I’ve been mulling this one over all summer long, and one thing is for sure,  I’m very likely to annoy some people with this post. They are often people I have a lot of time and respect for, so please bear with me, and I hope I make myself clear enough by the end.  Anyway, the thing that brought this back together was when I was reading this recently; a blog post by a really interesting writer on all things adult education. I read it with anticipation and pleasure until I came to the last paragraph. In it we come across the “ESOL should be taught by volunteers, organised by trade unions etc.” argument. 

I think that in this case the writer is focussing on the current refugee (not migrant) crisis in Europe, and suggests it as a short term sticking plaster because ESOL provision is on such a crisis at the moment. But it had echoes of this suggestion that various volunteer services could be pressed into service to deliver ESOL, and really I do think the suggestion that for volunteers be a replacement for funded provision is a flawed one. 

For a start, there would be concerns about the quality of what the learners will be getting. Sure, there are some volunteer teachers who have training and experience. Of course there are. But it seems  morelikely, in a world where volunteers have been corralled by unions and the such, that volunteer teachers won’t have the experience or skills to properly support learning. Of course, there is definitely a future where there will be unemployed Esol teachers. However, those of us teachers who are still lucky enough to get paid are hoping to continue to be paid because we are not financially independent individuals doing a bit of teaching, but because we use the money to pay for things like, ooh, I don’t know, food, mortgages, supporting family and other such frivolities. Sadly, I can’t afford to do this for free, and neither can many of my colleagues, who, if funding for ESOL dries up, are going to have no choice but to (hopefully) find other paid employment. Certainly, there is not going to be a bank of trained ESOL professionals sitting around kicking their heels until a bit of volunteering work comes up. So we are left with the financially independent, the retired, and people doing it on the side, some of whom, I admit, may be damn fine teachers. (My retirement plan, if I am ever allowed, is to supplement my pension with a bit of ESOL teaching.) but this is not the way to find a consistent, professional standard quality for teaching. I haven’t even mentioned materials, although this is partly to defer the infuriating “they’ve all got smartphones so they can access the Internet” discussion (“they” haven’t “all”, they can’t “all”, and even if where individuals can, a smartphone is not a replacement for a proper set of teaching resources.) 

The other issue, I think, is that calling for ESOL to be taught by volunteers smacks of racism. Not intentionally so, perhaps, but ESOL seems to be singled out for this one quite a lot. I don’t see calls for adult literacy and numeracy, or post-16 functional skills to be taught by volunteers. I certainly don’t recall reading the several articles and blog posts suggesting many people that a Level 2 hairdressing qualification should be taught by volunteers managed by the friendly folks at your local salon, or that Unite provide manage volunteers teaching mechanical engineering. So why ESOL, then? What is it about learning ESOL which so often means that it should be given short shrift in terms of professional teaching skills and support? The only perceivable distinction I can see is that of race. Language is as much an identifier of cultural heritage as skin colour, if not more profoundly so. This came up in my class just this week, in fact, when a student from the Czech Republic said “there is no problem until I speak. Then people know I am not British.”: your language tells people where you are from. Suggesting that volunteers are the answer for ESOL is essentially discrimination against the racial marker that is language. A large number of ESOL learners, are not temporary, short term migrants, or refugees needing support, but are fully signed up citizens with a legal right to remain. So why do they get different treatment if it’s not a linguistic discrimination? 

Well meaning as it is, the call for volunteers to teach ESOL is a poor one. There is, and always will be, a role and a need for volunteer teachers in ESOL. Indeed, the majority of ESOL across history has probably been taught on a voluntary basis. But historical precedent is no reason to argue for the future. The Skills for Life agenda of the last Labour government was flawed, and deeply so, but it raised the professionalism and skills of the teachers of ESOL, and acknowledged the very real fact that there are lots of people living here who don’t use English as a first language, and this will continue to be the case. At least some of today’s refugees may become parents of tomorrow’s citizens, or citizens themselves and as such deserve consistent language support of the best quality. Volunteers are part of the answer, for sure, but they shouldn’t be the final solution for ESOL. 


Tradition, or at least the Education and Training Foundation, argues that in FE there are two types of knowledge: subject knowledge and pedagogical knowledge. This is based on the idea that teachers in FE are “dual professionals” – professional in their vocation and professional teachers. For a large number, perhaps a majority of teachers in FE, this has the ring of truth to it. You know your subject and you know how to teach. Teacher training in FE assumes, by and large, that teaching is a distinct body of knowledge and skill from the skills and knowledge of the subject being taught. I don’t blame anyone for this assumption, mind you – from a teacher development and training perspective it’s necessary to draw this distinction otherwise you’d be running 25 PGCEs each year for each different subject.

