check their website to see if there are any open days coming up.

Chris Speedy is a Careers Adviser with more than 30 years’ experience. This article is from his website Careers Advice for Parents.

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