New report on improving ESOL provision making headlines

August 19, 2014, by Alex Stevenson. filed under Uncategorized; No Comments.
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It’s not often that ESOL hits the headlines, but last night’s BBC Newsnight provided a welcome focus in the mainstream media on ESOL provision and its importance for the one million or so people in England and Wales believed not to speak English fluently. It showed the importance of ESOL provision for families, for employment and for progression to further learning – illustrated by the inspirational story of a Gurkha family in Plumstead and the benefits ESOL learning had brought.

The programme also highlighted the recent cuts in funding for ESOL provision, and the consequent lack of capacity in the system to meet the demand for courses. During the studio discussion David Lammy MP made a decent fist of the case for investment in ESOL and the need to support the most vulnerable adults with ESOL needs, despite the complexities of the issue. It was a shame that the politicians’ debate then took an unfortunate slide into immigration rhetoric, rather than keeping a focus on what needs to be done to support access to ESOL provision. Nevertheless, it’s good to see ESOL being discussed on national television at all.

On Speaking Terms, a new Demos report on ESOL which prompted the Newsnight story, is certainly not short on ideas to improve ESOL provision. What’s particularly refreshing about this report is its recognition of the broader advantages of ESOL, beyond the limited focus of the current skills policy on ESOL for employment. Quite rightly, the report points out the importance of ESOL in enabling better access to healthcare and education, bringing about important softer outcomes such as increased confidence, and wider societal benefits. Also welcome is the report’s starting point of ESOL provision as ‘unlocking migrant capabilities’ and the recognition of bi or multilingualism as an asset, rather than a problem to be solved.

Practitioners and providers may not agree with all of the report’s recommendations, but they certainly make for interesting reading. Amongst the most eye-catching are: the development of a national strategy for ESOL in England (unlike Wales or Scotland, England doesn’t have one); greater support for ESOL in the workplace from employers and from BIS through the re-introduction of workplace ESOL funding; and a number of measures to improve access to ESOL by joining up provision at the local level, including an enhanced role for local authorities in targeting ESOL to meet local needs and integrating formal and informal learning opportunities.

The Demos report recommends Government consultation on ways in which the overall quality of ESOL provision can be improved. As Prof. Mike Baynham points out in his blog on the report, there is evidence of much good practice to build upon. It’s also important to consider ways in which ESOL connects with other skills needs which adult learners may have. NIACE’s work on a Citizens’ Curriculum approach to adult learning for those with the lowest skills levels – which incorporates elements of informal, non-formal and formal learning and integrates ESOL, literacy and numeracy skills with wider health, digital, financial and civic capabilities – could contribute to this.

The report also backs NIACE’s General Election 2015 Manifesto proposal for the introduction of Personal Skills Accounts. These could be particularly useful to support ESOL learning at the higher levels for professional, vocational and academic purposes. Another of the report’s suggestions, the introduction of a loans system for ESOL, would require careful consultation to ensure that these would not act as a disincentive to the most vulnerable and disadvantaged adults to access provision. NIACE has argued for a major, independent review into funding issues which could identify the most appropriate options for different types of ESOL provision and the diverse cohorts of learners who stand to benefit from it.

What do you think about the recommendations from Demos? Do you have any other suggestions on improving ESOL provision?

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How can the FE and skills sector prepare for a digital future?

August 14, 2014, by Susan Easton. filed under Uncategorized; 2 Comments / Comment on this.
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  • What skills do future workers need in order for the UK to be globally competitive?
  • How are we teaching learners in a way that inspires and prepares them for careers in the future workforce in occupations that may not yet exist?

These are just two of the questions posed by the Digital Skills Committee of the House of Lords, whose Chair, Baroness Morgan of Huyton, stated:

“I believe it’s going to be crucial for the UK to create a workforce that is skilled enough to stay ahead globally, particularly in terms of digital skills. I hope that this inquiry will shine a light on whether or not the UK sits at the top of the class or whether it must try harder.”

We live in an era of unprecedented technological change. Use of technology and the internet pervades every aspect of our lives. It governs how we access information and public services, interact with government and with each other, how we learn, and how and where we work. Every business functions in a digital world, where employees need digital skills ranging from generic digital workplace capabilities, to the ability to use digital tools for specific jobs.