I’m not sure, however, it’s as neat as that. For one, literacy, numeracy and ESOL teachers, for example, are only professionals in their subject as teachers. Then only time I apply my knowledge of English professionally is as a teacher, after all. But even leaving that aside, I think that for a teacher, there is a third set of knowledge and skills: the applicaton of the theory and general practice of pedagogy to the subject being taught: we can be posh and call it applied pedagogy if you really want to.

What I mean by this is that when you teach you select and adapt appriaches suggested in generic pedagogical training according to the subject and the learners, and that the subject dictates the methods used. To take a nice, easy example, consider Socratic questioning or SMART learning objectives and targets. These both require a good degree of language processing on the part of the learner, and therefore are largely wasted in, for example, low level ESOL classes, and indeed only of limited value in any situation where learner meta-awareness is relatively low. So you take some of the principles and the reasoning behind them and you apply and adapt these ideas and the thinking behind them.

This is not, however, one of those “ESOL is different” things: it is different because every subject is different: the application of pedagogical principles is altered by the subject being taught. A straight lecture may be entirely appropriate in some settings, but unlikely for a practical joinery course. Practical learning is different from theoretical learning, and the application of theory to practice is another thing altogether: the varying mix of these from subject to subject in FE means that the broad brush strokes pedagogy of the PGCE / Cert Ed. has to change and focus in context. I was once lucky enough to observe a class where every student had specific learning difficulties, some quite profound: the teacher had plenty of support workers, of course, but had planned a range of extremely differentiated tasks for her class, some of whom were unable to communicate, and knew what was going on and where and why. Again, then kind of lesson which would regularly be inappropriate and impossible for an ESOL class where collaboration and communication are essential. Someone learning to construct a door frame or to cut hair requires differences in the method applied for teaching.  Even where subjects are superficially similar, like ESOL and literacy, require different skills and knowledge not just of the learners but also the different types of English knowledge needed to apply. Tenses, for example, are often unnecessary for a Functional Skills English teacher to teach, but integral to ESOL, where it can be a real challenge persuading both learners and teachers that grammar is anything else.

This “applied pedagogy” is, perhaps, not something you can teach, at least not practically. Otherwise you’d have a PGCE for every subject in the world. It comes through practice and reflection, and develops over time. It’s something I can see in myself with 16 years ELT experience meaning I can walk in, tell you the level of the students and teach a lesson with a reasonable degree of success without really worrying too much. My ICT teaching experience is much smaller, and so my applied pedagogy for that subject is only consolidating, and for maths, it has barely begun: “emerging” as a descriptor would be rather optimistic. Yet I would probably describe my non-teaching knowledge of computers and IT as only slightly higher than my mathematics knowledge, if that. It means that in maths I am very much learning not only what to teach, but also what not to teach, and have only a limited concept of the stages needed to progress through maths. The same with ICT: in the last couple of years I have cobbled together a sort of mental checklist of the different skills, and only really this year do I feel confident enough to start to really think about the course content beyond the exam requirements.

“Applied pedagogy” is, of course, a well poncy phrase, as I might have said in my early teens. Perhaps craft is a better word for it – taking the “scientific” knowledge of subject and of teaching and making them into something else distinct from both. Not everyone can do this, and even those who can, learn it over time. Of course, with quality control being what it is under the usual ofsted driven regime, I do wonder whether novice teachers have this time: instead resorting to a handful of standard methods and stock ideas. But if we can dodge the quality assurance bullet, then perhaps there is as much freedom for teachers to learn along with their students. It’s a nice thought to be setting off to work with.

The Quiet One at the Back

I attended a staff development event on Friday. It was useful and interesting, so anyone waiting to see if I trip up and say something inappropriate about my employer will be sadly disappointed today. No, the training and the content were both fine. What was interesting, however, was a little thing I observed about behaviour. 

The organisers (Hi!) had arranged a seating plan to ensure that people weren’t sitting with the people they usually worked with. This is, of course, a staff development variation on a practice I use in class: making students move around and work with other people they may not otherwise engage with. Again, all for the good, really, an opportunity to explore new ideas, or to challenge your own ideas, further build networks and so on. Except for one crucial factor. I was sitting right at the front, bang in front of the screen and on display. 

