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20 April 2006
A special inquiry is investigating the UK government funded English courses for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL), to find why it is struggling to deliver effective courses for immigrants to the UK.
The inquiry led by the National Institute for Adult Continuing Education (NIACE), will try and determine why the system is not coping with a huge increase in demand, a continuing teacher shortage and qualifications that do not match learners' needs.
"If you increase a lot you need to train more teachers and you also need to make funding decisions. There are very long waiting lists in some areas, particularly in London and some rural areas. At the moment there are not enough teachers. That has been an issue for a while as ESOL has expanded," said Jane Ward, a senior NIACE advisor.
Since being introduced by the British government in 2001, increased enrolments have brought the system for funding ESOL under scrutiny.
When the UK government launched the Skills for Life program, the aim was to direct funding to courses that were nominated as part of the Skills for Life structure. Training providers not nominated could continue to offer courses, but they would no longer be governmentally funded.
These colleges and learning institutions have gone with the money, phasing out their ESOL courses and directing immigrants into the generously funded Skills for Life ESOL courses. This has increased the demand for funded courses, which in turn has led to a teacher shortage.
Another concern is there are no Skills for Life funded ESOL qualifications for immigrants with higher education levels and these immigrants find the courses to be inadequate for their needs. This has resulted in skilled migrants not being able to access government funded courses that will help them attain the level of English they need for skilled employment.
This diversity of learners raises the question of whether higher ESOL qualifications are eligible for subsidised courses and who should pay for their training.
A likely proposition by the NIACE inquiry could be a means test for students and pressure on employers to contribute to the cost of staff training for skilled immigrants.
"A one-size-fits-all Skills for Life strategy has clearly not been the answer," said Ward.
An interim report by NIACE in March revealed that the range of immigrants accessing ESOL and their diverse needs are not suited to simple fixes.