ESOL sector applauds change

6th January 2006 at 00:00
Robert Belcher, in "Fast track to failure" (November 11), criticises the National Adult English for Speakers of Other Languages Core Curriculum and claims that it was imposed under pressure from the Government and against advice of academics.

I am not sure where he got his information. The ESOL (English for Speakers of Other Languages) sector lobbied for its own curriculum after the national literacy curriculum was developed by well-known EDOL (European Digital Older Learners) teachers. It has been welcomed by ESOL teachers as meeting a long-felt need.

Mr Belcher doesn't understand the rationale for the naming of levels in ESOL, such as beginners and intermediate, which are used in global EFL (English as a Foreign Language) teaching. They, and the associated textbooks and examinations never fitted UK-based ESOL students, and it is more appropriate, since most such students aim to follow mainstream British education, so that their training fits the National Qualifications Framework.

There also seems to be some confusion over the difference between a syllabus and a curriculum. If Mr Belcher read the introduction to the AESOL Core Curriculum he would see that a curriculum is defined as a reference document which sets out the indicative content for a whole subject area; the syllabus is the content to be covered by a particular learning programme or course. The Skills for Life ESOL examinations are still new, but the different examination boards offer approaches to suit most teaching situations. There is an issue about pre-entry students in ESOL for whom there is no Skills for Life qualification at present, but EFL students coming here to learn English can still pay and take the international Cambridge examinations.

I wonder how much of Mr Belcher's frustration about ESOL changes has its roots in the sort of students now found in ESOL classes. Traditionally, European learners of English paid for EFL classes, while ESOL classes were attended by immigrants and asylum seekers from outside Europe. When the Government decided that literacy, numeracy and language should be offered, free, to all up to Level 2 (GCSE equivalent) , many of the Europeans found that they could also access this free education, provided they took the ESOL Skills for Life examinations.

But the free, government-funded tuition is required to meet national standards. In FE colleges these classes will be inspected by ALI and Ofsted, and many former EFL teachers are having to adapt - not always happily - as can be seen from Mr Belcher's article.

Sue Diplock Member of the Management Council of the National Association for Teaching English and Community Languages to Adults Hall Green Campus Cole Bank Road Birmingham

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