I know, there does have to be a front, or at least a bit of the room which is most prominent and visible to the tutor. Trouble is, in a setting like that, I’m quite shy. Perhaps it’s a height thing: tall people sometimes do want to shrink themselves away from the spotlight. Certainly I don’t do meetings with confidence, particularly with people I don’t know too well, and I’m not a natural networker. Nerves will always get the better of me. Nope, all that that prominent positioning induced in me was a desire to retreat. And I did. It took me most of the morning before I genuinely relaxed enough to properly engage with anyone but my immediate neighbour (who I did know), but for the majority I just wanted to be able to shrink by 2 feet and not talk to anyone.

That still not the interesting thing, however. The actual genuine interesting thing was what it made me think about all those poor students I have roughly torn out of their comfort zone and forced to head across the room and talk to someone else. Or those students who may well be just happy sitting and listening and who I have forced to speak in the name of learning. Dammit, I thought, I am such a bastard. I hate being singled out or forced to talk to people I don’t know. Always have hated it. I usually sit at the back of the room not so I can muck about but so the teacher doesn’t notice me (there is a golden spot for this, and a spot to which I gravitate, but I’m damned if I’m letting you in on that secret) and therefore can avoid anything unpleasant like engaging in a class discussion. 

So what’s to be done with people like me? For one, don’t do whole group activities. Or minimise them, and allow plenty of timing and structure. Shy people may be mustering an argument and building up to saying something but never quite getting it out there because they don’t get the chance. They may just be seething in dread that they will be asked to participate. Either way, they won’t be listening. So use collaborative methods of whole class q&a, like getting everyone to answer questions on mini whiteboards or voting software, rather than ideas like the frankly vicious “pose, pause, pounce, bounce“. (Interestingly, I googled that and in the various to of guidance there were lots warnings about students shouting out, but nothing about supporting students who clam up. References talked about “if students don’t know the answer” but nobody suggested that students may not feel confident enough to answer. Teachers are such unsympathetic shits sometimes.) 

One thing I do do is use smaller groups, for discussion tasks. Smaller groups are easier to monitor and give feedback to, as well as being less challenging for quieter, shyer students. But I try and think about those groupings. Sometimes, a friendship grouping is perfectly fine, and if it causes no major issues in terms of behaviours or mixing of ability, then where’s the problem? (I’ve got to admit, my personal jury is currently out on mixing male and female students. I know that it’s a Good Thing to mix the sexes, but if it causes discomfort and resentment? I’m not saying I won’t, merely that I question whether it’s always essential. Mind you, it’s an easy fail during a lesson obs on e&d terms so it’s worth getting students to shift about regularly.) Mixing groupings based on various criteria is pretty much standard, to the extent that failure to mix is tantamount to Bad Pracice. 

Hmmm. I have an abiding memory of being asked to work with a very confident but less academically able student in one class at school and it was horrible for both of us. Certainly I doubt that any significant learning will happen. If you get a shy, perhaps better able student and sit him next to the loud, mouthy, slightly less able student in the well meaning hope that they will bring the best out in each other, you will probably find that it’s not the case. Either the shy student will simply retreat a bit more, probably not engage, and the overall output of that grouping will be rubbish, or they will do most of the work and the gobby one will get unearned kudos. So just don’t do it. Both parties will also hate you, your lesson and your subject. 

I know what you’re thinking: developing confidence is a useful life skill. You are absolutely right, of course. My own retreat into tongue-tied silence at meetings, workshops and conferences is a testament to that. But maybe, just maybe, big mouth super confident, networker types are not always ideal. Maybe, just maybe, these people are profoundly irritating in their relentless self-promotion and their selfish dominance of meetings and workshops with their own private agendas. Ye gods, if we were all like that it would be awful. But yes, some of us do need to develop that confidence. However the bullying “go on, pull yourself together, it’s good for you” mindset is not the way. Being dropped in the deep end may help some people swim, after all, but some of us simply drown. 

Irrational Irritation

I read this today and it irritated me. I don’t know why. After all, both ofsted and my own college have done away with graded observations, and I live nowhere near the college where this Principal works, so the chances of me ever coming into contact with that process are small for the time being. However, there are plenty of colleges in my local area where grading observations have remained, and for many of the reasons cited in the TES piece, so there is a possibility that one day, in some future world where the FE jobs market is fluid and dynamic, I may end up working in one of those colleges, 

