People who move to the UK need English language skills to access training, gain employment and participate in society. Enabling new arrivals and longer-term residents to fulfil their potential is fundamental: migrants bring with them valuable abilities, qualifications and experience which can lie untapped unless they have the chance to learn English to an appropriate level. The way that this is achieved is through English language provision known as ESOL (English for Speakers of Other Languages).
From 2001 to 2009 the field of ESOL lay within Skills for Life, a national policy aimed at addressing shortcomings in adult basic skills. From 2009 onwards, however, a series of cuts to central government funding has left the field of ESOL in some disarray. Current national policy leaves responsibility for the coordination of ESOL to local bodies, including local authorities.
In March 2010, the ESOL Working Group of Leeds City Council called for research to investigate the match, or mismatch, between ESOL need and ESOL provision in Leeds, as a step towards enabling the Council to meet its coordinating responsibility. A pilot project in 2010-11, the Harehills ESOL Needs Neighbourhood Audit (HENNA), was carried out by researchers from the University of Leeds and the Refugee Education Training Advice Service (RETAS). Harehills, chosen as the focus of the research, is a highly diverse area of inner-city Leeds, to the east of the city centre. It is an area with significant new and more well-established migrant and Black and Minority Ethnic communities.
The pilot project involved:
- a demographic study of Harehills;
- a neighbourhood survey of ESOL provision, identifying 24 sites in Harehills alone where ESOL is studied;
- questionnaire surveys of nearly 200 ESOL students from 38 countries and their teachers, in classes in 16 centres;
- interviews with ESOL teachers, managers, and key stakeholders, including local councillors in Harehills, employers, Jobcentre Plus officials, housing agency and health centre managers.
The study found that patterns of ESOL provision, funding and attendance were complex, and pertained beyond the neighbourhood boundaries to the city as a whole. The general picture was one of fragmented ESOL provision locally and city-wide, in urgent need of coordination. An overarching conclusion of the study was that the erosion of the cohesive framework afforded by Skills for Life had led to a return to the fragmented picture of ESOL provision of previous times, and the pattern of multiple funders and combinations of providers and centres would remain characteristic of ESOL. The complexity of provision and funding raised questions of continuity, coherence and quality of tuition for the benefit of students. The researchers concluded that for successful sustained learning, progression and progression routes need to be meaningful, clear and coordinated. However, the lack of continued and stable funding streams disrupts progression routes both between ESOL courses of different levels, and from ESOL into further education, training and work.