Language charity attacks proposal for community-led Esol provision

Darren Evans

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A language charity has attacked a suggestion that ordinary people with a “good command of English” could help deliver English lessons for foreign language speakers to make up for funding cuts.

The National Association of Teaching English and Community Languages to Adults (Natecla) said it was “deeply concerned” at the idea, put forward by thinktank Demos in a piece for the TES.

Writing on this website, Demos researcher Ian Wybron suggested it was time to look for “innovative, community-based solutions” after cuts to Esol (English for Speakers of Other Languages) provision.

Over the last six years the government has progressively cut funding for Esol, and last month it completely withdrew funding for mandatory Esol classes for jobseekers with poor English skills, saving an estimated £45 million.

However, as TES revealed last week, FE colleges will still have a duty to provide the courses from their remaining adult skills budgets.

Mr Wybron suggested that Esol could be incorporated into the “employer-supported volunteering” agenda, where workers are sponsored by employers to volunteer in their communities. Alternatively, people could help their neighbours to learn English, through housing association schemes for example, or university students could provide language tuition to help boost their skills.

Mr Wybron said any of the proposals could help “ease some of the pressure on a creaking system”.

But Diana Tremayne, co-chair of Natecla, said: “As far as Natecla is concerned, volunteers cannot fill the role of qualified, experienced Esol teachers to deliver provision that will help migrants to access the workplace and integrate into British society.”

She said volunteer-led provision should only be used to supplement “funded, well-organised” Esol provision, and not as an alternative.

“Where would the teaching take place?" Ms Tremayne asked. “Who would match the learners, support and mentor the volunteers and check their suitability?

“How would resources, training and travel expenses be paid for? And how can we expect volunteers to be relied upon to deliver an essential service if they are not being paid?”

Ms Tremayne added that although volunteers could befriend or mentor migrants in need, learners benefitted most from structured courses taught by skilled professionals.

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Darren Evans

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