Another focus of discussion was the new Education Inspection Framework and how there must now be a clear emphasis on progression routes. Under the new framework, centres need to prove that their programmes do more than just give learners a qualification. Programmes need to develop personal and social skills as well as have a clear line of sight to jobs and/ or meaningful study.
All the speakers at the Conference were in agreement that language skills are vital for well-being and people who don’t have a strong proficiency in English are more likely to be socially isolated and their risk of poverty is much higher.
Another aspect of ensuring meaningful study and personal development in ESOL classrooms is taking into consideration the number of hours it takes to learn the English language as well as the varied backgrounds and skill base of ESOL learners. In 2018 research by OECD found that the proportion of graduate migrants increased by 20% between 2007 and 2017. With this in mind Philida emphasised the importance of ensuring ESOL programmes provide these people with the language skills needed to conduct their skilled jobs in a second language.
Review of Initial Assessment
A key area of debate throughout the Conference was the initial assessment of ESOL learners and the challenge of having a flexible curriculum design that allows learners to be placed at a level that is not too high or low for their individual ability. Dr Philida Schellekens suggested that there is a need to review the initial assessment to ensure it reflects the alignment between new arrivals and their skills, as well as the level at which the learner wants to function in society and work.
The old Functional Skills didn’t support ESOL Learners
The talk then turned to Functional Skills and how the old standards assumed that learners could understand and use English fluently, and the lack of support available to learners with other language backgrounds in Functional Skills classes, ultimately meaning that many of these learners dropped out. This September saw the beginning of the newly reformed Functional Skills qualifications being taught in FE classrooms, with a larger focus on the knowledge and skills that learners need to achieve. Time will tell if these qualifications will better support learners with other language backgrounds and help them to develop an understanding of and use the language systems needed to achieve the Functional Skills qualifications.