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English for Speakers of Other Languages

Volume 456: debated on Thursday 1 February 2007

To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Skills what evidence he took into account when establishing the new English for speakers of other languages (ESOL) for work/job-focused ESOL qualification requirements. (117666)

The evidence taken into account in this situation came predominantly from the levels of activity in the Further Education (FE) sector as recorded through the Learning and Skills Council’s (LSC’s) Individualised Learner Record (ILR). ESOL provision in England is growing at an unsustainable level and there are waiting lists for courses in most key regions, particularly in London. Although it is not possible to have wholly disaggregated information beyond getting a view of the total levels, it is clear that something needs to be done to ensure that we prioritise provision on those who most need it.

As a result a range of measures have been introduced including new ESOL for Work qualifications. These will be shorter, simpler and more work focused, to better meet the needs of employers and those who need English for the workplace.

To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Skills what assessment he has made of the impact of the decision to de-approve English for speakers of other languages international qualifications. (117667)

English for speakers of other languages international qualifications are not being de-approved. The Qualifications and Curriculum Authority (QCA) is working with awarding bodies on the process of accrediting them for a further period.

These qualifications have been developed by awarding bodies, predominantly, to meet the needs of an international commercial market with a more academic focus than ESOL Skills for Life or the coming ESOL for Work. It is recognised that international, commercial ESOL training makes a significant contribution to the economy but this is based on learners and organisation paying fees which meet the full costs of the training and the qualifications are geared to this quite specific market. On this basis, they do not presently attract public funding and will not be approved for this purpose in the future.

To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Skills in what way existing English for speakers of other languages (ESOL) qualifications do not meet the proposed ESOL for Work/job-focused ESOL criteria. (117668)

There are two categories of ESOL qualifications presently available; ESOL Skills for Life and ESOL International.

ESOL Skills for Life qualifications were designed to meet the needs of those people who are resident, or at least on long term stays in this country. On that basis they are comprehensive in nature, covering the broad range of skills and cultural contexts, and often delivered through quite long courses. They do not best meet the needs of those people wishing to acquire language skills for the specific purpose of getting a job, either in terms of the way they are delivered or their content. If these qualifications provide verification that learners have evenly balanced skills in each of the main skill areas of reading, writing, speaking and listening, the work environment may not require all of these skills to be present at the same levels.

ESOL International qualifications have been developed by Awarding Bodies, predominantly, to meet the needs of an international market with a more academic focus. It is recognised that these make a significant contribution to the economy but this is a fee paying market and the qualifications are geared to this. These qualifications tend to be graded, have the same assumptions about the balance of skills as their Skills for Life cousins and carry quite heavy assessment burdens.

The new ESOL for Work qualifications will better provide for the needs of those people and employers requiring language purely for employment purposes by providing an easy to understand pass/fail qualification with slimmed down assessment processes, but most importantly recognising achievement of a balance of skills at the range of levels necessary for work. For instance, it may be that reading, speaking and listening are required at a higher level than writing.

To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Skills what plans he has to improve provision and quality of English for speakers of other languages teaching. (117669)

The quality of provision of English for speakers of other languages (ESOL) is critically important to their chances of success and progression. The Quality Improvement Agency (QIA) has a clear remit to improve the quality of all Skills for Life through the Skills for Life Improvement Programme and its related projects which are being funded for the 2007/08 period with over £16 million. The Qualifications and Curriculum Authority has also been asked to work with Awarding Bodies to extend the range of qualifications presently on offer to include a new ESOL for Work qualification. The combination of these actions should work to improve quality and extend provision by ensuring that there are qualifications which meet the needs of employers.

The new ESOL for Work qualifications will better provide for the needs of those people and employers requiring language purely for employment purposes by providing an easy to understand pass/fail qualification with slimmed down assessment processes. Most importantly these qualifications will recognise achievement of a balance of skills across the range of levels necessary for work. For instance, it may be that reading, speaking and listening are required at a higher level than writing.

Importantly the opportunity has been taken to strengthen connections between the quality of ESOL teaching and the requirement of ESOL qualifications. These reforms will be implemented from September 2007.

The breadth of provision and quality are key aims and although significant improvements have been made since the launch of Skills for Life in 2001, the drive for excellence will continue to be supported.