Don't call me a robot

9th September 2005 at 01:00
I am surprised The TES published Robert Belcher's attack on the Skills for Life approach to teaching ESOL (English for speakers of other languages ) .

Consultation with more experienced ESOL professionals would have enabled you to discern how narrow and unrepresentative his opinions are ("Hard times for the non-robots", FE Focus, August 26).

Far from enraging teachers, with something "alien and mechanical", the Skills for Life agenda provides a framework for teaching that benefits vulnerable and marginalised learners. The ESOL core curriculum is a wake-up call to ESOL teachers who try to fob off resident Hindi speakers or Polish workers with the lessons they used when teaching English in Rome or Athens.

If Robert thinks the Department for Education and Skills materials are garbled nonsense, let him come up with alternatives. Perhaps he'll re-use materials designed to stimulate wealthy Japanese or German students that focus on holiday aspirations and big business dealing. Does he think those materials will make sense to refugees and asylum seekers? The ESOL material has themes about real life in the UK.

Robert doesn't like the idea behind individual learning plans of setting students personal goals. I found them invaluable, particularly when I had a dentist from the Czech Republic, a plumber from Venezuela and a mum from India in the same class at the same language level, but with very different targets and needs.

There may not be enough funding, but that's another issue. The ESOL core curriculum provides helpful structures for second-language learning in a native context. Language learning needs structure. If Robert doesn't like that, perhaps he should look for a job further afield.

Nigel Newton, ESOL consultant and former curriculum co-ordinator for ESOL at New College, Swindon (until July 2005)

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