From education to employment

Provision of Language Training “Beset by Enormous Problems” Says NIACE

One of the troubles faced by individuals when trying to integrate into a new society has traditionally been the barrier of language. Programmes that seek to break down these barriers are vitally important in the modern world.

The interim findings of a new report, however, will have provided alarming reading for interested parties as it seems that the provision of English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) courses remains beset with problems, including a lack of trained full time teachers for a programme that is seeing a steady increase in demand.

Demand, then Supply?

The inquiry, entitled “More Than A Language”¦”, is being led by the National Institute for Adult Continuing Education (NIACE) and is being partially funded by the European Social Fun (ESF). The early findings indicate that there has been a steady rise in demand for ESOL classes, with student numbers rising by 65% in just two years. As the training arrangements have yet to meet demand, the waiting lists for classes continue to grow. This has been a common problem for London for a number of years, and appears to be spreading throughout the country as well.

The sector also comes in for criticism in terms of the general level of quality. The report indicates that, although there are some isolated instances of good practice within ESOL provision, the quality picture on a national scale is patchy at best. The largest area for an increase for ESOL demand is amongst migrant workers from the new EU member states in Eastern Europe. However, they make up only 6.1 % of the 500,000 ESOL learners currently in the system. With the demand rising still further, the costs will continue to escalate.

The inquiry has observed that ESOL is more than just a basic skill, and one of the early recommendations from the board is that the funding provision be carefully considered in the forthcoming Spending Review. A further recommendation is for the Department for Education and Skills (DfES) to reassess the position of ESOL within their “Skills for Life” Strategy. A fair use of the public funds available is needed to meet the demands not only of the low skilled but also to attract the skilled migrant labour that the gaps in the workforce demand.

Key to the Future?

Speaking at the launch of the report, Derek Gover, the Chair of the Inquiry, said: “More than a language”¦” argues that ESOL is a key issue for educational, social and economic policy. It identifies the main issues which we believe need to be tackled to improve the provision made for learners and suggests possible ways forward. It is not our intention, at this point, to offer definitive recommendations, but to set out our view of the main issues and to invite comment on the ways in which they might be tackled.”

NIACE’s Peter Lavender also spoke at the launch, saying: “ESOL is an essential skill for life. For individuals, families, communities and the economy to thrive we need effective and available ESOL tuition. For individuals it makes a difference to the way we relate to each other and how our children perform at school. For many, confidence in English language opens doors and helps people engage in and contribute to civil society. Lack of fluency in the language condemns many people to poverty.”

The report will be published and the final conclusions revealed at a conference in October ““ coincidentally a month before the expected publication of the Leitch Review. Mr. Lavender related ESOL to the workplace as well, saying: “English language is a recognised route to citizenship. In the workplace ESOL can make the difference between a confident and skilled workforce and one that is hesitant or exploited, where individuals are at risk of missing opportunities. It can make a difference to economic development and to the effectiveness of services and companies.”

Jethro Marsh

Talk to the Monkey in From the FE Trenches!

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