Future Proofing ESOL

London is a diverse city where 1 in 3 people who live and work there were born outside of the UK and more than half of workers speak English as a second language. In total over 300 languages are spoken in London. With this in mind we held our Future Proofing ESOL Conference, at London’s City Hall, to celebrate the fantastic achievements of the FE sector in providing so many people with English Language skills to integrate and succeed in the UK, and to look ahead to the future of ESOL.

Below are key things we learnt at City Hall…

It takes 1765 hours to learn the English Language

Dr Philida Schellekens reflected on how ESOL provision is designed around the learners’ capabilities and how well it meets the needs of learners, allowing them to progress into a career and achieve what they need to achieve in order to live a high quality life in the UK. The teacher trainer and researcher commented on how the quality of ESOL teaching and learning has improved, with a much better focus on opportunities for learners to use the language, feedback on language use and a focus on more advanced learners in lessons. She stated: “the country depends on achievement. We need to set targets for learners through productive feedback, to ensure learners can see where they need to improve and act on it in order to achieve and build skills.”

Future Proofing ESOL

Another focus of discussion was the new Education Inspection Framework and how there must now be a clear emphasis on progression routes. Under the new framework, centres need to prove that their programmes do more than just give learners a qualification. Programmes need to develop personal and social skills as well as have a clear line of sight to jobs and/ or meaningful study.

All the speakers at the Conference were in agreement that language skills are vital for well-being and people who don’t have a strong proficiency in English are more likely to be socially isolated and their risk of poverty is much higher.

Another aspect of ensuring meaningful study and personal development in ESOL classrooms is taking into consideration the number of hours it takes to learn the English language as well as the varied backgrounds and skill base of ESOL learners. In 2018 research by OECD found that the proportion of graduate migrants increased by 20% between 2007 and 2017. With this in mind Philida emphasised the importance of ensuring ESOL programmes provide these people with the language skills needed to conduct their skilled jobs in a second language.

Review of Initial Assessment

A key area of debate throughout the Conference was the initial assessment of ESOL learners and the challenge of having a flexible curriculum design that allows learners to be placed at a level that is not too high or low for their individual ability. Dr Philida Schellekens suggested that there is a need to review the initial assessment to ensure it reflects the alignment between new arrivals and their skills, as well as the level at which the learner wants to function in society and work.

The old Functional Skills didn’t support ESOL Learners

The talk then turned to Functional Skills and how the old standards assumed that learners could understand and use English fluently, and the lack of support available to learners with other language backgrounds in Functional Skills classes, ultimately meaning that many of these learners dropped out. This September saw the beginning of the newly reformed Functional Skills qualifications being taught in FE classrooms, with a larger focus on the knowledge and skills that learners need to achieve. Time will tell if these qualifications will better support learners with other language backgrounds and help them to develop an understanding of and use the language systems needed to achieve the Functional Skills qualifications.

Invest in Good Quality Evening Schools

With other 50% of workers in London having English as a second language, Member of Parliament for Tottenham David Lammy spoke on the need to have an economy where people have the opportunity to enhance their English Language skills alongside their jobs and personal lives.  He stated: “We don’t need more grammar schools, we need to invest in good quality evening schools, allowing people to access the economy and jobs whilst learning English. We need teachers who empower and stand behind people when trying to forge a life.”

He touched on how a lot of what we have is built by migrants and emphasised the benefits of creating opportunities for people to become fully integrated in society. This will not only improve their quality of life and prospects, but also allow us as a country to make the most of their skills.

Future Proofing ESOL

The MP commented how language is an enabler for integration and personal well-being, defining integration as “when people live, work and socialise together with shared rights and an equal stake in society.”  

Building a Life in a Foreign Country – A Comic’s Perspective

Shappi Khorsandi, comedian and author of ‘A Beginner’s Guide to Acting English’ brought a light-hearted touch to the Conference in which she reflected on her childhood memories of growing up in a foreign country.

Shappi told the story of how her family were forced to flee Iran and gain asylum in the UK, and how her father’s popularity as a satirist attacking the regime ensured they could not return to Iran. As Shappi said: “obviously there’s free speech in Iran, but little freedom after you’ve spoken.” In her words being young and growing up seems hard enough, but when you’ve been shipped to a new country, away from all your beloved aunts and uncles, where you can’t understand anyone it’s even harder.

Shappi’s witty reflection on her childhood experiences further cemented the importance of ESOL and supporting those with little or no English language to integrate and build a life in the UK.

The Future is Bright for ESOL

Closing the Conference was the Deputy Mayor for Social Integration Dr Debbie Weekes-Bernard who spoke on what City Hall is doing to help the sector and the bright future for ESOL. A priority for City Hall is creating diverse cities and finding news ways for people who are currently unable to access courses to develop their English Language skills through their ESOL Plus Pilots with employers and childcare providers.

A new initiative that began this Autumn is providing free English lessons to people who earn below the London’s living wage. This will hopefully bring 40,000 individuals into the sector and give them the opportunity to develop their language skills to progress out of their low paid jobs if they feel trapped.  On top of this there are new initiatives in place for employers who support employees in developing their English skills. Also discussed were opportunities for centres to work with Local Enterprise Partnerships to further engage employers with ESOL.

Future Proofing ESOL

Furthermore, there is now full Government backing for a National Strategy for ESOL to ensure we have proper oversight to support speakers of another language.

Dr Debbie Weekes-Bernard concluded by saying: “In a city like London which is so multi-cultural and so diverse the demand for ESOL is so incredibly high and will continue to be so. The demand not only reflects the individuals who live and work in the city but also reflects the positive contribution that the sector makes in enabling individuals to feel a better part of their communities.”

We would like to thank the speakers Dr Philida Schellekens, David Lammy MP, Shappi Khorsandi, Dr Debbie Weekes-Bernard and everyone who attended for making it a fantastic day for ESOL. To watch our highlight video click here.

We offer the following range of qualifications designed to improve English Language skills and aid progression routes:

Future Proofing ESOL
Future Proofing ESOL
Future Proofing ESOL
Future Proofing ESOL
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