Classes in English for speakers of other languages (Esol) should be free for newly-arrived asylum seekers and people with low literacy in their first language, as well as for the unemployed, according to a new report.
Unlike Scotland and Wales, England currently has no national Esol strategy. This means that providers around the country often have overlapping programmes and different fee policies, which experts say has led to duplication of provision and confusion for learners.
Next week, the National Association for Teaching English and Community Languages to Adults (Natecla) will unveil its own draft strategy calling for a major overhaul in how Esol is taught, coordinated and funded.
The document, shared exclusively with TES, calls for Esol provision to be made free at the point of delivery for those on benefits, as well as those at beginner level. National funding arrangements should enable local demand for Esol and learning needs to be met, it argues. The association also wants additional costs of learning, such as childcare, travel and exam fees, to be publicly funded where they represent a barrier to learning.
Drawn up after consultation with teachers, the report calls for a national panel to lead the coordination of Esol strategy, including “language needs across key services such as health, schools and social services”. Curriculum and learning resources should be provided by central government via a national website, it argues, as well as better professional development routes for Esol teachers.
Natecla co-chair Jenny Roden told TES that a national Esol strategy would “give the sector the stability it needs and deserves”. The focus of funding on employability excluded many of the most disadvantaged learners, she added.
“Some providers are willing to ‘take the hit’ and fully fund people in these categories,” Ms Roden said. “But others aren’t, and funding for essential costs of learning is restricted to those who qualify for full funding only.”
The total funding within the skills budget available for Esol dropped by almost half between 2009-10 and 2014-15. Last year, the Skills Funding Agency announced that all funding for “Esol plus mandation” programmes would be removed. The Association of Colleges (AoC) said that this would affect 16,000 Jobseeker’s Allowance claimants with poor spoken English skills. Earlier this year, then prime minister David Cameron announced £20 million to fund Esol courses for Muslim women.
The Demos thinktank has also called for a national Esol strategy. Ian Wybron, head of public services and welfare, told TES: “A national strategy must better our understanding of the scale of need for Esol, ensure accountability and oversight systems are fit for purpose, put the interests of learners and teachers at centre stage, as well as putting Esol on a surer financial footing.”
Sue Pember, director of policy and external relations at adult and community learning body Holex, called for the strategy’s “appropriate and practical” recommendations to be adopted by government. Dr Pember added: “This is a fantastic initiative, which has been driven because there was a gap in government policy that the sector has started to fill.”
A Department for Education spokeswoman said the government “always meets 50 per cent of the costs of Esol courses and the full costs in cases where people need Esol training to get off benefits and into work”.
She added: “We are fully committed to equipping people with the necessary English language skills to succeed in work and play an active role in their communities.”
This is an edited vesion of a story in the 7 October issue of TES. Subscribers can read the full version here.
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