Digital Skills for Tomorrow’s World, from the UK Digital Skills Taskforce, identifies three tiers of digital skills required to participate in society and to find, and remain in, work.
1.    A Digital Citizen needs basic online skills to communicate, find information or purchase goods/services online.
2.    A Digital Worker uses digital technology as part of their working lives e.g. using social media for marketing.
3.    A Digital Maker builds digital technology and makes advanced digital content e.g. coding.

According to the UK forum on Computing Education, more than one-in-three (37%) of UK jobs require employees to be Digital Citizens; nearly half (46%) of jobs need Digital Workers; and 10% of jobs depend on Digital Makers. Only 7% of current jobs in the UK do not require any digital skills.

The shortfall of young people entering the labour market means that we are all going to have to work longer. So it’s crucial that we address the digital skills needs of the whole workforce, including older workers, the unemployed and those in low level jobs wishing to progress.

Our Skills for Prosperity manifesto highlights the need for lifelong learning if people are to remain productive throughout their working lives. Nowhere is that need greater than in digital skills. People of all ages need opportunities to develop and refresh their digital skills and progress from digital citizen to digital learner to digital worker or digital maker.

While there are many existing learning opportunities, digital skills at all levels must not exist in a silo, but must be embedded within every area of learning. The FELTAG report showed that the FE and Skills workforce needs to develop its capability and capacity to use technology for learning, teaching and assessment. Is the sector equally prepared to develop the digital skills of its learners? Providers, leaders and practitioners need to consider how they can prepare their learners for the future. How can different parts of the sector work together more effectively to make this happen?

The Lords Digital Skills Committee will report to the House with recommendations in late January 2015. This is a unique opportunity to make your voice heard. NIACE encourages members, partners, individuals and organisations to respond to the call for evidence by 5 September 2014.

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How do you describe your working life?

August 12, 2014, by Caroline Berry. filed under Uncategorized; 1 Comment.

When my children were young we had a huge climbing frame in our pocket sized garden. It started out as a simple climbing frame and over time we added a slide, a scramble net, monkey bars and a ladder. It was fantastic and fired our imaginations. It became a tent, a house, a train, an aeroplane, a spaceship, a reading den, the list was endless. It was adaptable, challenging, stimulating and great fun.

I remembered our climbing frame again after reading the recent UKCES report Climbing the ladder: skills for sustainable recovery. It uses the ladder of opportunity as a metaphor to identify key skills challenges for businesses in how effectively they make use of and develop their staff. The report suggests that three rungs on the employment ladder need repairing in order to help people get in, get on and move up in work:

  • On the bottom rung it is a challenge to secure a first job. Many struggle to find opportunities which allow them to gain the vital experience to help the transition into the world of work.
  • On the middle rung, many of those in work face problems moving up. The jobs market has fewer opportunities for those in low skill jobs to progress and fewer skilled individuals to choose from for those recruiting.
  • On the top rung, businesses experience increasing problems with skills shortages, whilst at the same time many employees have skills which are not used. This mismatch inhibits productivity and growth.

Insightful evidence, but I agree with Bimrose’s (2011) succinct assessment of policy analysis in relation to learning and skills:

“What is missing in analysis of the skills problem is a sense of the progression of individuals through work across the life course. As a consequence the dynamic way in which individuals become engaged with learning and development pathways, which can involve up-skilling, re-skilling and sometimes transformational shifts in perspective as their careers unfold, has remained largely absent…”

At NIACE (and just like we did with my children) rather than a ladder we prefer the description of a climbing frame of opportunities. It describes most employment routes and careers more accurately across an individual’s working life. An employment route that is flexible, adaptable, changing, with nets to traverse, slides to enjoy and ladders up and down.

NIACE’s Manifesto – Skills for Prosperity Building a Sustainable Recovery for All – outlines our priorities which includes supporting individuals throughout their working lives. It proposes an entitlement to a Career Review at key transition points to help adults decide the skills development and learning that will work for them across their lifetime. NIACE’s Mid-life Career Review showed that investment in career guidance and development at key transition phases is successful. It leads to better decisions about the skills and learning that deliver fuller working lives and meet local employer demand.

As my family adventures clearly demonstrate climbing frames can become whatever you want them to be, forever changing, dynamic and thought provoking. Just like a job or career should be across a lifetime. In contrast, a ladder is always a ladder – leading you up or down.

