Wider Professional Practice Assignment 1 How Recent Changes to UK Immigration Legislation Affect ESOL Provision in the Further Education Sector (Level 6) BryAnne Conley 7 January 2011 Introduction In recent years the English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) sector has been dramatically affected by top-level UK immigration legislation. Immigration changes emanating from the Home Office, as well as corresponding funding changes for ESOL through Skills for Life, have significantly impacted public-sector Further Education (FE) teaching of ESOL.
This essay will outline the recent history of national legislative changes affecting English-language teaching and identify the current operating policy and include a description of my education sector and learners. Following this description will be a detailed analysis of how the policy has been implemented in the public FE sector and especially within my own organisation. The analysis will begin by examining funding issues that affect the implementation, followed by a point-by-point discussion of positive benefits as well as negative impacts of each aspect.
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Both pre-existing and pending funding changes which impact ESOL provision will also be briefly mentioned. Historical Overview Hamilton and Hillier (forthcoming, p 1) could not have been more accurate when they stated “It is clear from the historical record that ESOL… has received uneven and often unhelpful attention from government. ” In the early 2000’s the UK began significantly tightening immigration controls in an effort to reduce the number of immigrants to this country, and many amendments were added to the main law controlling immigration to the UK: the Immigration Act 1971.
Prior to this time, the law specified only that any immigrant desiring British citizenship should have ‘a sufficient knowledge’ of English (British Nationality Act 1948). In the last decade, however, an astounding 267 Statutory Instruments and 5 Acts dealing with immigration have been approved. These changes began with the Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Act 2002 and eventually led to the complete restructuring of the UK immigration system.
A new Five-Tier Points-Based System (HC 439) was introduced and phased in during 2008 and 2009. This system tightened language regulations considerably, requiring different levels of English for different types of immigrants. HC 439 is the pertinent policy which this report will analyse, and one which significantly affects the FE ESOL sector, as it further restricts specifications regarding proof of English language progress and proficiency:
A person is deemed to have sufficient knowledge of English and of life in the UK if he has attended a course using teaching materials derived from ‘Citizenship Materials for ESOL Learners’ and has thereby obtained a relevant accredited qualification in ESOL (or if he has passed the test known as the ‘Life in the UK Test’). … [that] evidenced progress from one [ESOL] level to the next is required and that qualifications can only be obtained through attendance at a college that is subject to inspection by [approved agencies are listed].
This means that immigrants seeking to settle in the UK must now submit formal proof of their initial level of English in addition to proof of their final level, thus confirming an improvement of one whole ESOL level. In addition, instruction must now be provided by an approved, inspected college – a change that could leave many private English language colleges without enough students to survive. (Tahir, 2010) Sector and Learners
However, I teach in the public (‘approved’) sector of Further Education: specifically in Adult and Community Education. ESOL provision in our sector is divided into several types of courses; the two areas I currently teach in are ‘Skills for Life’ and ‘Family Learning’. Skills for Life ESOL, at the lower levels, has experienced significant cuts, whereas Family Learning ESOL is the only type of course for which funding has remained relatively stable. (NIACE, 2007)
Our students are a mix of those who are settled, or wish to settle, permanently in the UK, and those who arrive from EU or EEA countries and want to improve their English for work purposes. As the Home Office has no power to regulate EU/EEA citizens in this country, this report will deal with the former group of students and how we help them achieve the required levels of proof of language proficiency and cultural knowledge for settlement (Indefinite Leave to Remain or ILR) and ultimately British citizenship. Implementation of Home Office Policy Backdrop: Funding Cuts
An analysis of the implementation of Home Office policy in the Further Education sector would not be complete without mention of the effects of recent FE-wide funding cuts, for they have dramatically increased the negative impact of changes in immigration legislation. In 2007, the UK government introduced a major restructuring of the funding for the FE sector which included monetary cuts, reworking of fee remission structures, an increased emphasis on certain areas of Skills for Life, as well as workforce reforms requiring the upskilling of teachers in the FE sector (Learning and Skills Council, 2007).
According to the 2007 NIACE report, all providers of FE and Adult Education experienced a reduction in LSC funding, which was their major source of revenue. The institutions surveyed by NIACE cited a few positive changes, such as becoming more focused and efficient, and learners benefiting from a sharper focus on quality. However, most of the changes cited were negative: • reduction in learner numbers • increased course fees and other supplementary charges (eg exam fees) • significant barriers raised for low-income learners including ESOL learners staff reductions including teachers, support staff and managers • reduction in administrative capacity • cuts in the range and locations of provision • reduction of course lengths • shorter planning horizons • need to invest in additional staff training In my own organisation, I have seen the following impacts of these funding changes: • Job losses have caused demoralisation and increased stress for tutors, and especially for managers, as an increased workload is shared among fewer people. • The target-driven climate has resulted in more paper shuffling by tutors and learners.
