Adult Learning Inspectorate - Chief Inspector's Report 2005-2006
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13 December 2006
ALI Chief Inspector's Report. 'Preparation for Life and Work'
Extract page 10-12. The full report is attached.
English for speakers of other languages
English for speakers of other languages (ESOL) provision showed a small but welcome
improvement over the past year. Where ESOL is graded separately within preparation for
life and work, the proportion of inadequate grades has fallen. As in previous years, colleges
generally offered the most effective ESOL provision. The best provision was planned well,
offering clear progression routes to higher levels of ESOL and into vocational and academic
programmes. In these settings, learners following vocational and academic programmes
received good additional learning support. Fewer of these learners left their programmes
early and more succeeded than those who did not take up support. In the best adult and
community learning, ESOL was often offered in combination with learning practical skills
or leisure activities. Appropriate language support for ESOL learners is, however, rare
within adult and community learning and on most apprenticeship programmes. Where
they do offer such support, too few providers analyse its effects on learners' progression
and achievement. Walsall LEA and Protocol Skills are exceptions to this generalisation.
Useful initiatives to develop 'embedded' programmes ( those that integrate ESOL
teaching into vocational or academic learning programmes) are becoming more prevalent,
particularly in further education colleges. Unsurprisingly, such programmes are most
effective when subject and ESOL specialists work closely together to ensure that teachingand learning are planned and resourced well. Such programmes can provide very good
preparation for further study or going into a job.
The national curriculum for ESOL is now an integral part of most providers’ planning.
Tutors have more confidence – they spend less time slavishly cross-referencing every
aspect of their individual session plans to the national standards, generally confining this
activity more appropriately to the preparation of schemes of work . This growing
confidence can also be seen in tutors moving away from the sometimes pedestrian national
Skills for Life ESOL materials and increasingly basing their sessions around topics that are
current, relevant and interesting to their learners. Some are making very good use of the
excellent national materials designed to prepare learners for citizenship at entry levels 1,2
Providers have managed well the introduction of new Skills for Life ESOL qualifications
launched at the beginning of 2005. In most settings, take-up has been high. Assessment
covers thoroughly the four skills of reading, writing, and speaking and listening, tested in
three units. In practice, however, the threshold for success is too high. An ESOL learner has
to complete all parts, including the national test for reading, in order to achieve a full
qualification meeting national targets. By contrast, a literacy learner only has to complete
the reading test to achieve the same outcome. The structure of the qualifications is
unwieldy and insufficiently flexible. In particular, it can take too long to complete a full
A serious concern is the exclusion of entry levels 1 and 2 from the government’s targets for
Skills for Life. For many learners, particularly recent arrivals in England and learners with
little previous formal education, learning at these levels is paramount. Providers
increasingly cite a need to concentrate on meeting national targets as justification for
significantly reducing the provision they make at these levels.
A shortage of ESOL tutors with appropriate expertise persists in large cities. The shortage is
also becoming more acute in some of the rural areas now attracting migrant workers from
the Accession States of the European Union. The dearth of suitably qualified tutors
contributes to a lack of suitable provision to meet this new demand, particularly where
there is no tradition of offering ESOL . The lack of ESOL expertise in prisons remains. Too
much ESOL provision in prisons is poor, in a context where the number of foreign
nationals serving custodial sentences is increasing. While not all of these offenders require.
ESOL learning, many need to develop their language skills in order to survive safely and
co-operate fully with the prison regime. This includes having sufficient language skills to
make a complaint or request medical treatment.
Debate in the sector continues about what qualifications and experience best equip
teachers to teach ESOL. Many teachers have qualifications gained before the introduction
of the current specialist level 4 qualifications. Arrangements to accredit this prior learning
are cumbersome, and too many qualified and experienced teachers take up scarce level 4
training places and work towards qualifications which may not provide any real benefits.
Questions exist about the suitability of the current level 4 qualifications and the separation
in teacher education between the acquisition of generic teaching skills and specialist ESOL
skills. A current review of this situation is welcome. The pool of teachers of English as a
foreign language (EFL) remains an underused resource. Teachers who have taught EFL
either outside the UK or to temporary visitors in England are often well qualified and highly
skilled language teachers. Increasing numbers of them teach ESOL, but appropriate
professional development to increase their understanding of the specific requirements of
ESOL teaching and learning is often difficult to find.