Blog: Impact of ESOL on refugees’ education and employment explored in new partnerships

This blog post introduces The Bell Foundation's four new ESOL Programme partnerships and details how they may offer insights into interventions supporting refugees to achieve their education and employment goals.

The Bell Foundation started its new pilot programme in 2020, the ESOL Programme. This pilot programme aims to find effective ways to support migrants, refugees and asylum seekers in overcoming the language barriers they face. The evidence shows that some ESOL learners face challenges in accessing ESOL classes suitable for their level of learning. There is a lack of evidence on how this affects people who speak languages other than English to progress in employment or education. The Bell Foundation has forged new partnerships, as part of the ESOL Programme, which may offer insights into interventions which support ESOL learners to achieve their education and employment goals. The new partnerships are: Strategic Migration Partnership from the East of England LGA (SMP.EELGA), Kent Refugee Action Network (KRAN), Refugee Action and Refugee Education UK (REUK).


Research on young people and ESOL

The Bell Foundation appointed UCL Institute of Education (IoE) to conduct a literature review into the research available on young people, education, employment and ESOL. An executive summary of this literature review will be published in September.

Currently there is little evidence to demonstrate what practice or interventions would enable young people who speak languages other than English to reach their education and employment goals.


Experiences of young refugees

The Foundation is also funding two organisations – KRAN and REUK – which work specifically with young refugees, many of whom have come to England unaccompanied by a parent or care giver. The projects will explore and evaluate how learning English can support young refugees, aged 14 to 25, in their wellbeing and achieving their potential in education.

Arriving in the UK as a teenager, with no friends or family members, is undoubtedly a daunting experience, especially if you have no knowledge of the British education system and little knowledge of how to speak, read, write or understand English.

As a result, organisations like KRAN and REUK provide mentoring, peer and wellbeing support, and English language education in the interim. It is important that the young refugees are equipped with the language skills and cultural awareness to navigate this new society, so that they can live well and achieve their education ambitions.

To support these projects The Bell Foundation will use its expertise to review the existing resources from KRAN, who will then evaluate the impact on the young refugee learners. REUK will work with the Foundation to develop an impact framework which they will use to evaluate the impact of their ESOL teaching and mentoring on the young people they work with. Catherine Gladwell, Chief Executive of REUK said, “Young refugees tell us that language learning is one of the most important things to them – this partnership will enable us to ensure our volunteers are equipped to provide relevant, high quality ESOL support which is tailored to the immediate communication needs of young refugees.”

These partnerships will offer insights into what young people need in terms of English language support so they can have a smooth transition from compulsory education into further and higher education and employment.


ESOL for employment

The Bell Foundation is also funding programmes with Refugee Action and EELGA. These projects will be working with refugees over the age of 18, with a focus on ESOL for employability.

Research in 2019 from the Centre for Migration, Policy and Society (COMPAS) found that the refugee unemployment rate was 18%, or three times higher than people born in the UK.  A group of experts, convened by Refugee Action, who all have lived experience of being refugees, have described meaningful routes to aspirational employment as being one of their main concerns. With grant funding from the Foundation, Refugee Action will be:

  • Developing an online ESOL for employability course and building links with companies to find employees who can mentor refugees. This will support refugees to develop their English language skills both in regard to terminology and acronyms used in specific sectors.
  • Enabling refugees to build connections and networks for job seeking with the aim of building the confidence of refugees to look for and apply for jobs. As this project will all be run online, refugees will be supplied with devices and data and the project will operate across the whole country.

SMP.EELGA currently has funding to develop and deliver the Wellbeing and Work for Refugee Integration (WW4RI) project from the Asylum, Migration and Integration Fund (AMIF). The project provides ESOL courses, employment advice and wellbeing support to refugees, delivered through grassroots refugee organisations in the East of England. The Bell Foundation is giving a grant for an academic evaluation of the project. The courses focus on ESOL and skills, including:

  • IT skills.
  • Job search skills.
  • Study skills.
  • Driving theory.

There are also sector-specific courses:

  • Preparing to work with food.
  • Preparing to work with customers.
  • Preparing to work in childcare.
  • Preparing to work in warehousing and logistics.

The evaluation will improve understanding of the employment outcomes for refugees who resettle in rural communities. With the evidence, SMP.EELGA hopes to develop a good practice framework on ESOL for employability.


Next steps

One partnership (SMP.EELGA) will run for two years, while the other three are three-year partnerships. Where the projects show a significant impact on refugees, there is the potential to share the learning nationally to influence policy and practice. More information on the ESOL Programme and partnerships can be found on the ESOL Programme pages. To be kept informed of updates on these projects and on the programme please sign up to our mailing list.