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Research reveals ESOL training stuck at ‘satisfactory’ levels

According to the latest report to come from Ofsted, although the quality of English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) training is improving, a lot more needs to done to lift standards beyond ‘satisfactory’ levels.

The study revealed that inadequate ESOL in colleges is now a rare occurrence, and between 2001-2005, the number providing ESOL deemed less than satisfactory has fallen from one in five to one in 16. However, only around half the ESOL provided by colleges, and a fifth by adult community learning providers, were found to be good or outstanding.

Lessons that proved to be most effective were those where learners can practise and develop their speaking skills at length, with skilful, often non-verbal intervention from their teacher.

Overall, students responding to the survey said they found their new skills extremely useful when handling everyday situations, from simple activities like shopping, to more complex vocational skills such as writing resumes. The research also showed a lot of learners are now working towards externally recognised qualifications – as part of the Government’s Skills for Life strategy – which places particular emphasis on speaking and listening skills.

Ofsted also announced that, although provision of ESOL in the workplace is increasing, the volume is still too small. Providers revealed they would often find it difficult to persuade employers of the value of offering ESOL learning, despite the benefits.

Providers offering ESOL integrated with vocational training were also found lack a sufficient range of vocational subjects. The report also highlighted that on skills programmes specifically targeted at improving employment prospects, too few ESOL learners had the opportunity for work experience.

Christine Gilbert, Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector, said: "Good English speaking skills are critical to millions of people, and open up a world of opportunities and benefits to learners, such as developing skills for the workplace and integrating further with the community.

"Whilst it’s encouraging to see a general picture of improvement, it is time that standards were raised so that the overwhelming majority of English for Speakers of Other Languages provision is good or better. We must equip learners with the very best English skills to help them have the confidence to make a positive contribution to the community."

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