Alex Stevenson on why we need to do more to support pre-Entry and Entry Level 1 ESOL.
There’s nothing more likely to provoke debate amongst ESOL practitioners than ‘pre-Entry’ ESOL. It’s challenging even to agree what classes at the very beginning of learning English should be called. Some object that ‘pre-Entry’ refers to the curriculum for people with learning difficulties and disabilities, and has nothing to do with ESOL. Others prefer ‘working towards Entry 1’, reflecting that learning needs often described as pre-Entry are catered for within the Entry Level 1 ESOL curriculum.
In immigration policy, pre-Entry courses might refer to language provision before someone arrives in the UK. Or if you work in a Job Centre, pre-Entry might be the period before someone is ready to enter the labour market – hence the the somewhat confusing term ‘pre-ESOL’ sometimes used in this setting. At a college that I worked at, we rebranded pre-Entry ESOL as ‘ESOL starter’, as something that would be reasonably accurate, avoid negative connotations and be easily understood by learners. But whilst college systems, timetables and course codes were easy enough to update, the ‘pre-Entry’ label still stuck.
This might be an interesting side-debate for ESOL practitioners, but the evidence is that we need to do more to develop provision that meets the needs of learners at this level, and to support practitioners who are teaching learners taking those all important first steps in learning English – and for some, first steps in formal learning of any kind.
In its work mapping ESOL provision in London, and as regional ESOL co-ordinator for the Vulnerable Persons Resettlement Scheme in the South East and West Midlands regions, L&W is aware that in many areas of the country, there is growing demand for ESOL provision at the lower levels, with unmet need for pre-Entry level provision a frequently raised issue. This reflects the learning needs not just of refugees resettled under the VPRS, but also others within the ESOL cohort.
And that means we need to do more to support providers, practitioners delivering ‘pre-Entry’ ESOL, and others working with learners in non-teaching roles, such as conversation buddies or mentors.
For providers, this can mean busting a few myths – for example, that there’s no funding for pre-Entry ESOL. It’s crucial that senior decision makers are fully aware of local ESOL needs and the ways in which they can respond within Adult Education Budget funded ESOL.
Practitioners too need more support. One of the greatest myths about pre-Entry ESOL is that ‘it’s just a, b, c – anyone can teach that’. But as any experienced ESOL teacher or manager will confirm, this level requires the most highly skilled staff, to build a firm foundation with learners that supports them to progress in English. Simplifying difficult linguistic concepts to teach at this level – particularly as bi- or multilingual support is often not available or practical – takes real expertise.
That’s why it’s timely that a new package of support is being developed. Commissioned and funded by the Education and Training Foundation, L&W has partnered with Learning Unlimited to develop new materials to support providers and practitioners with pre-Entry ESOL. The resources will include effective practice guidelines, learner profiles and a new set of teaching and learning materials for pre-Entry ESOL.