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NIACE Learner Ambassador’s drive to commemorate WWI in Brighton

August 6, 2014, by Carol Taylor. filed under Uncategorized; No Comments.
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Amanda Scales won our Outstanding Adult Learner of the Year in the South-East in 2012. As with all of our national award winners, she was remarkable and it was obvious from the first time I met her that here was a woman with a mission, with an iron will and with determination to get as much as she could out of the rest of her life.

After a difficult start, hating school, she got the bug for learning at a belly dancing class. As with so many adults, her learning has blossomed incredibly from such humble beginnings. And there has been no stopping her. She did an Access Course, followed by a degree in Contemporary History, and works with adults engaging them in local history in Brighton.

Last year she had an idea…to link her love of her home city of Brighton, with her love of history and the centenary of the start of World War I. She came up with the idea of a Brighton bus, decorated with images of the war. The bus company didn’t respond to her emails. The meeting to discuss the commemoration of the war didn’t take any notice of her. She dropped me a despondent email asking ‘what should I do?’

As she keeps reminding me, my ‘go for it’ was the spur she needed and she did! Using her position as a NIACE Learner Ambassador, she went back to a commemoration meeting, stood up and addressed it and they listened. And now, 12 months later, the bus has been launched at a ceremony in Regency Square Brighton, followed by lunch at The Lord Mayor’s parlour.

Interestingly, every image, from the 7,000 she trawled through, has been chosen for how it can be used as a learning resource for both adults and children. This is a proper teacher!

This amazing woman charmed the head of the bus company, got her local MP on side by sheer force of her personality and at every juncture talked about how getting involved in learning and winning the Adult Learners’ Week Award have been the turning points in her life. They gave her not only knowledge but tenacity; the sense that she was as good as everyone else; and an understanding of how knowledge is passed on.

Not all Adult Learners’ Week award winners have the sense of mission that Amanda has, but all of them are deeply proud of their achievements and clear about the benefits of adult learning to their lives. Not all those engaged in adult learning will get a degree and find their vocation in working with adults. But all of them will have that deep seated curiosity about the world unlocked; all of them will feel brain cells creaking and want more of it; all of them will feel the slow unlocking of confidence which is the big leap that will take them forward.

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Towards a Citizens’ Curriculum

July 30, 2014, by Alex Stevenson. filed under Uncategorized; No Comments.
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What kind of adult learning opportunities would engage and support the most disadvantaged people, in a range of settings and circumstances? What kinds of adult learning could empower adults to take greater control over their lives, bringing personal, family, social and economic benefits? According to a recent NIACE scoping study, part of the answer might be a ‘life skills / citizens’ curriculum’ approach.

Funded by the Esmée Fairbairn Foundation, NIACE has been building on Learning Through Life, the ground-breaking report of NIACE’s Inquiry into the Future for Lifelong Learning, to establish how its recommendation of a citizens’ curriculum approach might work in practice.

A couple of clarifications to start with: by ‘citizens’, we simply refer to adult (and young adult) learners. And we’re not talking about the kind of curriculum that involves a heavy, spiral-bound volume setting out predetermined content that may or may not be relevant to the needs and interests of adult learners.

Broadly speaking, a life skills / citizens’ curriculum approach involves developing learners’ language, literacy and numeracy skills in an interlinked way, alongside and within other life skills, which include health, civic, digital and financial capabilities. Our scoping study suggests that a citizens’ curriculum approach is locally-led, determined by the needs and interests of learners in a particular context or setting. Crucially, learners are meaningfully involved in shaping and designing the curriculum content, with the support of practitioners where needed.

Our scoping study found that many learning providers are beginning to adopt elements of this approach, and other enablers, such as resources and accreditation options – where appropriate – are in many cases already available. Despite this, we also identified that some aspects of the current adult learning landscape may restrict take-up of a true citizens’ curriculum approach – the lack of flexibility around funding and qualifications, and the support needed for informal learning, for example.

Over the coming year, NIACE hopes to pilot and evaluate a life skills / citizens’ curriculum approach in a range of contexts, including learning opportunities for families, for homeless adults, for recent migrants, and for ex-offenders. Our manifesto for the 2015 General Election identifies a number of priority actions which, if introduced, would further support the adoption of a citizens’ curriculum approach – a review of the funding system, personal skills accounts and more support for informal learning would all be beneficial in bringing about a true citizens’ curriculum approach.

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