Now, I’ve read the article and my understanding is as follows. The author likes graded observations because a) governors need lesson observation grade profiles to evaluate quality, and b) it acts as a performance benchmark, and helps staff to know where they stand, and to develop. 
You know what I like about that? I like the honesty. I like that the writer has admitted that essentially a set of numbers is a darn sight easier for governors and so on to analyse. I’m rather less than impressed by the claim that they go through it in detail: after all, there is no detail there. It takes all of two seconds to note that 7% of teachers taught a lesson that was a grade three, and that last year it was 6%. That tells nobody anything, and never did, not really. Figures like that can be quickly and easily skewed by a couple of staff changes: teachers X and Y who had an unbroken record of getting 1s leave, and the grade profile will possibly shift down, even though the actual number of people whose lessons got 3s or 4s has in fact gone down. Or you get a number of new, inexperienced teachers start and have a bit of a wobble, but you know what, very few people arrive in this job as brilliant. There is plenty to analyse, in fact, more to analyse if you take away the grade. No grade means that managers reporting to governors have a lot more solid evidence to hand when it comes to explaining performance. I’m terribly sorry, but if governors can’t read a properly detailed analysis of teaching performance and make sense of it then they shouldn’t be governors. I’m being mean, perhaps: I’ve never yet knowingly met college governors, and who knows, they too may wish to read something for meaningful than a trite grade profile. Numbers make for neat analysis for sure, but they are hardly rigorous. As I think I’ve said before, the process is unrepresentative. If this was a research study into teaching practices and performance the whole thing would be thrown out because the sample size, 1 hour in 800, is simply not a fair sample of anyone’s performance in any context. 
The second point irks me more. Partly because it’s partially right on benchmarking. I’ve been a teacher in FE for eleven years now, and you know what, every single graded observation feedback session was spent waiting for that grade. So, yes, actually, you did know where you stood. But the danger was that all you really worried about was the grade “What do I need to do to improve? Who cares, I’m safe for another year.” What you ended up with was an invasive process which was done to you, not with you, and most certainly not for you. The reaction was defensiveness and attempts to game the system. Development takes a back seat: if you get a grade one or two for your lesson then you are free to coast for the next year or so. Quality may be monitored but it isn’t necessarily improved. And if you work where 80% or more get a grade 2 or 1, then that’s the vast majority of an institution’s staff who are under no pressure or particular encouragement to improve.
The author is simultaneously introducing developmental observations and walkthrough observations. Good; no, fantastic, even. But I’d be willing to bet three beers next Friday that these haven’t been universally welcomed. Instead of being seen as the fantastically supportive developmental processes they could be, developmental observations run a high risk of being seen as yet another imposition by The Management. Take away the graded observation bit, however, and (another three beers?) developmental obs and similar interventions will go down a whole lot better. Don’t get me wrong, mind you. Sure, there are teachers out there who see their classroom as a sacred closed box into which no other should tread, regardless of the nature of the observation, but I wonder if an “open classroom” policy would be much more quickly and effectively achieved by removing the punitive grading of observations. 
It’s taken me several days to work out what annoyed me about the article, and the decision of a college at which I will likely never work to continue with graded observations. I think it’s because I’m looking forward to my observation process this year, and looking forward to being able to have a discussion about the lesson during which I will actually be able to focus on the feedback, and that it will be a process which is done with me and for me, rather than to me. 

Umami: first lesson reflection of the academic year

Call me cynical, but I don’t reckon this’ll be a big read. You see, the last few days I’ve been back in the classroom and although the time has been dominated by induction and diagnostic assessment, today I squeezed in a little bit of a lesson.

I’m blogging it because there was something pleasingly neat about the whole thing. It started as a reading lesson using an ancient but updated text about a guy and his personal details. It’s from Skills Workshop, I think; if you’ve taught Entry 1, you’ve probably used it. Anyway, the students read the text, then answered some questions on it, in a pretty average kind of way. The next stage of the lesson involved transferring the details from the text into a form for personal details (name, age, marital status, free time, etc.). I then had the students interview their partner with the same form and then use the information on the form to write a paragraph about their partner. We’d recapped, briefly , 3rd person singular and personal questions, so this linked into the task as well.
It wasn’t “real life” so beloved of certain drab corners of the ESOL teaching profession, nor particularly authentic as a set of processes, but it provided some good writing practice and a chance to revisit and discuss some grammar that is famously difficult to pick up. Whatever it the sense of satisfaction was that it did feel very whole: the cyclical going from text to form, then back again gave a pleasing sense of shape to the lesson. The end of the lesson felt that the whole process had reached some sort of natural logical conclusion.
I suppose the next question is whether the students felt that way, of course, and sadly I didn’t get chance to ask them: it was only when the lesson had finished that the cyclical nature of the process really dawned on me. The issue of whether anything was learned absolutely is beset with uncertainty, and, as anyone honest in education can tell you, impossible to say at this stage: within a single lesson, we can only rely on observable proxies and a bit of educated guessing. I would say that would say that there were “aha!” moments from some of the students around third person singular which appeared to show learning, and the final texts produced at the end appeared to act as a proxy for an understanding of the concept of third person singular, and of the students’ ability to ask, reply to and understand the answers to questions. So I would say that insofar as it is possible to say it, then yes, it was a successful lesson in those terms.
The sense of satisfaction though is hard to beat. Some lessons are sweet, like when a student comes up and says they enjoyed your lesson. Some lessons are salty, like exam practice: hard work, and you wouldn’t to do it lots, but ultimately essential. Very occasionally there are sour and bitter lessons, when it all goes wrong and you simply can’t pull it back. However, the closure and the neatness of the lesson was a little like umami,  a meaty, brothy, cheese-y lesson, if you like, and I, for one, came outn of it feeling good.

