Informal ESOL grant scheme
The Lancashire Refugee Integration Team (LRIT) works to support the resettlement of refugees across the county who have arrived through government funded resettlement schemes. The team seeks to support English language acquisition as a crucial aspect of integration, while recognising that, as the 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.
Adult individuals relocating to Lancashire are supported within the first week of arrival to access a formal English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) assessment to determine their level and then enrolled onto formal ESOL provision in their local further education college. As well as ensuring that learners are able to work towards accredited ESOL qualifications, attending local colleges provides valuable opportunities for community integration and connections learners with professions able to offer advice on further education and training opportunities.
Such provision, however, is often only able to provide twice-weekly lessons, meaning that there is a need for additional learning opportunities to support what is almost inevitably a long-term learning experience. We recognise that the further education (FE) sector also does not have the capacity to provide the number of weekly hours of ESOL needed to support intensive learning and progression. The outcomes for refugees during the first two years after their arrival varies immensely, with some progressing very quickly to higher levels of proficiency (and sometimes achieving a Level 2 qualification enabling them to access further employment or higher education opportunities), 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). We recognise that accredited formal ESOL provision is a time-intensive route to integration that is not uniformly effective and does not cater for all learning styles and personal circumstances.
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 resettlement programmes (college, community-based learning, voluntary work based learning, issue or skill focused language learning) to reflect different needs/ priorities amongst refugees".
With the colleges taking on the support of refugee learners through their expanding and successful ESOL programmes, we have developed our ESOL approach to explore ways to complement the work of their accredited programme through informal ESOL and language training opportunities. We want to be able to direct students towards additional informal learning opportunities with organisations that work alongside and support students' progress on their formal ESOL course in further education colleges. We recognise that there are many such independently funded charity, voluntary and faith sector organisations across Lancashire supporting learners progress in language learning.