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NATECLA/Action for ESOL joint statement in response to Guardian article on Creative English

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08 December 2015

NATECLA and Action for ESOL were concerned to read the following article in Guardian on Monday 7th December 2015.

We believe that quality and not cost is the key - see statement below. We support any high-quality initiative which helps refugees and others to learn English and integrate into the UK - if they meet learner need and genuinely support language development.

After wires and fences refugees need help scaling the language barrier


Volunteer based initiatives have a valuable role to play in providing opportunities for individuals to practise English in a friendly, welcoming environment.  However, programmes relying on volunteers and facilitators who are not professionally trained cannot hope to meet the complex educational and other needs of most ESOL learners.

Qualified ESOL teachers are trained to identify and work with these different needs - understanding and supporting aspirations that go far beyond friendly chats with friends and neighbours. Language skills are also needed to get good jobs and to access vocational training or academic courses.

Some learners have complex literacy needs due to interrupted education in their country of origin. They are often desperate, not only to learn to speak the language informally but to realise opportunities they have missed out on. ESOL teachers are trained to encourage students not to accept that low paid work or unemployment are inevitable. Qualified students bringing skills from their own countries need support to requalify in a new language. Many students are developing skills to support children and other family members in their new life. Others want to play an active role in society through local campaign and community groups. There are as many reasons for needing to learn English as there are for using a language.

We are not surprised that participants in the Creative English project reported gains in confidence.  Practising English is likely to increase confidence. Being able to have a short conversation in a shop or speak to a health professional is vital for life in the UK, but this understates the language skills people need to pursue an enriched life in the UK, one with opportunities rather than barriers.

Structured ESOL programmes with graded classes, taught by professional ESOL teachers, provide the best opportunities for ESOL learners to develop the skills they need across all areas of language: speaking, listening, reading and writing.

The ESOL profession has a proud reputation of supporting refugees and other migrants to develop their new life in the UK. Without trained ESOL teachers, a substantial part of the potential workforce will not develop the language and other skills needed for good job training or further education; employers will struggle to fill skilled positions; and a generation of children will lack the parental support they need to succeed in school.

Your article suggested that a respected sector of adult education could be substituted with untrained volunteers.  The same would never be suggested for maths or English for native speakers.  It was irresponsible given the threat to ESOL already posed by government cuts.

The Syrian refugee settlement programme is funded by central government. The same government that has awarded funding to ESOL projects staffed by volunteers, whilst slashing traditional ESOL provision. Ultimately, it will be refugee and migrant English learners who suffer. If the government is serious about helping people resettle in the UK, then they should fund high quality ESOL programmes taught by experienced specialist teachers which allow students to develop competence as well as confidence.

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