Blog: ESOL Qualifications – Time for Improvements?

In this blog, Dr Philida Schellekens explores the current state of the ESOL curriculum and qualifications, and we invite you to give us feedback on our practical recommendations for change.

In England and Wales, 5.1 million people speak English as a second or additional language (ESL) – one in five of whom report that they do not speak English “well” or “at all”.

For this group, an English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) course could be lifechanging. By unlocking their skills and experience, they could also help tackle current skills shortages. Fifty percent of migrants and refugees in the UK have tertiary qualifications.

And yet, this potential is going unfulfilled because of an ESOL curriculum that is out of date and does not reflect the needs of language learners well. This impacts the effectiveness of teaching and learning and slows learners’ progress.

This potential is going unfulfilled because of an ESOL curriculum that is out of date and does not reflect the needs of language learners well.

Currently, the ESOL curriculum focuses mainly on providing learners with the skills needed for home life – to make a doctor’s appointment, to go to the grocery store, to open a bank account.  These are essential of course, but they are not sufficient for life in the UK and for the English language skills needed for work or for study.

This leaves many ESOL learners unemployed or underemployed, unable to make full use of their skills and abilities because of insufficient language skills.

These issues are compounded by a tendency for learners to “be progressed” to Functional Skills English or mainstream vocational courses before they are ready (once they have achieved ESOL Entry Level 3), in the mistaken belief that their language skills are sufficient, often leading to drop out, disengagement and failed exams.

Guidance for Schools and Leaders

Help us shape recommendations for change

Luckily, a much-needed overhaul is already on the horizon, with the Department for Education announcing a review of the 20-year-old ESOL curriculum, and with Ofqual reviewing the ESOL qualifications.

We have prepared a new briefing packed with recommendations for how current ESOL arrangements could be improved and would like to get other experts’ perspectives on them.

Are you a sector expert familiar with these issues? We would love to get your views on the issues you are seeing, what needs to change and what you think of our recommendations.

*Our ESOL Qualifications and Curriculum Review has now been published. Access the report*

Our recommendations for change

In our new briefing we set out practical proposals, informed by research evidence, to improve ESOL methodology, standards, and qualifications. Our recommendations include:

  • Creating an ESOL curriculum and standards that support effective adult language learning in line with the latest research evidence on second language acquisition.
  • Including language for work and study in the ESOL curriculum, providing learners with the skills they need to achieve their employment and educational aspirations.
  • Identifying the level of language proficiency needed for vocational courses, so that learners and teachers know what level of language skills are needed to complete the course successfully.
  • Enhancing data collection and monitoring, through the introduction of a field marker to the Individualised Learning Record (ILR), to identify how many ESOL learners enrol and achieve on further education and skills programmes.
  • Ensuring that in-service training provides ESOL teachers with the knowledge and skills to effectively teach and assess learners across all levels of language proficiency.
  • Producing a cross-Government national ESOL policy for England which has an overarching national vision and plan for the future of ESOL.

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