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DCLG English Language Competition (ESOL)

February 20, 2013

I’m encouraged to see DCLG’s initiative around developing ‘Community ESOL’ beginning to take shape; this is something that adult educators,particularly ESOL practitioners, are following keenly. The open day to launch it was attended by over a hundred people from local authorities, FE colleges and the voluntary sector.

It’s an interesting twist that it’s taking the form of a competition although most people there would have been familiar with competitive bidding for project funding from different sources. The idea of a competition, explained to us by a BIS speaker, is that it can provide the solution to a specific problem where the market has failed. The ‘problem’ is developing a sustainable model through which to develop English Language skills for those  who currently don’t speak English or only to a very limited extent. The ‘prize’ is a grant over two years (probably three or four in the £1-1.5m range) to develop and test the model.

DCLG have done work identifying priority groups mainly focusing on local authority areas that have a significant number of households (using the 2011 census) where no, or only poor, English is spoken. The project does not have a labour market focus; it is intended to engage those who don’t receive work-related benefits, particularly unwaged women, and to focus on ‘integration’ rather than employability. Self reported data on English language skills indicates high levels of need in Pakistani and Bangladeshi communities. We are certainly aware of lots of demand for provision at pre-entry level; there will be scope for progression too to qualification based courses.

As they say with competitions ‘if you aren’t in it, you won’t win it’ and there will be plenty of interest in this one. Certainly the WEA, as a national voluntary adult education organisation, is preparing a strong expression of interest drawing on lots of innovative community based work in these communities. A facet of the way the competition is organised is the encouragement of sharing of information, networking and the development of ‘novel collaborations’. Given the scale of  likely successful bids (£1m+), locally based community organisations (who are being encouraged to pitch in) will need to form consortia or co-operate with larger outfits. The competition is quite a clever device to bring out in the open a whole mass of information and experience; invaluable for a Department that doesn’t have a primarily educational remit. Stage 1 is not part of the selection process although feedback is provided and it will inform the awarding of development grants for which some smaller organisations can apply. Organisations may simply enter at Stage 2.

My sense is that the opportunities for innovative teaching and learning approaches, working with these communities, will be hugely welcomed particularly by providers with a ‘social purpose’ mission. Much, for example, of the WEA’s large current ESOL provision supports and enables students’ civic involvement in the community, with their children’s schools, the health service, or around community safety. Activities are also based around using banks or supermarkets, (link below). The chance to push this further using active learning methods and extending partnerships with local public, voluntary and private sector organisations will be really exciting for students and tutors.

The notion of building a sustainable model that can outlive two years’ grant funding is a challenge especially in the context of the next spending round from 2015. Organisations such as ours’ have experience of combining professional and voluntary support in different ways, for instance volunteer led ‘practice time’ provided in between taught sessions. Partnerships, the common currency of much community learning, provide the opportunity to embed language support in different organisations. At the same time, as an experienced College ESOL manager said at the DCLG open day, the development of students’ understanding of  language is a highly skilled job. So, getting a sustainable and educationally effective mix will not be easy.


West Midlands ESOL learners visit a supermarket:

Link to Competition Stage 1 prospectus:


From → Adult Education

One Comment
  1. joaniepthemadhatter permalink

    Reblogged this on JoanieP The Mad Hatters' Corner.

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