The Year Ahead. And it’s not all bad. 

It’s been a summer of uncertainty and there is uncertainty yet to come. I know this, but sometimes you just have to focus on what you know, and what I know is that next week I will have a whole load of students to teach. The politics is still there, of course, and the anxiety is not going anywhere any time soon, but there are students to teach, and a whole load of new and interesting experiences to be had.

I’ve got a varied timetable this year. I actually don’t think I’ve ever had just one level, certainly not since starting my current job, and I like it that way. There is a certain appeal to teaching mainly one level: you can repeat things, try something with one class and refine it later with another class, but unless those classes are running slap bang next to each other with only a short break, I rather like the challenge of a gear change from a level 1 / 2 class (roughly high intermediate) in the evening, and beginners the following morning. I’m also teaching ICT for the third year to 16-18 ESOL students, and I’m going to nail it this year for sure. I just need to remember to say “no” any time anyone wants to do Level 1. Then I have one low level ESOL and maths class which is mainly a worry because I was merely average at it at school, mainly through disinterest and a lack of work. This means that there is a cluster of neurological connections that have been lying fallow for the last 20 years or so which will need reviving. However, I suspect this will be mainly the language of maths rather than the actual maths, and being only Entry 1 or maybe Entry 2, my major personal mathematical gap is not going to be an issue. (Long division, if you were wondering. I did it at school and have been shown many times since by well meaning colleagues, but somehow it has never ever sunk in. My other “gap” was the whole brainache of the 7×8 bit of the times tables until a colleague taught my a handy mnemonic. 7×8 is 56, or 56=7×8… 5678. I’ll tell you now, that was genuinely like having a veil lifted from my eyes. The other tricky one was 6×7, but that stopped in my early teens, when I first read Douglas Adams…)

However, I’m not going to obsess about the maths like I did a couple of years ago when I was teaching ICT & PSD. For one, life is too short, and in some respects I have a little more confidence teaching maths. I do actually have a qualification in maths, albeit a 24 year old GCSE grade C, unlike ICT. As well as this. maths seems to me to be about patterns and systems, with some stuff you simply have to just remember. This reminds me a lot of language teaching, which is also about patterns and systems (grammar) and remembering and making sense of stuff (vocabulary). It also lacks the taint of having to pretend to be some sort of role model for a young person, which was what I think I felt most insecure about in PSD. So it’s a more comfortable switch. 

Plus I have the return of my favourite class from last year, who have progressed to a higher level but who I have, due to student numbers etc., ended up teaching again. This does, of course, mean, that I can use nothing at all from last year, but you know what, that challenge is totally my bag. I like designing lessons, thinking of resources, all that stuff. It’s a high level group as well, which means lots of authentic materials and exploiting texts until they burst. All of this is good. 

So yes, we have a year ahead of anxiety. There are some major challenges, and there will be more angry blog posts and some campaigning to do. The government has well and truly shafted ESOL learners and teachers. But I still have a job, for now, and there are still students in my classes waiting to be taught. And that is still by far the best part of my professional life. 

ESOL is not about immigration: racism, cuts and an answer(?)

When I’ve heard people calling the recent cuts to ESOL funding racist I used to find his quite challenging: a bit OTT perhaps. Perhaps, I thought, we had it very good for a while and we are having a collective sulk about the matter. Thinking about it properly, however, and I realise I was wrong. Cuts to ESOL funding are very clearly racist.

