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Opportunity to build community ESOL

September 8, 2011

The widespread campaign to defend ESOL sparked by proposed funding changes announced last November has born some fruit. Whilst the amount of funding remains unchanged the rules around eligibility have been relaxed to include those on means tested benefits that are not work-ready (where the course has a vocational relevance.)

In addition the commitment to provide Department of Communities and Local Government (DCLG) funding for ‘community ESOL’ is beginning to take shape. The Association of Colleges has been asked to advise on this, Local Authorities, NIACE and the WEA are also involved. DCLG’s focus is on integration and the engagement of the most deprived members of settled communities. It is likely that ‘project proposals’ will be sought from providers in identified local authority areas.

However, there remains a need to continue to make the case for finding the money by providing evidence that English language provision can make a real difference to how people feel about, and take part in their communities. Providers, including the WEA, are being asked to provide this evidence, both quantitative and individual and group case histories. This needs to be done quickly.

The amount of money is not great (it’s in the £5-10m range) but I think we need to seize the opportunity. It is well worthwhile, partly because of the involvement of DCLG and local authorities and also because of the recognition of the value of English language learning in a community cohesion context. DCLG under the previous government sponsored some important adult educational activities and this provides an opportunity to demonstrate once again the relevance of adult education to the integration agenda, at a formative period.

I have argued before that there is, and should be, a distinctive community ESOL strand: taking place in community settings, with a lighter touch assessment and having outcomes that focus on different forms of community involvement. This strand must, of course connect, through partnerships and progression pathways, to ‘mainstream’ qualification-based ESOL. Our experience with WEA ESOL learners (and the WEA is the ‘college’ with the largest number of ESOL learners) suggests there is a ready demand for this sort of provision and we should champion their cause.

Comments are very welcome but I am also asking for good case study examples to be sent as soon as possible to help us push on with the case for community ESOL.


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  1. Judith Boardman permalink

    All of this is welcome news. I’m doing my MA dissertation at the moment on the impact of ESOL on the lives of migrant women in Halifax and Bradford. sorry it won’t be finished for a while! However, re community involvement of ESOL learners, I could send you a recent (hastily put togther) ppt I presented at recent SfL tutor training at the WEA regional office in Leeds showing what learners at a community primary school in Halifax did to support Action for ESOL. I would attach it here, but don’t know how. I also did a recorded interview for my MA with the head at the school about the impact of ESOL. He might be willing to share it as he has done stuff before with the WEA (Gugsy Ahmed).

    Judith Boardman
    ESOL and Literacy tutor

    • Pete Caldwell permalink

      Would like to see your ppt. Perhaps you could email it to me as an attachment? WEA RO will give my email address

  2. Caroline Richer, REM for Foundation Programme . Southern permalink

    I agree that projects certainly benefit local provisions and offer opportunities for tutors/staff to do things differently and freedom from some of the rigour of SFA & QCF frameworks. Projects locally have supported mainstream provision offering additionality and supporting tutors to work outside normal curriculum constraints. Projects deliver good evidence for sharing and qualitative/quantiative data
    The idea of a project approach to address identified need could work but with key & significant strategic curriculums areas i.e. Sfl it would need to be developed with our responsibility to learners real skills needs and SFA/Ofsted criteria. We must maintain our mainstream delivery which resulted in National Qualifications that must be delivered this year(11-12) to meet SFA funding. The project approach however would support the development of a wider programme and offer opportunities for tutor empowerment. With our current funding and ability to run non-accredited community courses, hopefully this will be supported by SFA beyond 11-12, I can see there is potential for a more responsive delivery model. With external projects the funding is there to support additional staffing to undertake the additional work a project approach requires. I wonder how, given reducing budgets and staffing structures, we can realistically support this approach.

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