Much time has been wasted by tutors and managers tracking targets on computer programs that don’t work, trying to force the reality of students’ learning and progress into pre-determined aims, and the necessity of ‘managing’ the numbers to satisfy funding requirements. • Fewer locations of provision have meant that learners and tutors must travel further to classes, resources such as libraries have been considered ‘luxuries’ and closed, and there has been a constant reshuffling of offices resulting in cramped, or a complete lack of, office space for many staff. Cuts in administrative staff and services have meant extra planning and workload for tutors, and learners are short-changed by receiving reduced resources and support. • Selection of students is now often based on factors such as motivation or ability to complete exams rather than the need to learn the language. Our funding is now inconsistent, erratic and short-term, leading to general confusion, lack of continuity and increased ‘spin-up’ time for everyone involved.
As early as 2003, Lea noted problems with this approach to funding, stating that an environment in which FE is considered ‘a profitable business … could affect which ESOL students we take in or not. ‘ Requirement One: Life in the UK HC 439 requires proof that our courses include materials from the approved Citizenship Curriculum. These must be used in our planning, and we must specify what we have covered on each student’s Individual Learning Plan. This specification has an overall positive impact in that learners gain greater cultural knowledge of the UK; the negative impact is a small amount of extra paperwork for tutors.
Requirement Two: Increase English One Full ESOL Level This requirement of the law is significantly more involved in its implementation, and has several aspects which will be discussed in turn. Aspect 1: Initial proof of English level is now required in addition to final level proof. Before, a quick initial assessment of learners’ skills levels sufficed, but now we must perform a more-thorough and well-documented diagnostic assessment. This assessment forms critical evidence that may be inspected by agencies such as Ofsted.
The impact of this is significant: nearly all of the first one or two class sessions are now devoured by extensive assessments. These are stressful for the students and require huge amounts of time for tutors to prepare, mark, record and file. Additionally, because this is the public sector, Ofsted monitoring and funding concerns have led to creating a new electronic Data Return to track this assessment data. It has taken phenomenal amounts of time over two years to implement this system and train staff to use it.
An unintended positive impact of these assessments has been a more detailed knowledge of students’ strengths and weaknesses, which targets the delivery of learning more precisely. Aspect 2: Students must pass exams to show an increase of one complete ESOL level from their initial assessment. This requirement has led to more ‘teaching to the test’ which puts pressure on students and tutors alike to have exam success. Areas of vocabulary, grammar or knowledge which fall outside the scope of the exam are less likely to be covered in class.
In the short term, this can be frustrating to learners and does not positively contribute to the quality of educational provision; in the long term, it may negatively impact other areas of students’ lives such as their job or family where they may need this ‘extra’ information to function well and enhance their quality of life. This can lead to negative consequences for learners’ equality of opportunity in society. A further negative impact is the pressure on tutors to under-assess students’ levels initially, so that they can achieve an increase of one complete level in one year. It is essential for funding that students pass a minimum of one exam annually. ) Some students may not be accepted to learning programmes if it is not felt that they can achieve the required exam results; this can potentially lead to a lowering of the diversity in the class. One positive benefit, however, has been greater motivation by students to attend classes, focus on their studies and do well. Aspect 3: The Home Office is only interested in increased proficiency in speaking skills; reading and writing skills are not a priority.
As a result of this, reading and writing skills can tend to fall by the wayside, and this can impact on students’ employability, especially for higher-skilled or higher-paid jobs. Students may be quite qualified in their own country, but unable to obtain jobs in the UK in the fields in which they were trained. A possibly-unintended consequence of this is keeping immigrants’ job prospects low, thus preserving higher-skilled jobs for British nationals; this is in direct contradiction to the points-based immigration scheme and the stated intentions of government policies! Future and Wider Issues
At the time of this writing (Nov 2010) another change to the point-based immigration system is about to be implemented (Command Paper Cm 7944, 2010). The rule change will require spouses of UK settled individuals to have level A-1 level English before they can even enter the country. This pre-entry spouse language requirement has the potential to impact our sector significantly by reducing the number of students and making it more difficult to reach our target group of priority ESOL learners under the government’s ‘New Approach to ESOL’ scheme. (DIUS, 2009), thus leading to further reductions in the diversity of our classes.
It may even violate human rights and race relations laws. (Travis, 2010). Although this policy does not emanate from the Home Office and is therefore not considered directly in this report, it will nevertheless impact our sector with perhaps even greater intensity. The ‘New Approach to ESOL’ was introduced by the UK government in the summer of 2009 as a ‘joined up approach’ for handling ESOL provision (ibid. , p 23). A New Approach does indeed echo many of the aims of the Home Office legislation such as a refocus on ESOL priority learners, ESOL as part of preparing for work, and English to gain citizenship and integrate into communities.
However, no new funding is provided to accomplish these additional tasks, and this will be intensely problematic. The Union of Colleges and Universities (2008) has stated categorically: Laudable government aims to lift migrant workers out of poverty and to deliver its community cohesion strategy [will] not happen unless appropriate funding is found. Conclusion The research done for this report suggests that ESOL provision in the Further Education sector is reaching a crisis point.
More requirements are being piled on by government legislation emanating from a variety of agencies, while at the same time crippling funding cuts are being made across the sector. Staff in the sector are being stretched and stressed to the maximum. Barriers are being raised for learners that will keep immigrants in an economically-disadvantaged position in direct opposition to touted government ideals. It appears to be mainly funding policies, rather than requirement policies, which drive improvements – or lack thereof – in educational provision.
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