Literacy audit identifies needs

26th January 1996 at 00:00
A college where seven out of 10 students speak English as a foreign language has embarked on an ambitious three-year language programme to prevent students from dropping out.

At Hendon College 50 different languages are spoken in class and the north-London college has spent Pounds 3,000 alone on Englishmother-tongue dictionaries.

The linchpin of the scheme is a language support initiative to link English and the minority language to a student's studies.

Hendon has a particularly strong reputation for languages. Seven years ago, staff identified the need for a range of support programmes.

Hendon obtained funding from the Home Office an Further Education Funding Council for the 2,300 of the 3,400 full-time equivalent students needing help.

The support programme costs around Pounds 200,000 a year. Language staff go in to class alongside the mainstream subject specialists and offer additional private support where needed.

The programme begins with a rigorous assessment of students. One of them, Biljana Ristic, a 38-year-old asylum-seeker, was nervous about being interviewed because she has little confidence in her English skills.

The former newspaper marketing executive from war-torn Yugoslavia is studying accountancy. "I have been in England for one year but I think my English is not good for this course," she said.

Adugna Gebreselassie, a 20-year-old Ethiopian, sympathised - 15 months ago he was in a similar position. He signed up for a course combining language and accountancy. "I have really improved my business knowledge. Otherwise it would have been hard for me to reach my present level," he said.

Phil Jakeman, Hendon College language support co-ordinator, said: "Students start their professional studies without losing the vital underpinning language skills they need to graduate to success.

"They are particularly valuable to mature students who could have been frustrated by a discrete English for Speakers of Other Languages course feeling it was holding them back from studying."

Cash from the FEFC depends on the numbers of students recruited, students staying the course and successful results of students in the mainstream courses. Staff are acutely aware of the need to keep motivation high and reduce learning difficulties for ESOL students.

Mr Jakeman said: "Our work often goes on to a pastoral level and we do feel a real sense of the effort involved in making progress, none of our students take anything for granted."

The teamwork approach has helped both subject and language specialist staff develop new skills and greater awareness of their students needs. While most student needs can be predicted over the summer the college has also moved to more scientific methods of assessment in order to gain additional FEFC funding.

This year it has piloted improved assessment programmes for around 600 students on courses for general national vocational qualifications who took a series of in-house tests to identify their English and communication skills.

Following assessment a number of students are placed on induction courses lasting 10 or 30 weeks, where they develop their ability to write, read and speak English.

Staff use specialist schemes from the London Language and Literacy Unit's language description criteria, to identify needs and estimate the cash needed from the FEFC or Home Office.

"I would like to track down student's progress from entry right through the system. We know some go on to university but we have not been able to monitor their destinations in a structured way," said Phil Jakeman.

"We do have some anecdotal evidence of their progress however. For example I taught one Farsi speaker GCSE English. He did a BEd and is now a maths teacher in one of our secondary schools."

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