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NATECLA Statement to Ofqual on ESOL Skills for Life Qualifications during Covid-19

The National Association for Teaching English and Community Languages to Adults (NATECLA) welcomes Ofqual’s statement of 9th April on awarding vocational and technical qualifications over the coming months, while the country deals with the COVID-19 outbreak.

However, whilst the statement brings some good news for teachers who have ESOL learners undertaking Functional Skills, there is no mention of ESOL qualifications, which cover most learning programmes for our members and their students.  NATECLA urges Ofqual to agree a common system with Awarding Organisations to ensure fairness in the suite of Skills for Life qualifications. Most ESOL learners are dependent on the results of their ESOL qualifications for progression onto higher levels, other programmes of study and employment, which suggests that they should be treated like other ‘progression focused’ qualifications.

“Learners should, wherever possible, receive a result that fairly reflects the work that they have put in and their level of attainment, and where relevant, maintains the same broad levels of comparability with previous years, in line with the approach being taken for GCSEs, AS and A levels.” DfE direction to Ofqual 9.4.20  

NATECLA recommends that Awarding Organisations use teacher assessment to arrive at calculated results for learners already enrolled on Semester 1/ Term 1/ Term 2 programmes.   Like many learners on VTQs, thousands of ESOL students had been on their learning programmes for six months before the current disruption to learning programmes took place; they have done a variety of assessments and mock exams and their highly qualified ESOL teachers know their learners well.  There is ample evidence and programme tracking to show that teachers can make reliable decisions from teacher assessment, as for Functional Skills programmes.  ESOL qualifications are not new and there is historical data that can be used to moderate results. 

NATECLA does not support a move to online assessments for ESOL (speaking and listening, reading, writing), as they will disadvantage learners who do not have adequate access to devices or internet, and those who are unfamiliar with online assessments.  This is an important aspect of equality of access and fairness.  In particular, this includes a minority of ESOL learners whose prior educational experience is very limited and who still have difficulty with both reading and using technology.  For these learners, online assessment solutions would not be a feasible form of assessment.   

Further, NATECLA recommends that learners on ESOL, English skills and Functional Skills courses that have only recently started in Semester 2, or are due to start in Term 3, should be allowed to be moved to RARPA learning aims, where teachers deem these appropriate, without audit repercussions. This would allow providers to enrol learners back onto the planned externally assessed qualification aim after the crisis has passed.  This approach would also allow teachers to focus on the immediate English learning needs of their students and make allowances for the unusual constraints they may have at this time. Teachers are being very creative in engaging learners, but many adult learners are finding it difficult to participate fully for a variety of reasons, including access to hardware, access to the internet, ability to use devices, study skills, work shifts, sickness and having to look after their families full time at this challenging time. This, linked to the essentially social nature of learning a language in a class, means that even those who are able to access the technology and have good study skills are likely to make less progress than they would have done in a conventional class at a normal time.

Feedback from our members is showing that they, like most Further Education staff currently, are working very hard to maintain classes and to support their students’ wellbeing and morale as well as learning.  Many ESOL learners may be in front-line occupations, supporting the functioning of the country at this time.  Uncertainty about final assessments is causing a lot of concern within the profession and stress for our learners. NATECLA therefore urges Ofqual to consider the situation for ESOL qualifications and work with the Awarding Organisations to come to an agreement as soon as possible.

16 April 2020
Contact details:   Mary Osmaston and Nafisah Graham-Brown (NATECLA Co-chairs)  Email: nateclachairs@gmail.com