Embedding maths, English and digital skills

This page covers:

  • What is embedding all about?

  • Support for maths, English and digital skills

  • Terminology

  • Opportunities to embed skills 

  • Wider skills

  • Useful weblinks with free courses and/or resources

  • Useful videos

What is embedding all about?

If you are a teacher or a trainer, there will be opportunities to help improve the maths, English and digital skills of your learners at some point during their learning programme. Ways to do this include embedding the skills as part of your specialist subject, rather than treating them as separate subjects. You might need to update your own skills and knowledge in these areas first. There are some useful weblinks at the end of this page.

The skills have many names, one of which is Functional Skills. You can find out more about the reform programme here

Support for maths, English and digital skills

  • Reading lists for maths and English can be found by clicking here.

  • Reading lists for e-learning and digital skills can be found by clicking here.

  • Resources to support teachers and learners can be found by clicking here.

  • Support and courses for teachers of these subjects can be found by clicking here.

  • Videos for teachers and trainers can be seen by clicking here.

  • An online module regarding embedding is available Ref T/15.

  • Click on the ETF icons below for more information and online courses.

The following text is adapted from the book in the picture.

Click the icons above for free courses and information from the Education and Training Foundation.


Terms have changed over the years and the titles might be different depending whether you teach in England, Scotland, Wales, NI or elsewhere. For example: Basic Skills, Skills for Life, Core Skills, Key Skills, Essential Skills and Functional Skills. 

There is also the Minimum Core Skills of literacy, language, numeracy and Information Computing Technology (ICT) which are included in the teacher training qualifications. The Functional Skills of maths, English and ICT are often embedded in learning programmes and apprenticeships, and are available as stand-alone qualifications for adult learners. Whatever term is used, the purpose is the same, to enable people to function confidently, effectively and independently in life and at work.

ICT is also referred to as computer science or digital skills.

You don't need to be highly qualified in maths, English and digital skills, but you need to know enough to make it relevant to the subject you are teaching. For example, maths doesn’t have to be about using complex equations, it can be about using numerical skills. For example, planning a household budget, working out the cost of items on a shopping list, calculating the amount of paint needed to decorate a room, or comparing gas and electricity prices.

However, you might feel your own skills need improving; therefore, you could partake in further training yourself. There are some free online courses you could access which are listed at the end of this page. If you are not competent, you will not set a good example to your learners. If you spell words wrongly in a handout, have difficulty making calculations or can’t use a computer, your learners may lose confidence in you.

Opportunities to embed skills

These will often occur naturally, for example:

Teaching cooking skills:

English – reading recipes, researching and reading healthy eating magazines and books, planning a menu and writing a list of ingredients, discussing recipes, talking, listening and asking questions.

Maths – calculating weights and costs of ingredients, measuring amounts, estimating calorific values; cooking times and temperatures.

Digital skills – using a word processor to create a menu, researching relevant websites, e-mailing other learners, creating and giving presentations using an electronic whiteboard, creating a podcast, making videos, taking photos of finished products and uploading them to a virtual learning environment, website, app or electronic portfolio.

Teaching plumbing skills:

English - talking to customers and suppliers, reading product manuals and writing lists of materials.

Maths - measuring pipes, calculating the amount of materials to use, working out prices, VAT, materials and labour costs to create estimates and invoices.

Digital skills - researching materials via the internet, e-mailing suppliers, word-processing invoices, using a spreadsheet for products and prices, creating a website and taking digital photos before, during and after jobs, and maintaining an electronic diary.

When embedding these skills during sessions, you will need to ensure they are realistic and relevant to enable your learners to engage with real situations in their subject area. 

Theoretical subjects might be more difficult to do than practical subjects, particularly regarding embedding maths' skills.

You will need to be imaginative, and perhaps ask your learners how they feel the skills could be used within their subject.

You could make deliberate spelling, grammar and punctuation errors when using handouts and presentation software for your learners to spot. However, you will need to make sure they are not distracted from the topic by just looking for the deliberate mistakes.

When assessing a learner's written work, rather than point out an error they have made with a particular word, point out the sentence and ask them to find it for themselves. If they can't find it, ask them to discuss the sentence with another learner to see if they can work it out.

During sessions, you need to be careful that learners are using technology appropriately, i.e. by not accessing unsuitable websites or checking e-mails and social media. 

Agreeing ground rules should help. If you don’t have access to computers in the learning environment, you could ask your learners to bring their own devices e.g. laptops, tablets, smartphones and e-readers. This is known as BYOD – bring your own device

The FELTAG report (pictured) Paths forward to a digital future for Further Education and Skills (2014), recommends an increase in the use of technology, and for students to take responsibility for their own learning.

A report from the Edge Foundation can be accessed here regarding integrating digital technologies in further education.

You can find out more about using technology here.

You could encourage your learners to carry out activities in their own time to help improve their skills. 

There might be free courses in your area or via the internet that they could take. You could give your learners an activity to carry out, either individually or in groups. 

For example, they could produce a short presentation regarding a relevant topic, a blog, a wiki, a podcast or a video, and then present this during the next session. 

This could involve English with communication skills, maths with working out how long certain activities will take, and digital skills with the use of technology.

This video regarding embedding skills was produced by the National Centre of Literacy and Numeracy for Adults.

Wider skills

Wider skills is the term used for the skills which are associated with education, employment and life in general. They are skills which can be transferred to different situations and contexts to help a learner progress further. They are often referred to as transferable skills.

Depending upon where you work, it might be a requirement for you to incorporate aspects of the wider skills during your sessions or as separate topics. Alternatively, there might be specialist staff who will support your learners with the skills.

The wider skills include:

  • Working with Others which focuses on teamwork, planning, organising and carrying out work with other people.

  • Improving Own Learning and Performance which focuses on recognising the skills of being an effective learner and the importance of reflection.

  • Problem Solving which focuses on the skills of recognising problems and identifying, evaluating and seeing through possible solutions.

These skills might occur naturally during activities with your learners, however, sometimes they need to be taught. For example, if a learner prefers to work on their own, it might be because they are not used to communicating and working with others as part of a team.

Additional wider skills are known as personal learning and thinking skills (PLTS). They are skills that, together with the functional skills of English, maths and ICT are essential to success in learning, life and work.

The six areas of PLTS are:

  • Independent enquirers: planning and carrying out investigations and taking informed decisions.

  • Creative thinkers: generating ideas, tackling problems and finding imaginative solutions.

  • Reflective learners: setting goals for learning and work, monitoring performance and reviewing progress.

  • Team workers: working collaboratively with other people, taking responsibility and resolving issues.

  • Self-managers: being organised, showing enterprise and responding to new challenges.

  • Effective participators: playing a full part in studies and the workplace or the wider community.

There are also employability skills which are the skills that make someone employable, for example: attitudes and behaviours, communication, reliability, trustworthiness and honesty.

Useful videos

The following video is by the Education and Training Foundation regarding the support they can offer regarding maths and English.

The following video is by English Jade and is really helpful for anyone struggling with the use of the apostrophe. 

  • Reading lists for maths and English can be found by clicking here.
  • Reading lists for e-learning and digital skills can be found by clicking here.
  • Resources to support teachers and learners can be found by clicking here.
  • Support and courses for teachers of these subjects can be found by clicking here.
  • Videos for teachers and trainers can be seen by clicking here.
  • An online module regarding embedding can be found by clicking here Ref T/15.

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