Informal ESOL grant scheme

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1. Background

The Lancashire Refugee Resettlement Programme (the 'Programme') is resettling hundreds of refugees, mainly from Syria. The Programme seeks to support English language acquisition as a crucial aspect of integration, while recognising that, as the new Home Office Indicators of Integration Framework 2019 states, integration is a multi-dimensional and multi-directional process, and language and communication constitute just one of 14 different domains of integration.

The Lancashire Programme is almost unique in that it guarantees the provision of 9 hours of formal ESOL (English for Speakers of Other Languages) a week for 40 weeks, for full two years after arrival, for refugees resettled in Lancashire. To do so, we invest a significant part of resettlement funding, up to 8 times more than the ESOL tariff that is claimed under the Syrian Resettlement Programme (SRP, also known as the Vulnerable Persons Resettlement Scheme) or the Vulnerable Children Resettlement Scheme (VCRS). Our current bespoke provision, delivered by a partnership between the Lancashire Association of Councils for Voluntary Service (LACVS) and Al Hayat, provides a good start in formal, accredited ESOL for resettled adult refugees across all resettlement areas, including where no other provision can be found. One of the results of our model is that, while, nationally, participation in formal, accredited ESOL in the SRP/VCRS stands at around 70%, in Lancashire the figure is close to 95%.

Such provision, however, requires, significant investment, and only covers, for many refugees, the very first steps in what is almost inevitably a long term learning experience. The outcomes for refugees after these initial two years varies immensely, with some progressing very quickly to higher levels of proficiency (and sometimes moving on to FE or adult education provision before the end of Year 2), while others struggle to achieve even Entry 1 level at the end of Year 1 of resettlement. This is not surprising, as formal ESOL does not necessarily cater for all learning styles, and many adult refugee learners have very little experience of formal education pre-resettlement (with some also being illiterate in their home country language).

More importantly, the feedback that we get from our service users is that formal ESOL alone will not achieve rapid progression for many. The research that we commissioned in early 2018 also provided extensive information about the need to complement formal provision with alternative English language provision. The Employment, Training and Enterprise Needs Assessment Report identified that, while refugees were aware of the "importance of learning English outside of the classroom… only a small number of them were able to provide some practical examples of learning the language in their own time". And most were not aware of alternative classes or provision locally. The Community Integration Assessment also noted the need for more English language provision, and recommended a "variety of language acquisition pathways to be recognised and supported by SRP programme (college, community based learning, voluntary work based learning, issue or skill focused language learning) to reflect different needs/ priorities amongst refugees".

While the focus of our support for ESOL in Lancashire has been on formal, accredited provision in Years 1 and 2 of resettlement, the Local Integration Fund (which was established by the Lancashire Refugee Resettlement Programme to support early initiatives by the Third Sector in community integration) has also been supporting local activities that have helped refugees practice English in various contexts. Moreover, the Third Sector in Lancashire have also independently contributed projects and activities.

Formal ESOL is a costly route to integration that is not uniformly effective, and does not cater for all learning styles and personal circumstances. After Year 2, we fully expect the FE and adult education sector in Lancashire, as well as other funded providers, to take responsibility and meet the demand for formal, accredited ESOL in their local areas. As a result, our strategic focus also includes informal ESOL provision. It is important to note that the Programme does not have the means to influence policy and funding for formal ESOL provision, and we do not believe that continuing to fund formal ESOL beyond Year 2 is the most effective (including cost-effective) way to facilitate the integration of resettled refugees.

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