ESOL Roundtable: Shaping the future of ESOL provision in Wales

To challenge and support the Welsh Government’s Ambitious and Learning policy strand, Learning and Work Institute Cymru launched a series of roundtables to shine a light on policy areas that don’t always get the attention that they deserve and where there is the opportunity to drive change.

The first roundtable was held in December last year and brought together stakeholders delivering ESOL (English for Speakers of Other Languages) to look at challenges in the sector, innovation in Wales and elsewhere that is driving change, and solutions for the future.

Following the report by the Assembly’s Equality, Local Government and Communities Committee last year into refuges and asylum seekers in Wales, the Welsh Government committed to revise ESOL policy.  Our recommendations are designed to help inform that process of change.

We heard about the barriers learners face (practical, financial, and cultural) and the challenge of not enough provision at the right levels and in the right places.  We heard too about the challenge of supporting families from Syria, particularly from more rural areas with lower levels of literacy and numeracy.

We also heard about excellent provision helping to change people’s lives and how innovation through Cardiff and Vale REACH (led by Cardiff and Vale College) is starting to bring greater coherence to how learners are assessed and supported.

There are big challenges but also reasons to be cheerful that meaningful change and improvements are possible.  Our recommendations for change below are hopefully a good starting point for policy makers:

  • Use the Cardiff and Vale REACH programme as a template for how other areas with high demand for ESOL provision can appropriately assess learners, ensure they are placed on the right provision, and are given the opportunity to progress;
  • Focus efforts to build more capacity at pre-entry and lower levels where demand is greatest;
  • Create better links between ESOL and vocational education, fast-track learners at higher levels, and support flexible provision delivered in the workplace by trade unions for people already in work;
  • Make better use of volunteers and informal learning opportunities to support and enhance formal provision (for example, informal language clubs);
  • Consider a workforce development strategy to help retain staff and to give them the skills they need to design and deliver quality provision;
  • Make better use of digital learning and the appropriate use of technology to enhance opportunities for learners and improve the quality of provision.

As always, there is a huge amount of good practice to draw on and practical examples of where particular changes could make a real difference.  The revised Welsh Government ESOL policy will be a chance to test the ambition we have as a nation for fellow citizens who have come to make Wales their home.