Alex Stevenson shares his thoughts on a Greater London Authority project.
If you were impelled by war, civil unrest or persecution to flee your home and seek refuge abroad, what kinds of support would you need to help you resettle and re-build your life in a new country? It’s likely that learning the language of your new community would be high on the list.
In the UK, organisations who work to support the resettlement of refugees have consistently cited access to sufficient and high-quality English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) learning as a key factor in the integration of refugees into local communities, the labour market and wider society. This is well-evidenced by research, and the Home Office is providing an additional £10m in funding for ESOL to support Syrians resettled in the UK under the Syrian Vulnerable Persons Resettlement programme.
Extra funding is, of course, welcome – but what kinds of ESOL learning do resettled Syrians need, and how can local authorities and agencies charged with supporting resettlement ensure that opportunities to learn are available? These questions are particularly important, given declining investment in publicly funded ESOL provision in recent years, and widespread evidence that, in many areas, demand for provision outstrips supply. ESOL provision also benefits other groups – including settled communities in the UK and recent migrants more generally – with the same important personal, community and labour market outcomes.
In London, L&W has been working with the Greater London Authority to identify the language learning needs of resettled Syrians, and to undertake a mapping exercise of provision across London. The work aimed not only to help organisations working to support Syrian refugee resettlement, but also to contribute to wider thinking about ESOL provision in the capital and how it might be improved more generally. This is timely, as in the context of current skills policy developments in London, such as Further Education Area Reviews, the London Adult Community Learning Review and the anticipated devolution of the Adult Education Budget to the Mayor of London by 2019, it is important to ensure that ESOL is properly considered in future policy developments.
L&W’s report identified key areas of development for policy and practice in ESOL that, if addressed, would not only support resettled Syrian refugees to access provision, but also help to ensure that provision better meets the needs of all Londoners who need it. We conclude that future development of ESOL policy and practice in London should focus on:
You can read the full reports and case studies of effective practice on the GLA’s website.
Alex Stevenson, head of English, maths and ESOL, Learning and Work Institute