Race and ethnicity is something which is typically seen as skin colour. It’s one of those things that people take for granted, a variation of the “common sense” reasoning prevalent in tabloid newspapers. But ethnicity is much more than this. Language defines your race, your origins as much as, if not more than, skin colour. Language may not shape your thinking, in the Whorfian sense, but it certainly reflects it: language is the main way most people express their culture, politics and personality, and to deny this ability to a migrant discriminates against them.

Of course, there is the rub. This summer a bunch of Brits had their holiday plans upset because of unrest in the immigrant camps in Calais. The foetid sensationalism of the way these were reported has led to an enhancement of the already profound demonisation of the concept of immigration, and of the term migrants. Media reports in the UK typically dehumanise immigration debates, avoiding the human aspect except for the quibbly concerns of the little Englander: “Never mind those people fleeing torture, warfare and death, I had to sit in a traffic queue”.

Whatever. Because in terms of public funding, ESOL is not really about immigration. Rather, it is about people who live here. It has recently been reported, with the usual ignorant commentaries about freebie benefits, that there are now more than 8 million people living in the UK who were born abroad. Net migration may be at an all time high (so those benefit cuts and restrictions are really working, hey, Mr Cameron: http://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2015/aug/27/net-migration-predicted-to-hit-record-level?CMP=twt_gu) but that’s not the point, because of the 8 million foreign born residents some 2.9 million were already British nationals like Boris Johnson and Sir Bradley Wiggins, plus a few hundred thousand more who have won British citizenship. Add to that the number of people who have indefinite leave to remain, plus the numbers from the EU, and we have a whole load of people who are here, to stay. For ever, very possibly. Now, we do have to subtract, for our purposes, the number of migrants from English speaking countries, but we are still left with a significant population of the UK who do not use English as a first language. These are often individuls or even whole communities who live in the UK. Funded ESOL provision has been primarily aimed for some years now at these more permanent communities, with an increasing focus on getting people from those communities into work, at the expense, perhaps, of community cohesion and family. In short, a need for ESOL is caused by immigration, sure, but ESOL is not the reason for immigration.

The problem is, and always has been, that little England has never had a proper strategy for dealing with the language education of migrant communities, settled or otherwise. Scotland and Wales have had one for some time, even if, as I have heard, they haven’t been properly supported financially. But the English answer under Skills for Life was wrong: it viewed complex migrant language needs as an extension of similarly complex first language literacy needs. Moser and the follow up work got it wrong. ESOL is not literacy and should never have been.

Arguably, a more sensible solution would be an overarching strategy which looks at the whole range of educational needs for the migrant communities of England, ESOL and beyond. This strategy could not only manage funding for funded providers, but also link up the voluntary services that support ESOL learners. This strategy could guide funding from a range of sources. ESOL benefits no end of services in England – a reduced need for expensive interpreting services for the social services and the NHS; an easier path for community cohesion and, arguably, for the prevention of extremism: so why not ask all the relevant government departments to chip in? At the moment little pockets of funding appear and disappear, like the DCLG’s “competition” in 2013, which cost time and money to bid for and to implement, sticking plaster approach to provision, leading to patchy provision and deprofessionalised and demoralised teaching staff. Instead, some sort of consortium of providers with a clear set of guidance from the strategy could guide the funding to the most appropriate provider – be that a major college or a small community providers. ESOL provision in many urban locations is much more complex than is perhaps generally realised – the Henna Project from the University of Leeds and the consortium concept is now running in the same city, so what is to stop a national system on a larger scale being responsible for channeling funding and support to the best possible place?

A managed strategy like this would benefit everyone, and probably, if you want to think about it in such terms, save money. It would require a shake up in the way ESOL works, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing: resources have been badly managed under the frivolous high spends of Skills for Life. They would be hard changes, but ones which create a bigger role not only for voluntary services, but for smaller providers who can, perhaps, be more responsive than the sometimes unwieldy systems of a large college.

The trouble is, a strategy like this would only happen if something triggered it. It’s cynical of me, perhaps, but it would take a terrible rerun of the Oldham and Bradford riots of the 2000s, or the awfulness of more young adults becoming increasingly disaffected and susceptible to extremists, to drive the government to do something. The government, and indeed most of the opposition, is wary of being seen to be sympathetic to migrants lest they upset a small vocal community represented by the Daily Express, and it is for this reason that the government won’t work to prevent the problems caused by lack of language skills, but instead will only work reactively, when something awful happens.

I hope that that is that for now. I hope I can get myself to blog something else for a change. But the problems facing ESOL are not going to go away anytime soon.